While supporting the idea of a "concept" high school designed to provide graduating high school seniors with marketable career skills, some members of the Board of Education appear anxious to nail down exactly what skills should be included in the new school's course offerings — and to make sure the course offerings reflect the needs of Moore County employers.
Members of the MCS administrative staff presented the results of a web-based survey that solicited public opinion about the new school during the January 5 meeting. Over ten days, the poll attracted responses from 1,069 citizens, including 518 students and 350 parents.
Associate Superintendent Kathy Kennedy said 59 percent of the responses came from the area served by Pinecrest High School, 30 percent from the Union Pines area, and 11 percent from North Moore.
Board member Charles Lambert urged that staff make an extra effort to alert North Moore residents to opportunities for input, since many residents in that area do not regularly peruse media based in Southern Moore County.
Survey respondents were presented with a list of potential course offerings, grouped within four "academies," which included Life & Health Sciences, Agriculture, Design & Production, and Hospitality & Culinary Arts.
Most proposed course offerings received at least some votes. Among the most popular were Animal Science (including Veterinary Assisting), Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Horticulture (including Golf Course & Turf Management), and Life & Health Science (including Physical Therapy, Anesthesiologist, & Nursing).
There results "tell us we were on the right track as far as the pathways were concerned," Kennedy said.
Associate Superintendent Eric Porter told the Board that community forums aimed at gathering additional information are planned for February 12 at North Moore, February 16 at Union Pines, and February 23 at Pinecrest. They will be held from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm.
What's the goal?
"What is the goal here?" newly-elected Board member Sue Black asked. "What type of student do we want to turn out?"
Kennedy noted that the concept high school is designed to free up space in the existing high schools, in order to provide a less expensive alternative to building a new comprehensive high school, as well as to provide career and college readiness for graduating seniors."
"I know we have a space problem, but there needs to be a deeper reason to build a new school," Black said. "I think the business community is watching us closely. They want us to train students who meet their need for employees."
But divining exactly what the business community wants may be easier said than done.
"I know that there were meetings with business community, but I never got any feedback on what the businesses said they wanted," Board member Ed Dennison said. "We need a place that our kids can go so they can go to work and earn a good living and stay in Moore County."
"Maybe we need to ask the businesses what kind of specific skills they are looking for," Dennison added. "I would like to see us be a little more focused on what our businesses need here."
But Kennedy, who participated in a roundtable with business leaders organized by Sandhills Community College, said local business leaders stressed the need for "soft skills — collaboration, responsibility . . ."
Vice Chair Kathy Farren echoed that point: "We kept asking what businesses want, and the businesses kept saying 'soft skills.' If you teach them the soft skills, then we will teach them to run our machinery."
Both Black and Dennison expressed strong support for the idea of a career-oriented high school, but both stressed the need to narrow down the curriculum.
"We need to look not at all that you could do with this, but at what will work in Moore County," Dennison said.
"The shotgun approach bothers me," Black said, "because I don't want us to promise a lot and deliver a little."
"This idea has been around a very long time," she said, "and it is time to do it."
More Chromebooks coming to MCS Students
By mid-February, every student at West Pine Middle School, Southern Pines Middle School, and Pinecrest High School will receive a laptop computer, as Moore County Schools [MCS] rolls out Phase III of its Digital Learning Initiative.
The computers, HP Chromebooks, will be leased over a 42 month term at a cost of $945,340.
Budget Director Mike Griffin told members of the Moore County Board of Education during their regular Monday, January 5 meeting, that the district would be receiving newer models of the laptop computers at the same price as those purchased last year for Phase II.
The Digital Learning Initiative began in the 2012-2013 school year, with the purchase of iPads for Carthage Elementary, Mac laptops for the Community Learning Center at Pinckney, and laptops for all teachers. Federal Race to the Top funds, as well as other grants, were used for those purchases.
County funding of the program began in 2013-2014. The first semester of that school year was devoted to pilot projects at several schools that aimed to determine which computer best suited the needs of students and teachers. Once the Chromebook was selected, 3400 of the laptop computers were deployed last Spring in high schools and middle schools in the North Moore and Union Pines districts.
Deputy Superintendent Mark Bergin explained that 1400 new Chromebooks had arrived in the MCS warehouse on January 5, with the remaining 2000 expected in a week to ten days. The computers are unpacked, imaged for inventory tracking, and checked out by MCS staff before being transported to the target schools.
They will be distributed at West Pine Middle on January 27, Southern Pines Middle on January 29, and Pinecrest on February 11 and 12. Students will pay a $10 part-year technology fee; the full-year fee is $25.
Phase 4 of the project will roll out digital devices in all MCS elementary schools, with the exception of Carthage, which already has iPads. Pilot programs are currently underway to select the most appropriate device for each grade level.
Differentiated Teacher Pay Proposed
Human Resources Director Anita Alpenfels presented a plan that would offer annual bonuses of up to $4,000 per teacher for those who serve in hard-to-staff subject areas, including middle and high school science and math, for exceptional children teachers in grades K-12, and for teachers in schools that have higher than average turnover rates.
Alpenfels explained that new state legislation requires the district to create such a plan; however, the General Assembly provided meager current year funding for its implementation, amounting to only $8,000 for Moore County. She said the administration felt it was appropriate to create a plan, in case additional state funding becomes available.
Because the January 5 meeting of the Moore County Board of Education was a work session, rather than the panel's regular meeting, most items on the agenda were either reports requiring no action, or information provided to prepare the Board to take action on other items during their regular January 12 meeting.
Addition items included:
• The Board expressed a willingness to extend the closing date for Taylortown's purchase of the former Academy Heights Elementary School to February 27, so that the town's financing plan can be reviewed and approved by the state Local Government Commission.
• The Board reviewed a proposed $32,000 contract with the firm SfL+a Architects, who will create master plans anticipating growth of the three Moore County High Schools over the next several decades. The studies are preliminary to creating specific plans for expansions of Union Pines and Pinecrest that are the first two initiatives in the MCS Master Facilities Plan.
• Board members reviewed three contracts with the Georgia-based firm Soliant Health that could involve an expenditure of up to $174,000. Soliant will provide services for hearing impaired students, because MCS has been unable to hire a teacher to provide those services. In addition, the firm will provide staff to offer speech pathology and occupational therapy services while four members of the MCS staff are on maternity leave.
• The Board received the comprehensive annual financial report for FY 2104 and a "clean opinion" from an audit performed by Dixon-Hughes-Goodman, LLP.
• Operation Director John Birath briefed the Board on plans to purchase a new wrecker, utilizing an extra $179,000 in state transportation funding awarded to MCS because of its 99.66 percent efficiency rating.
• Board members reviewed committee assignments suggested by newly-elected Chair Bruce Cunningham, with those expected to be made final during the January 12 Board meeting.
• Board member Ben Cameron and Laura Lang were absent from the meeting.