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JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Board of Education met virtually through Zoom Video Communications on June 29. This meeting was bittersweet as it was Superintendent Phyllis Yates’ last meeting with the BOE. Yates retired effective July 1.

Those present on the Zoom call included Yates, Chairman C.B. Jones Jr., Vice Chairman Dr. Lee Beckworth, Dr. Eisa Cox, and board members Dianne Eldreth, Keith McClure and Polly Jones.

Ashe County Middle School representatives Principal Dustin Farmer and Todd Rivver ,who teaches ELA and seventh grade Social Studies, joined the meeting to talk about the Vocabulary Bowl.

ACMS received its banner and trophy for winning first place in the competition, which were seen behind Farmer and Rivver during the Zoom call.

Rivver voiced his desire at the beginning of the school year for ACMS to get involved with the Vocabulary Bowl, which is a national competition.

Farmer said it was one of the best things he has been a part of in his 17 years in education. The students had left school on a Friday and didn’t return to school due to COVID-19 causing school closures across the country.

“We had around 200 of our 500 kids participate that evening, they got to spend the evening together,” Farmer said. “I decided I would stay on the roof that night, so I participated in the Zoom session from the roof in a tent it was about 40 degrees.”

ACMS students came from behind 5,000 words mastered and won by about 500 words. The school they beat, Harris Road Middle School, went to bed thinking they were state champions and ended up placing second.

“The kids did phenomenal, it was just a wonderful experience. Thank you to the school board and Mrs. Yates and especially Mr. Farmer,” Rivver said.

Ashe County High School Athletic Director David Koontz presented information about the school’s recent honor.

The National Federation of State High School Associations recently announced that ACHS earned Level 1 status in the NFHS School Honor Roll. This recognizes schools for their professional development of coaching staff.

“I’m extremely proud of our coaching staff for this national honor,” Koontz said.

To date, ACHS is one of 43 schools across the United States receiving this honor. The school will be receiving a banner to hang for display in its gymnasium.

“I would put our coaching staff up against anybody in the state, they’re tremendous,” Koontz said. “They always rise to the occasion and they always put kids first and they know the importance that education plays in the role of athletics in high school and how critical it is to our success.”

Student Services Coordinator Jamie Little and Director of K-12 Curriculum/Federal Programs Julie Taylor provided information about the summer remediation program and jump start plans.

These programs are for students K-4 who were identified at mid-year or at the time of school closure as behind in math or reading.

Little said there has been a lot of interest in the program and dates have been set for July 20-31.

The plan was submitted June 22 and has been approved.

Little provided an update on the school system’s pursuit of the partnership with Western Youth Network to provide after school care. The goal is to begin the program with WYN when students return to in-person instruction.

She spoke with WYN Executive Director Jennifer Warren about the possibility of providing bus transportation and she was very much in favor of providing transportation.

The MoU involves the County of Ashe, the Cooperative Extension, Ashe County Schools and Western Youth Network.

Yates shared an update from her recent meeting with ACHS Principal Amanda Hipp about the upcoming graduation ceremony. The event is still scheduled for Saturday, July 25 and a time has not been set yet.

In the event that inclement weather were to occur, the event would be moved inside with a reduction in people allowed to attend due to social distancing.

Toward the end of the meeting, the focus shifted to the upcoming change coming to ACS on July 1. Yates will be retiring from the school system and Dr. Eisa Cox will be sworn in that morning as the new superintendent of schools.

“It is the 29th of June and in a couple of days you all are going to have a new leader,” Yates said. “I just want to welcome Dr. Eisa Cox, I want to welcome you to Ashe County.”

Yates spoke highly about the students, parents and the Central Support Services staff during this time. She offered her assistance to Cox to help with anything she may need during this transition.

“I have big shoes to fill,” Cox said. “And I appreciate you extending your time to me over the last couple of weeks and including me. And I have seen firsthand how hard Central Services works, I am truly looking forward to being there and working on a daily basis, face-to-face with the team. I truly appreciate your leadership and what you’ve done to make this a smooth transition for me.”

A tearful Yates expressed how blessed she was to have a job that she loved coming to each day.

“It’s really hard for me to express to all of my coworkers how much I love them and how much I appreciate them and the 12 days of Phyllis have been absolutely wonderful,” Yates said.

Board members then expressed their gratitude and partook in welcoming Cox and saying goodbye to Yates.

“I never have known anyone who has worked as hard as you have for the staff and the students of this county,” Polly Jones said.

Jones expressed her love for Yates and wished her a happy retirement and the best of everything life has to offer.

“Phyllis, I’d like to wish you the best in your upcoming days,” Eldreth said. “I really appreciate what you’ve done for Ashe County Schools over the last many, many years. I know you helped me as a teacher and helped me fill out all those good retirement papers that I appreciated, because you made it very simple. And you’ve done that for a lot of folks, you’ve done many, many things for a lot of folks.”

“You are extremely hardworking and I’ve always known that I could come to you for advice,” McClure said.

He added that he wants Yates to know that she will be missed and that she is appreciated.

Beckworth spoke about the many years he worked with Yates and the many conversations they had.

“She has dedicated her life to this school system and it shows,” Beckworth said. “She’s done a great job for us, we’re going to miss her in the school system but we won’t miss her as a friend. And I look forward to keeping that friendship going.”

Jones extended a welcome to Cox saying he will do anything he can to help her. He then expressed his gratitude to Yates, who he has worked many years with, which he described as both an honor and a privilege.

“We certainly will always be your friend and have nothing but good things to say about you. And we wish you the best of luck in retirement,” he said.

In closing, Yates took a moment to thank her family for their support over the years.

“They’ve really stood by me all these years, when I should’ve been doing things with them, but they went ahead and they left me at work and they went ahead and they enjoyed the things that they were doing together,” Yates said. “So I don’t want to miss anymore of that.”

The meeting can be accessed in its entirety on the school system’s Facebook page @Ashe County Public Schools.

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