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JEFFERSON ― The Ashe County Board of Education held its regular monthly meeting on Oct. 5 at 6 p.m.

Due to the limited amount of persons allowed to attend in-person meetings under COVID-19 guidelines, the meeting was live-streamed and is available to view at any time by visiting the school district website at asheschools.org. To access the video, select the “District” tab and “Board of Education” from the District Directory.

The video can also be found on the ACS Facebook page @Ashe County Public Schools.

Present at the meeting were Superintendent Dr. Eisa Cox, Chairman C.B. Jones, Vice Chairman Dr. Lee Beckworth and board members Keith McClure, Dianne Eldreth and Polly Jones. Also present were Director of Maintenance Jerry Baker and Finance Officer Amanda Coldiron.

Director of Child Nutrition Martha Turner discussed the Fresh Fruit and Veggie Grant which was awarded to the three elementary schools for the 2020-21 school year. The grant will allow the schools to provide fresh fruit and vegetable snacks to students at least two days per week for the time being.

According to Turner, there is flexibility with the grant and starting out they will use a simpler approach using pre-portioned and packaged items. These items can be served in conjunction with meals but cannot replace one of the meal components.

There is a portion of the grant that can be used for labor, as needed and the total grant amount for all three schools is a little over $85,000.

Superintendent Dr. Eisa Cox spoke on behalf of Accountability and CTE Director Earl Pennington to present the funding of the Gear Up Grant for Ashe County Schools.

According to Cox, the grant will support the school system through 2026-27 school year. ACS was one of the 10 districts awarded statewide. This grant will support current 10th grade students through 2023.

Director of Student Services Jamie Little gave an update about the current mental health practices in Ashe County Schools.

According to the data presented by Little, the school system has 10 school counselors with three of them being at the elementary schools, two at Ashe County Middle School , three at Ashe County High School and one at Ashe Early College.

There are also four school nurses, with one at each elementary school and one at ACHS. There is one Mental Health Coordinator who provides services through the Assessment, Support and Counseling Center at ACHS. One school social worker serves all schools in the district and one student success coordinator serves ACHS.

At the elementary schools, counselors provide services for both groups and individuals. If a student requires more intensive therapy, the school counselor will make a referral to an outside therapist with parental permission. ACS also has MOUs in place with Daymark, Jodi Province, Youth Villages and Jenny Holmes. Students in need of counseling are served at their school, removing the barrier of transportation. Parents’ insurance is billed through the provider and schools do not handle any insurance information or billing. ACS assists in the referral process, set up services and provide a location.

According to Little, daily check-ins are completed for both students attending school under Plan B and those enrolled in Ashe Online. Students are asked to complete a daily attendance form in which Little added a question asking how they are feeling each day.

Teachers were asked by Little to reach out to the child individually or a parent if they notice a student is consecutively feeling sad, upset or lonely.

At Ashe County Middle School, the two counselors provide both group and individual services while also completing daily check-ins with students. The TopDog Clinic has a full-time mental health provider that serves students during the school day. TopDog Clinic bills student insurance and if insurance doesn’t cover services, there is still no charge to the family.

According to Little, ACMS still utilizes outside therapy as needed. If a student is already receiving therapy from another agency, the school works with those providers to be able to serve students at school if needed.

At ACHS and AEC students can receive services through the ASC Center, which has a full-time Mental Health Coordinator who provides individual therapy and also supervises Appalachian State University Doctoral students that provide individual therapy.

Both ACHS and AEC counseling staff complete referrals to outside therapy providers as needed. If a student is already receiving therapy from another agency, they work with those providers to be able to serve students at school if needed.

Cox presented an update on the COVID-19 cases within the school system, which she plans to do at each monthly meeting.

The data provided concerning the cases was as of 6 p.m. on Oct. 5. According to the data presented by Cox, there were three active positive cases in ACS with a total of 15 cases since the beginning of the school year.

There were also nine current, active cases in parents who were keeping their child(ren) at home while seeking testing. In addition, there were 15 people awaiting test results and absent from school.

Cox encourages parents who are being tested that have school-aged children at home to reach out to them so they are aware and teachers can provide the children with any necessary assignments to complete.

According to Cox, if students are not within six feet of each other and everyone is wearing a mask, they are not classified as a close contact. However, the school system has been informing parents of students who may have been exposed to a positive case in the classroom and ensure they know how to access the free testing at the health department.

During the comments from the superintendent portion, Cox said they are pulling a focus group of teachers throughout the district to share their perspectives of how the school year is going so far.

These are teachers that were recommended by their respective schools to provide input and suggestions for improvement.

The teachers included in the focus group are Shannon Coldiron, Paige Sturgill, Erin Yates, Christina Worley, Emily Roten, Annabell Bennett, Chelsea Eller Taylor, Stephanie Baker, Francis Eller, Summer Davis, Anna Thompson, Gina Calhoun, Travis Richardson, Mitchell Reedy, Marty McKenzie, Alex Rollins, Christy Rivers and Daniel Calhoun.

There will also be Ashe Online teacher focus groups including Andrea Little, Martie Latham, John Franca, Tamara Kearley, Katie Absher, Dedra Buchanan, Sarah Beckworth, Kelly Lopp, Kathy Maloney, Robin Nethery, Jillian Baldwin, Katrina Miller, Kendra Wineberg, Jill Gambill, Madi Roberts, Mike Windish and Julie Little.

The next regular meeting of the BOE will be Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. at the Central Support Offices Annex.

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