HAMLET – The Richmond County Board of Education members were all smiles throughout their monthly meeting at the district’s administration building last week, and for good reasons.
The general theme of positivity was established by Superintendent Dr. Cindy Goodman, as she recognized the efforts of multiple individuals and the benefits derived from particular events during the first few weeks of this school year.
Goodman was especially complimentary as to the facilitation of Professional Development Day, and subsequently acknowledged the value of her interaction with the Richmond Senior High School Student Advisory Group in regard to various school issues.
“It’s always good to get the perspective of the students,” Dr. Goodman said.
Indeed, it would seem that such an interactive management style has greatly benefitted Richmond County Schools in multiple ways.
Financially, the district’s schools are “in great shape,” according to independent auditor Dale Smith.
“The finance department is doing a great job and the figures are all at a good, sound level,” Smith stated.
Questioned by board member Donald Greene as to how Richmond County compares to similar school systems, Smith indicated that we are “much better off than most,” and have about four times the minimum standard reserve for school systems of RCS’ size.
Associated indirectly with that financial stability (and thanks to an allocation from the North Carolina General Assembly), the Board was able to approve a pay raise of 90 cents per hour for school bus drivers. This amount was determined in direct accordance with calculations based upon the amount of monies available and the hours worked during the preceding school year.
In making the request for such an allotment, driver representative Corey Davis noted the difficult conditions and arduous tasks faced by those who have the responsibility of safely transporting school children twice a day when classes are in session.
A related accounting issue was in regard to the routine day-to-day fiscal procedures. Budget Officer Tina Edmonds presented a request to approve First Bank as the institution with which the school system would henceforth do business.
After discussion, the Board approved the Budget Resolution and Bank Account Recommendation as presented. It was noted that, due to the lack of a First Bank branch in Ellerbe and the ensuing logistical challenges, schools in that area would be allowed to make other banking arrangements on a limited basis, but that First Bank would be the primary banking institution of RCS.
Other items of interest included the recognition of Inspiring Excellence Award recipients Kristen Perakis and Amanda Sinclair; Board member Dr. Irene Aiken’s notation of the REACH students who toured UNC-Pembroke this week; renovations, upgrades and construction at Cordova Middle School (for which school official Dennis Quick gave credit to the County government for their role in the development of new and improved athletic accommodations); the appointment of specific delegates to the School Board Conference to be held in Greensboro November 13-15; and Dr. Julian Carter’s request for approval of certain personnel decisions.
There seems to be more than one reason for this type of interactional relationship. One such element of the equation is evidenced by the Transition Program for Exceptional Students.
Formerly housed only at Cordova, the classes for students (there are currently 55 in the program), the decision was made last year to incorporate these students into the mainstream schools while maintaining the self-contained format of instruction.
The students are thus able to benefit from the concentrated levels of attention (there is a ratio of one teacher for every three students) while also assimilating (albeit on a limited basis) into “real world” interaction with the general population of students at their respective facilities. Such exposure helps to accentuate communication skills and general social interaction awareness.
Dr. Amber Watkins introduced several of those mentors who have made this effort successful, particularly citing the work of Tracey Flowers (Monroe Avenue Elementary School), Betty King (Cordova Middle) and Kim Covington (RSHS).
“It could not have worked out any better,” extolled Flowers. “And the decision to make this happen was a Godsend for these kids.”
Rebecca Bradley and Mary Swails, each of whom is also directly associated with the program, echoed sentiments of this nature.
“The other students always take the opportunity to help us, volunteering to read to our kids and making them feel welcomed and at ease,” said Swails.
Another such factor contributing to the success of the school system is the superior work of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. CTE Director Sharon Johnson was recognized for having won the Southwest Region’s CTE Administrator of the Year award. This is Johnson’s second such award since 2010, and her professional accomplishments were encapsulated in a glowing review from Associate Superintendent Dr. Jeff Maples, who cited Johnson’s untiring efforts to coordinate and facilitate all aspects of the CTE program.
Accolades were bestowed upon several individuals during the one-hour session, but perhaps the most insightful (and meaningful) information was provided by Student Accountability Director Jennifer Brach.
“The Richmond County School System is demonstrating tremendous progress,” she said, proceeding to post pertinent charts and graphs to facilitate a better understanding of indicators as to just how well we are doing.
Multiple factors are directly and necessarily incorporated into such measures, of course, but the succinctly stated “bottom line” is that RCS has improved rapidly and tremendously of late.
“Based on the READY model of meeting or exceeding accountability indicator variables, we were number one in our district of 16 school systems with a 93% score,” said Brach.
To put this in perspective, the statewide average for North Carolina is only 73 percent. It was also noted that RCS was ranked third of 115 school systems in the state in relation to math scores; have a current graduation rate within 10 percentage points of the state average; have a composite academic score that is within three percentage points of the state average; and have closed the previous gap between growth and achievement scores and that of the state average from 12 points to less than four.
When asked by Greene as to when RCS might reach the state average, Brach promptly stated that, given the current rate of improvement, Richmond County would be at or exceeding the state average of accountability and achievement within the next two years (2019).
Board member Jerry Ethridge commented on the excellent degree of cooperation and camaraderie that has been demonstrated between the school system, Richmond Community College and local businesses and industry. Such an observation was quickly seconded by Board member Joe Richardson, who went on to encourage the schools and local media to be more active in advertising the district’s achievements.
“It’s the best kept secret in the county,” Richardson stated, noting how much progress RCS has made in a relatively short period of time.
The next meeting of the Richmond County Board of Education is scheduled a bit differently from the norm. Due to various conflicts and other issues, they will meet on a different day (Thursday, November 9) and different time (5 p.m., rather than 4 p.m.). RCS reminds locals the Board meetings are always open to the public.