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BOE votes for grades six-12 to return under Plan A on March 29

JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Board of Education conducted a work session on Monday, March 15, at the administrative offices annex of Ashe County Schools.

Physically present during the meeting were Superintendent Dr. Eisa Cox, Finance Officer Amanda Coldiron, board member Dr. Kimberly Simmons, Vice Chair Dianne Eldreth, Chair Joshua Roten, board member Polly Jones and board member Keith McClure.

Action items during the meeting included the construction manager at risk, budget requests, a strategic planning steering committee and the return to Plan A for students in grades six-12.

On March 11, Gov. Roy Cooper signed Senate Bill 220: The Reopen Our Schools Act of 2021, into law.

This compromise agreement requires all elementary school students to operate under Plan A. Under the bill, middle and high schools would have the option to operate under Plan A or Plan B.

ACS is currently operating under Plan B for grades six-12, which is a hybrid of in-person and remote learning. Students are divided into two separate groups, with one group reporting to their respective school buildings on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other on Thursdays and Fridays. All six-12 students are completing remote instruction on Wednesdays, which are used for deep cleaning of school facilities.

Recently, the Ashe County BOE voted unanimously in favor of K-5 students to return to school under Plan A on March 8.

Since August, a completely virtual option has been offered to ACS students in Ashe Online, which will continue to be available to those enrolled in this option for the remainder of the school year.

The BOE voted 5-0 for students in grades six-12 to return to school under Plan A on Monday, March 29.

This will provide a “soft opening” for the school district, with a four day week prior to the Easter holiday and spring break. All teachers who were previously vaccinated on Feb. 26 will also receive their second dose prior to returning on March 29.

All existing safety measures, such as mandatory face masks will remain in place. Under Plan A, students will not need to be distanced six feet in the classroom. According to guidance from The Centers for Disease Control it is recommended to maintain at least three feet of distance.

Jones made the first motion in favor of the shift to Plan A, four days a week with Wednesdays still used for deep cleaning of the facilities. Simmons seconded the motion prior to the roll call vote.

Cox voiced her plans to keep the BOE and families informed in the event of classroom spread or if cases increase.

According to data presented by Cox, as of March 15, there was one district employee with COVID-19 and one employee in quarantine. As of the week of March 8, there were three students out with COVID-19 in the district with no additional quarantines.

Roten reminded the everyone to remain mindful as they are out and about for the Easter holiday, noting that school operations had to be altered after Christmas.

The section of the meeting containing the Plan A discussion was live-streamed on Facebook and can be accessed at any time by visiting the ACS Facebook page @Ashe County Public Schools.

Also discussed during the meeting was the construction manager at risk for the new Ashe County Middle School project.

The BOE met in special session on March 3 in the auditorium of Ashe County High School to interview three companies for the CMAR. After the presentations, the BOE voted unanimously in favor of Vannoy Construction being its first choice for the CMAR then New Atlantic Contracting Inc., then Frank L Blum Construction Co.

At the meeting on March 15 the CMAR with Vannoy Construction was approved and the BOE plans to know more information about the cost by their next regular meeting on April 12.

Also during the meeting were budget requests from schools and departments. The requests are in addition to the level funding received during the 2020-21 school year.

Some of the larger items discussed were document cameras for ACMS, teaching staff at Ashe Early College, soccer goals at ACHS and the football field scoreboard at ACHS.

ACMS principal Dustin Farmer requested 20 portable document cameras, which are very useful in classroom settings. The cameras cost approximately $99 each.

The AEC continues to grow and Principal Elaine Cox requested a least one new teacher. There is a potential to shift teachers from other schools, however, dual-certification is ideal for the position.

Superintendent Cox said regardless, at least one teacher would be needed at the AEC because students have already committed for the Fall. There is already about a 30-1 teacher/student ratio at AEC.

Coldiron mentioned that at a football game the previous week, the scoreboard at the high school went out. According to Coldiron the athletic department is looking into some opportunities and sponsors to replace the scoreboard.

There was also a request to replace the soccer goals at ACHS because they are about 20 years old.

Cox shared plans to begin a strategic planning process for the district. A Steering Committee will consist of about 25 members, inclusive of stakeholders throughout the district and community.

Members will commit to meeting once per week beginning March 30 for five to six Tuesday evenings from 5:30 p.m. — 7:30 p.m.

The Steering Committee will be in charge of developing the vision, mission, beliefs/core values, priority focus areas and goals. A separate Action Planning Team consisting mainly of school and district members will be appointed to develop strategies and action plans to achieve the identified goals.

“Our goal is to have a new strategic plan to present to the BOE and community in August,” Cox said.

Roten previously agreed to participate as a member of the Board of Education. During the meeting, Simmons agreed to serve as the second BOE member to serve on the team.

Lola Greer celebrates 100th Birthday

Lola Brooks Sawyer Greer had a great cause for celebration on March 16 as she turned 100 years old.

Her granddaughter, Erica Roten, shared some heartfelt words and recollections on behalf of the entire family to celebrate this special lady they call Lola and “Mamaw” as well as an aunt, cousin and friend.

Greer was born on March 16, 1921, to James Haggie Brooks and Ella Wyatt Brooks. Her sisters were Yvonne Brooks Francis, Carrie Lea Brooks Elliott and Clarice Brooks Eller. She has one living loving brother, J.H. Brooks of Warrensville.

The first thing Roten shared about her grandmother was her love for her family. Greer married Frank Sawyer on Aug. 24, 1939, and together they had three sons, Arvil, Alan and Steve. They resided in Warrensville for 40 years until Sawyer passed away.

She then married Howard Greer on Jan. 20, 1985, and they were married for 30 years until his passing. She has 9 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and 15 great-great grandchildren.

When asked about the hardest thing she has endured in her 100 years of living, she said it has been outliving her family. She has lost her parents, her sisters, her three sons and her first granddaughter, Rhonda, in addition to many family members and friends during her lifetime.

Outliving her children has been the hardest thing that she has said that she has been through, but she trusts in the Lord and his plan and looks forward to seeing them all again in Heaven.

Roten describes her as an inspiration to all her family, and they all love her very much.

After she lost her sons, her daughter-in-laws Madge, Edna and Wanda have remained present in her life and help her with anything she needs. She always says how thankful she is for her family. Her family, in return, is very thankful for her and her love.

One of the things Roten remembers is that she has never acted or looked her age. She has always been so full of life and has aged with very few wrinkles.

“I remember flat footing with her in the living room as a little girl, and even then, she would have been in her late 60s,” Roten said. “She was an amazing seamstress and could have been a professional one with the quality of clothes that she made. She made my pageant clothes when I was in the Little Miss Ashe County Pageant I won, and my dress was more beautiful than the dresses that other parents had paid thousands of dollars for.”

Greer also made clothes for her children, grandchildren, neighbors and friends. She loved to make and sell bonnets. Roten’s grandmother Wanda even recalled a wedding dress that she made for her granddaughter Bobbi’s Wedding with beautiful beading. Greer loved to grow a garden every year and to can and cook what she grew for her family.

According to Roten, she had a green thumb and could grow beautiful vegetables and flowers. She liked to pitch horseshoes.

The things that she enjoys now are spending time with her cats Willie and Boots, completing word search puzzles, tending to flowers on her porch when in season, reading, and playing Rook.

When asking her what she remembers most during her 100 years of life, she shared some memories about growing up. She did not have any of the modern conveniences we enjoy today such as running water, electricity, a telephone, television and a washer or dryer.

She told Roten that when they washed clothes, they had to go to the spring to get the water, carry the water back and put it on the cookstove to heat it, then pour the water into a tub and add the laundry soap her mother made. They would then use a washing board to wash the clothes. Then they had to get more water from the spring and heat it to rinse the clothes before hanging them out to dry on a clothesline.

Another memory that she shared with Roten was about the spring was when her grandmother was staying with them. Her mother asked her to go and get her grandmother some water from the spring. She recalls being around 5 years old at the time and her mother’s half-brother, Lester, who was younger than her, went with her to the spring with a bucket to fetch the water. When she and Lester got to the spring there was a lizard in front of the water with big beady eyes that kept looking at them. They were both too afraid to get the water. So instead of water from the spring she got water from the branch and brought it back to her mother for her grandmother. Her grandmother drank the dirty water never knowing the difference — but if she had Lola would have been in big trouble.

She also recalls her mother milking the cow with a white cloth that was used to strain the milk. Then they used the cream to churn and make butter. They kept their milk and butter in the spring house to keep it cold.

She said times were hard then and her father had gone to Virginia to work for several months. They did not have a vehicle, so he had to board there. One day she and her oldest sister Yvonne looked down the road and saw their father coming back home. She recalls them running to meet him and the smile on his face once they reached him. He made enough money to help the family, but it was then time for him to help put up the crops. They were very thankful to have their father back home.

Even though times were hard back then, they had plenty of love to go around and a sense of family. They pitched horseshoes, played chess and checkers and played baseball with a flat bat. Her father picked the banjo, so they sang and listened to music. She also recalls having a victrola they listened to records on and when her mother was not looking, she and her sisters danced. She also remembers helping in the garden and noting that it is where her love of gardening began.

She went to school at Long Branch and had to walk three to four miles each way and took her lunch in a brown paper bag.

Another love that Greer has always had is attending church. She attended Low Gap Baptist Church and is a current member of Pleasant View Baptist Church. Although she is unable to attend, she still loves the church very much and appreciates the visits from Dwight and his wife Kathy Shepherd.

When asked by Roten about what she sees for the future now that she is 100, Greer replied by saying, “To continue to live a Godly life doing the things I enjoy and spending time with my family until God calls me home.”

The family will be having a drive-by birthday parade for Greer on Saturday, March 20 at 1 p.m. All cars will meet at Blue Ridge Elementary School.

The name Sawyer is an occupational name meaning “one who cuts wood into boards.” Life in a family can sometimes be like cutting wood; challenges arise that are hard for us to cut. But the word “family” is what always pulls us through. When times are tough, there is always a family member there to help cutting the obstacles of life, and we find with their help, things were not so difficult after all, Roten said.

“Thank you Mamaw for being that wood that has always kept our family together,” said Roten.

Libby's wins 2021 Small Business of the Year

WEST JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Chamber of Commerce announced the 2021 Small Business of the Year award winner, which went to Libby’s, on Monday, March 15.

Libby Cockerham said she and her staff felt very blessed and honored to receive the award after being in business for 19 years.

According to chamber executive director Kitty Honeycutt there were several strong nominations for the award this year.

Honeycutt said the award was well-deserved by Cockerham and her staff, noting that they were very inventive and involved in keeping their clientele engaged during the pandemic.

“The feedback from the public and her customers is just all so positive, everybody is thrilled for Libby and her staff,” Honeycutt said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic an in-person ceremony was not held. The presentation of the award by chair of the Member Services Committee to Cockerham was recorded and is available for the community to view online.

To access the video, visit the Chamber’s Facebook page @Ashe Chamber.

To watch the video, click HERE.

The video featured an introduction by board chair Andy Guion, who thanked Jefferson Landing for allowing them to use their facilities and Germain Media for filming the presentation.

“This award is a top honor for a business in Ashe County, and this year’s winner is so well-deserving,” said board chair Andy Guion.

The 2021 Small Business of the Year award was sponsored by Blue Ridge Energy, who has been the longest standing sponsor of the Chamber’s SBOY celebration.

Blue Ridge Energy has supported and partnered with the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce since 1965.

“Being the sponsor of this event is always a proud moment for Blue Ridge Energy,” said Blue Ridge Energy District Manager Tasha Rountree. “We are honored to recognize the annual Small Business of the Year award recipient and celebrate their success.”

The SBOY award is presented to a business nominated by the community and selected by the Member Services Committee.

To be considered, businesses must be in operation for at least three years and be a Chamber member; have fewer than 25 full-time employees; be a good corporate citizen which seeks to enhance the quality of life in Ashe County and be successful in helping the economic vitality of Ashe County.

“This is much-coveted recognition, and with that comes a beautiful award,” said Rita Schaefer, chair of the Member Services Committee.

The fiddle is painted by Sara Ford, the box is Michael Whaley of Ashe Woodworking Inc. and the name plaque is made by Glenn Klutz.

Announcing this year’s winner was Philip Shepherd of Mountain Aire Golf Course. Mountain Aire was the winner of the 2020 SBOY award.

“This year during the COVID-19 pandemic, Libby’s had to restructure operations to keep customers feeling connected, while still championing worthy local causes,” Shepherd said.

He added that customers both near and far have long celebrated Libby’s customer service, where patrons are greeted by name.

When forced to close her doors in March, Cockerham began utilizing Facebook Live to engage her followers.

“While this may have been an exceptional year, Libby’s level of service to the community and to customers throughout this year was no exception,” Shepherd said. “The Ashe County Chamber of Commerce is proud to present this award to Owner Libby Cockerham and the staff of Libby’s, where service is still in style.”

When presented with the award on March 3 by Schaefer and joined by Guion, Rountree, Honeycutt and Shepherd, Cockerham expressed her delight.

“This is such a blessing,” Cockerham said. “I just feel blessed during all this transition that we’ve been through and all the support I’ve had from our community, from the Chamber, from all the people that shop with us from all over, it’s just been a true, true blessing.”

The video also included remarks from Libby’s staff and testimonies from loyal customers at the store, which were filmed by Germain Media on Feb. 25. At the time these were filmed, Cockerham did not know about the award. Her staff kept it a secret until the presentation of the award at Jefferson Landing on March 3.

Unveiling the 2021 Ashe County Visitor Guide was Special Projects Manager Natalie Lea and General Manager of Hart-T-Tree Farms Carrie McClain.

The cover is a photo taken by McClain of bundled Christmas Trees at the farm. The photo was chosen because it represents the heightened demand in Ashe County agriculture in 2020 due to the pandemic.

“Carrie’s photo also tells the story of the heart of what makes Ashe County unique, the agricultural community,” Lea said. “We remember the experiences of 2020, but continue forward with strength, perseverance and hope.”