Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer
The Macon County School Board convened on Monday night for their monthly meeting. At the top of the list was the graduation rates for Macon County School’s students in 2019. Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin conveyed the statistics. Nantahala School had a graduation rate of 100%, Highlands School 100%, Macon Early College (MEC) 100%, Franklin High School (FHS) 91.4%, Union Academy (UA) 73%, which he stated is in line with other alternative schools in the state. The total brings Macon County Schools to an overall rating of 95.4% which places Macon Schools in the top percentile level for graduation, compared to all 981 high schools in North Carolina.
Lack of arts concerns parents at MMS and FHS
Art and chorus have been missing at Macon Middle School (MMS) for some time now and students entering MMS from Mountain View Intermediate (MVI) are saddened to find that there are no fine art programs for them to enroll in.
Sarah O’Neil is an art teacher at MVI. She is also the mother of a 6th grader and an 8th grader. During Monday might’s board meeting O’Neil gave an impassioned plea to help bring back the arts to these two schools.
“When my students ask me about what art is like at MMS, sadly, I tell them there is no art or choir. If you could see their faces, they are shocked and sad,” said O’Neil For many of them, art is what helps them get through their day. I asked my students recently why the arts are important and here are some responses: “We will be behind other students if we don’t have access to the arts”; “Art calms me and brings me joy”; “Art is the reason I come to school”; “Art is life. How can we not have art?”; “Art helps me draw better and music helps my soul. Without it, I’m not getting the experiences I want and need until high school and that is sad”;“Art is therapeutic and is helping me get through COVID.”
“That last quote hit me particularly hard. We see so many things about kids and their experiences through this time and the arts are really what is saving a lot of them,” she continued. “Today my students had the opportunity to make something out of clay, and for many, it was their first time using clay. One student said, ‘this is the best day ever!’
“The arts, more than ever, are truly an outlet for our kids, for their social and emotional learning. I wanted to share my personal experiences with you and remind you that we are still here and advocating for the arts in Macon County Schools.
“For some students, art may not be their favorite subject but it is something that brings them joy.”
Maggie Jennings is the parent of a second grader at East Franklin Elementary School and will have another child starting kindergarten in the fall. Jennings is also a huge advocate of returning the arts to MMS and FHS. MMS has not had an art program for the past 10 years and the choir program has been a missing component for the past five years. With no stepping stone from MMS choir, the FHS choir program has suffered also. This past year only 10 students were enrolled into the FHS choir program when in the past it had been up to 25 students. Jennings helped form a group called Arts for MCS (Macon County Schools) a few years ago with the goal “to support Macon County Schools in providing equal access for all students in the arts.” There are more than 1000 parents in this group. They have a Facebook page and anyone interested in joining or learning more about the Arts for MCS initiative can go to Facebook Arts for MCS (Macon County Schools.) Jennings also read impassioned pleas from two of the parents who couldn’t make the meeting.
One homeschooling mother was concerned that her son who will be entering the 6th grade next year would not have any art options. She said, “Kids need an outlet to express themselves” and hoped that Macon County will consider more art options for kids.
Another mom wrote that she was “appalled” that her daughter would not have access to art, music or choir activities and that she was extremely talented in these areas and benefitted academically when they are integrated into her daily activities. “These integrated experiences make learning more fun and enjoyable for her and prolong her learning experiences, helping her to retain much of what she has learned throughout the school year as these experiences build upon one another.”
She said her daughter struggles with ADHD and is able to be more successful when listening to music or drawing while working and that art and music helps to enhance her social skills.
“Adding music, choir, band, arts and crafts to the curricula would greatly enhance each and every student’s academic learning experiences as they navigate through their teen years, and it would bring much needed joy and meaning to their academic career as they transition into adulthood. Thank you for your time, service and consideration,” she concluded.
Water woes at Iotla Valley Elementary School
Iotla Valley Elementary School and MVI both use Geothermal Energy to heat and cool the schools. Geothermal heating works by moving temperature-conducting fluid through a loop of pipes in the school. This allows the fluid to collect the thermal energy deposited in the earth from the sun. This works well even in the coldest winters because the earth below the frostline is a steady 55 degrees Fahrenheit all year long. The heat is circulated back into the pump and then distributed evenly throughout the facility using duct work. The cooling process simply works in reverse. There are two commonly used types of fluids that can be circulated through the ground loop system. The Standard Geothermal uses a mix of water, antifreeze (Propylene Glycol), and refrigerant. While, the Waterless Geothermal System uses R-410A refrigerant. Macon School’s Geothermal System uses Glycol.
Eight breaks have occurred in the Geothermal system at Iotla Valley Elementary and the glycol is now just water. This has caused floods through the ceiling in some rooms. Todd Gibbs, director of Auxiliary Services, said that this was a “catastrophic concern.” Luckily the floods were caught early thanks to staff reporting during school, but if they would have occurred over a long weekend it could have caused major damage.
“There are 100 wells that are 100 feet deep. The well field is under the parking lot so there is no way for us to visually check for water coming up through the dirt or even a wet spot on the dirt to make sure the piping in the wells is intact. In order to evaluate the damage an engineer is needed to survey the site. This will come at a cost of $4,900.” The board voted to approve the cost in order to get this issues resolved. Included in the $4,900 is an analysis, and suggestions for a solution.
Dr. Baldwin expressed concern regarding the rising number of positive COVID cases in schools, coupled with staff and student quarantines. He explained that at this point, MMS and MVI are just holding on but if more cases necessitate more teachers being quarantined those schools might have to go to remote learning due to lack of staff available to adequately supervise students. As of Jan. 22, current COVID cases are as follows: Cartoogechaye Elementary, 2 staff and 10 students quarantined and 1 student positive; East Franklin Elementary, 2 staff and 14 students quarantined, 1 student and 1 staff positive; FHS, 36 students quarantined, 5 staff and 7 students positive; Highlands School, 7 students and 1 staff quarantined and 1 student positive; Iotla Elementary, 21 students and 2 staff quarantined, 1 staff and 4 students positive; Macon Early College, 4 students quarantined and 2 positive; MMS, 5 staff and 27 students quarantined, 1 staff and 4 students positive; MVI, 3 staff and 15 students quarantined and 1 staff positive; Nantahala School, 1 student quarantined; South Macon Elementary, 12 students quarantined and 1 student positive; Union Academy, 2 staff and 19 students quarantined and 1 student positive; for a total of 187 students and 27 staff not in school. Dr. Baldwin would like to see teachers getting vaccinated as soon as possible, but the governor and Health and Human Services is in charge of vaccine rollout. Dr. Baldwin stated,
“Without vaccinations we are going to continue to face school closures. In North Carolina the majority of students are virtual and we want to keep our schools open,” said Dr. Baldwin.