WEST JEFFERSON — Parents, students, teachers, elected officials and other community members convened in the auditorium of Ashe County High School Thursday, Nov. 14, for the inaugural State of the Schools address from Ashe County Schools.

The event served as a way to showcase the successes of Ashe County Schools, as well as shed light on safety concerns related to security, internet and health concerns within the student population of Ashe County. A number of speakers took to the stage throughout the address, each providing insights into the school system for the crowd in attendance.

“Ashe County Schools belongs to the citizens of Ashe County,” Superintendent Phyllis Yates said at the start of the address. “I believe events such as this will open a whole new line of communication.”

Four major topics were discussed throughout the evening, including highlights from the 2018-2019 academic school year, school security updates, internet safety and dangers of vaping.

“Education changes every day, and classroom experiences are also everchanging,” Yates said. “Students today learn differently, which means teachers must use a balanced approach of foundational literacy strengthened with technology tools and current resources.”

Yates continued, saying that today’s students must possess creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, empathy, writing and oral communication expertise, problem solving and leadership skills.

“We must prepare them for the challenges that lay ahead, and engage, equip and ready them to lead into the 21st century,” Yates said.

Stephanie Dischiavi, N.C. Department of Public Instruction northwest regional case manager, presented a collection of data points that captured a snapshot of how Ashe County Schools compared to 115 districts across the state, as well as the 14 states in the northwest region.

Dischiavi discussed data related to students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, cohort graduation rates, end-of-grade and end-of-course assessments, ACT scores and work-readiness assessments within Ashe County Schools.

Within the 14 school districts in the northwest region, Ashe County Schools ranked first place overall in the areas of science overall for grades five and eight, reading overall in for grades three through eight, and math overall for grades three through eight. Also, ACS also ranked first place out of the state’s 115 districts in science overall for fifth and eighth grades, as well as fifth overall in math and reading in grades three through eight. Ashe County High School also ranked third place in the region for Math 3 courses.

“Congratulations to the students, teachers, administrators and the entire Ashe County team because they have certainly put themselves on the map of North Carolina,” Dischiavi said.

Between 2014 and 2019, Ashe County showed improvement and progress across grade levels and content through vertical programming, which would not be possible without a strong fundamental base that takes place in grades K-2, Dischiavi said.

Students with disabilities within ACS are making double-digit gains in several areas, including cohort graduation rates, math, biology and ACT college readiness, among other positive trends in proficiency, Dischiavi explained.

“Such gains for these students does not happen by chance,” Dischiavi said. “It’s certainly a reflection of the determination of these young men and women, and also a reflection of the shared responsibility across this school district.”

Ashe County showed an 11-percentage-point increase in EOG math scores overall. Dischiavi also reported double-digit gains for Hispanic students within ACS.

“Ashe County Schools is clearly united in their ethical and professional practice and promise to challenging young minds to soar,” Dischiavi said.

Dischiavi was followed on stage by ACS Director of Curriculum and Federal Programs Julie Taylor, who said all of the school system’s achievements wouldn’t be possible without its dedicated teachers and parents.

“High test scores are contingent upon students feeling safe, connected to their teachers, connected to their peers in the classroom, and our teachers do a great job of working to create that climate in the classroom,” Taylor said.

School SecurityJerry Baker, ACS maintenance director and chairman of the school security committee, as well as Ashe County Sheriff B. Phil Howell both discussed updates on security within Ashe County Schools.

The school security committee comprises about 53 members from each of Ashe County’s schools, Baker said, and works to ensure that students feel safe in the learning environment.

Baker discussed two programs used by ACS to increase school security, including a School Risk Management Plan, consisting of a centralized network to gather information from all schools to be used in a crisis situation, as well as a program that allows local law enforcement to access the SRMP information.

“I assure you that there is something there to take care of your students,” Baker said, adding that the school’s emergency management plan cannot be shared with the public for safety concerns and increased efficiency.

In addition, a number of cameras within the school system have been installed in key locations that can be accessed remotely, Baker said, as well as interior walls to prevent visitors from immediately having access to the student body.

Both Baker and Howell expressed their gratitude for the school resource officers at each of the county’s schools. Howell said that the SRO program started with only one, but has now grown into a collective team led by Sergeant David Gambill. Howell also encouraged the public to visit an SRO if or when an issue arises.

Howell also noted that ACSO will not disclose certain information in the event of a school threat, but said that if the sheriff’s office knows that if there is a credible threat, information will be released as quickly as possible.

Internet SafetyChris Chambliss, special agent of computer and internet crimes for the State Bureau of Investigation, discussed internet safety with those in attendance along with ACS Director of Technology Amy Walker.

Walker said that ACS is constantly working to ensure that student and parent data is secure. Each of the schools in Ashe County teaches a course on internet safety, Walker said.

“I encourage you as parents to monitor your child — who they are communicating with online — and make sure that the content they’re being exposed to is both age appropriate and safe,” Walker said.

She added that ACS is working hard to make sure that if a network breach were to take place within ACS, personal data will not be compromised.

Chambliss has worked with the SBI for a number of years in protecting children from online predators, and said he visits schools around the state to speak about internet safety.

“There’s no feeling in the world greater than taking a predator off the street and rescuing a child,” Chambliss said.

Chambliss said that parents need to be vigilant with their children’s internet usage, especially considering how much of an attachment people have to their technology these days.

VapingLuka Kinard, a 16-year-old high school student from High Point, spoke about his experiences with vaping, and how it negatively affected his life.

Kinard said he was introduced to vaping around freshmen year of high school and stuck with it because he wanted to fit in. Before long, he said it became an outlet for him to relieve stress and he quickly developed an addiction.

He said he spent 39 days in a rehabilitation facility for nicotine addiction before returning home. Now, he visits high schools around the state as an advocate against vaping.

Among ways to prevent and treat nicotine addiction, Kinard said parents should encourage their children to seek help and find alternatives, such as music, sports or other hobbies.

After the main event concluded, break out sessions were held in classrooms for those in attendance to find more information related to school security, safety, curriculum and vaping.

“We hope tonight’s event is the beginning of keeping the vital lines of communication open with Ashe County residents regarding the future of our public schools, our children and our county,” Yates said.

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