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JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Board of Education met in regular session at the ACS Central Support Services Annex on Monday, Jan. 11 at 6 p.m.

Present were Superintendent Dr. Eisa Cox, Chair Joshua Roten, Vice Chair Dianne Eldreth and board members Dr. Kimberly Simmons, Keith McClure and Polly Jones.

In compliance with the COVID-19 State of Emergency declarations affecting the number of persons who may physically attend a gathering, an livestream was available on the website for the public to participate.

The video of the meeting is available to watch on the ACS Facebook page @Ashe County Public Schools, as well as on the website at ashecountyschools.org. A copy of the agenda, including all of the line items discussed is also available on the website. To access the agenda and video, select the “District” tab and “Board of Education” from the bulleted menu.

At the meeting, architect Larry Greene joined via Zoom to provide an update on the new middle school project.

According to Greene, plans are in order for his engineers to submit their design development documents to him, which are 50 percent complete, to Greene in PDF form by Friday, Jan. 15 or Monday, Jan 18.

At this time, Greene provided an anticipated timeline for progress by his team of engineers.

He plans for the construction documents to be 100 percent complete and submitted to the state, which will require prior approval by school planning, by the end of March or early April.

As far as the bidding process, Greene anticipates the advertisement of bids will take place in May and to receive bids and award the contract in June.

During the discussion about the new middle school plans, Eldreth made a motion to move forward with the previously discussed CMR (construction manager at risk) plans.

Prior to making her motion, Eldreth expressed concern about inflation affecting the cost of building materials.

The board decided to further research the idea of implementing a CMR at a special joint-meeting with the Ashe County Board of Commissioners and Greene on Dec. 15.

After the motion was made and Simmons seconded it, Jones voiced her “adamant” opposition to hiring a CMR.

“What you pay them you are taking away from the schoolchildren in Ashe County,” Jones said.

She added that the school will not be built any faster or cheaper through hiring a CMR and any comparison of the project to the Wilkes Community College Expansion project is unreasonable. The plans in store for the new middle school are much more larger in size and more complex.

“I am not going to take two people to do one person is already doing,” Jones said.

After a fair amount of discussion, Roten called for a vote.

The vote was 4-1 with Jones in opposition.

Cox presented a COVID-19 update for the school system with the latest information as of 11:30 that morning.

There were eight positive cases among staff members throughout the schools as of Jan. 11.

Cox said her biggest concern was the number of staff members out of the building at Blue Ridge Elementary School. There were total of 11 staff members out with three positive cases and eight quarantines.

She added that the snow accumulations in the county was of great help, as it resulted in three remote days for the school system.

“We know that kids learn better when they are in school, so we would like to have them in school if possible, but I certainly do not want to have children in school without the appropriate number of adults,” Cox said. “We can’t put classes together like we used to be able to in the past.”

As far as COVID-19 vaccines, the school system is partnering with AppHealthCare to help administer vaccine to school staff. Staff members who are age 50 and older will get the vaccines first.

According to Cox, they anticipate that by the end of January or the beginning of February all staff members within the organization, who wished to be vaccinated, will receive the first round of the Moderna vaccine.

Also during the Superintendent Comment portion, Cox shared some information about academics.

From October to December, fall tutoring was offered utilizing some of the COVID relief funds.

According to Cox, elementary school teachers all reported significant gains in second through fourth grade students through i-Ready, a comprehensive assessment and instruction program.

Cox added that was a renewed interest in reading by students as reported by teachers.

“I am excited that kids are learning to love reading again,” Cox said.

She added that through May, schools have hired temporary tutors for reading and math.

The next meeting of the BOE will be Monday, Feb 1.

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