Each year, the North Carolina School Board Association holds its annual conference in Greensboro to allow board sfrom across the state to work together for training and to exchange ideas to better the state's public education system.
This year, Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin and his administrative assistant Renee Burt, along with Board members Jim Breedlove, Tommy Cabe, Melissa Evans, and Stephanie McCall attended the conference. “At this year’s conference, there were several excellent speakers including National School Board Association President David Pickler, businessman Jim Bearden, educator Dr. Adolph Brown, Florida teacher Melissa Erickson, and inspirational teacher Erin Gruwell (Freedom Writers author),” said Dr. Baldwin. “In addition to the speakers, a wide selection of interesting and informative breakout sessions occurred. Many of the breakout sessions were presented by board members and superintendents. Breakout sessions provide an opportunity for small group interaction and discussion. Not only did board members receive training, Administrative Assistant/Board Clerk, Renee Burt, met with board assistants from across the state in order to receive training as well. This group is known as The Network.”
"With attending the conference, The Network (which is the group of Board Assistants that do what I do) continues to focus on the support of the superintendent and board. Every day is a new day in the superintendent’s office and being a part of The Network continuously teaches me how to handle situations that arise. In addition, numerous legal discussions take place as well," said Burt. "This enables me to assure that I have all documentation prepared just as it is supposed to be prepared. This year, The Network members took the Bell/Smith Personality Assessment. This proves to each of us that no matter how different we may be, we must work together for the betterment of all children."
This year marks the fourth conference for Burt, each of which she has found to be more informative than the last. "I think the best part of the conference was being able to work together with my fellow board assistants from all over the state," said Burt. "The opportunity to meet with an amazing group of ladies that do exactly what I do is simply wonderful. This is the fourth year I have attended the conference and each year I walk away feeling as if I have gained positive knowledge that helps me do my job better each and every day."
With budget cuts, legislative changes, and rolling out new curriculum, boards across the state have had their hands full adapting to the new practices, all while ensuring children are receiving the best education process. “Considering this has been a difficult year for school boards with many changes that have been enacted through the legislature, it is more important than ever that we keep advocating for our children,” said Dr. Baldwin. “My participation at the conference has given me ideas and strategies that will hopefully promote positive student outcomes. I hope the other members of the BOE found it to be useful and informative.”
This year's conference featured statewide directives and initiatives that were intended to benefit every county, regardless of geographical location. Some of the topics the training focused on included a district approach to reading intervention, which will benefit Macon County as the new Read to Achieve law is implemented. Participants learned how Orange County Schools has implemented Whole-to- Part (WTP), a reading intervention program based on Jim Cunningham, UNC-Chapel Hill professor emeritus’, theoretical model. The 2013-14 school year marks the fifth year that the district has used WTP in all elementary and middle schools. Unlike most reading programs, WTP is an approach to reading instruction that allows for flexible grouping across grade levels based on a student’s greatest area of need. All teachers are trained to be interventionists rather than using a reading teacher or literacy coach who can only meet the needs of a small group of students. Any student who needs targeted reading intervention receives it. Current reading EOG data shows WTP’s impact over time. On average, elementary students who scored Level 3s increased by 24 percent and those scoring a Level 1 decreased by 24 percent. On average, middle school students scoring a Level 1 decreased by 50 percent and the number of Level 3s increased by 50 percent.
Another focus that was discussed on the state level, which has been of interest to Macon County as of late, is the topic of school safety. Board members were afforded the opportunity to take part in a course on enhancing school safety. The class focused on the first and most essential step toward safer schools being the process of getting teachers and key staff connected. The conference demonstrated how to establish a communications lifeline from teachers, to emergency personnel, law enforcement, and each other. Connected campuses equate to safe students. The class focused on Motorola- powered solutions intended to broaden the reach, establish fast and reliable connections, and enhance the most valuable communications using wireless technology at the head of its class.
With continued budget cuts, another class board members were offered, focused on alternative funding levels to help lift the financial burden districts in the state are currently facing. Jim Watson gave a presentation on “The Best Kept Secret in School Construction Funding,” Watson explained that historically, schools have been funded in North Carolina by bond referendums, COPS funding, and pay as you go. The United States Department of Agriculture, through its Rural Development Program, has made available a Community Facilities Guaranteed Loan Program. School facilities in rural areas and towns up to 20,000 in population are eligible.”
Macon County has been shifting their focus to tighten the budget on energy saving opportunities. When constructing Iotla Valley Elementary, the plans included geothermal technology as a way to drastically reduce the county's electricity expenditures. The conference featured a lecture by Ronnie Ferris, Katie Lynn and Nick Sojka on ways to build energy positive schools. The presentation was featured around Sandy Grove Middle School in Hoke County, NC, which stands as the nation’s first energy-positive, LEEDPlatinum designed, leased public school – delivered through a public-private partnership. By facilitating this project through a public-private partnership, Hoke County was able to take advantage of a variety of tax credits, private sector financing, and innovative design and construction techniques. These will offset the infrastructure costs for the renewable energy features, saving the county significant amounts of money over the life of the building.
With the training and lectures available, board members were able to work with school districts across the county to discuss common practices and new legislative changes to gain a broader perspective of the state's education system. “The North Carolina School Board Association’s Annual Conference is beneficial to Macon County because of the time given to come together with board members and superintendents from across the state,” said Dr. Baldwin. “The ability to network together to take a stand for public education in North Carolina is time well spent.”