Students not faring well with current learning plan

Macon County School Board photo by Vickie Carpenter

Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer

At Monday night’s meeting of the Macon County School Board, members and online observers got a glimpse into how students are faring with the ever-changing learning climate of the ’20-’21 school year.

Lower than Average Reading Scores

Social distancing guidelines  have had a dramatic effect on student’s  achievement this school year. Assessment scores for students in grades 1-3 saw a decrease in learning gains from February 2020 to September 2020. Scores were based on Istation assessment results. 

Istation is an online adaptive assessment that provides reliable data with frequent, age-appropriate measurement for students in kindergarten through 3rd grade in the area of : phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension and fluency.  

The results revealed that students in Grade 1 who were at a level 1 or 2 went from 38% at risk to 51% at risk.  Grade 2 students went from 29% at risk to 38% at risk. Those students in grade 3 increased from 26% to 37% at risk.  Fourth grade students were also included in this assessment revealing a uptick from 21% to 34% at risk.  Levels range from 1-5 and any student scoring lower than a 3 would be considered at risk. 

K-12 Curriculum Director Josh Lynch  explains. 

“The district’s Istation scores are considerably lower than usual for the beginning of the year benchmarking period. We attribute this drop to the school shutdown that occurred back in March. We also understand that the blended learning model of 100% virtual as well as Plan B, (A/B cohort) has had a significant impact on our students’ learning and growth at the elementary level.

“Now that the governor’s executive order allows K-5 to resume full capacity face-to-face instruction, we as a district are hopeful to develop intervention plans to support our students’ reading goals. There are still many barriers that teachers must navigate on a daily basis that impedes the teaching and learning process for our students. However, our teachers throughout the district are the best of the best and they are very capable and willing to provide best practice instruction for each child regardless of the learning modality.”

High enrollment still seen in virtual school

Although virtual school student enrollment has dropped from 900 students enrolled in September to 678 currently enrolled, the number of students not attending in-person classes is still high.  The fluctuating enrollment number has a lot to do with the incidents of COVID cases at various schools. Parents are placing their children into the virtual academy during quarantine and then re-enrolling them back to in-person a few weeks later. High school students are able to enroll and re-enroll  as long as their teachers are in agreement with the change.  Elementary schools are still adhering to the nine-week rule, aside from the students who were able to re-enroll after the governor’s newest orders allowed to go from two days to four.  At this point, FHS has  158 students enrolled in virtual school, MMS has 168, and MVI has 107 students. Highlands School virtual attendance is at 40 and Nantahala is down from 15 to 6.  Elementary schools have seen the largest decline in virtual enrollment since the governor’s announcement on Oct. 1,  that allowed student in grades K-5 to attend school four days per week. South Macon went from 100 to 40; Iotla was also around 100 and went to 49; Cartoogechaye went from 80 to 40; and East Franklin went from 84 to 39. 

High school athletics to begin in November

Franklin High School will begin to hold high school sports in November.  Although it will be a condensed season with 14 sports taking place from November to May, parents, students and coaches are glad to be able to offer any sports at all this year. 

Cross Country and Volleyball both begin on Nov. 4.  Swimming and Diving has a start date of Dec. 7.  Swimming is held at Franklin Fitness Center and diving is offered at a site in Asheville.  Basketball is due to begin on Jan. 4, and Lacrosse and Men’s Soccer both begin on Jan. 25. Football season starts on Feb. 26. Men’s and women’s golf both begin on March 15 along with Men’s Tennis, Softball and Women’s Soccer. Baseball picks up on April 26 along with Track and Field and Wrestling. Due to the social distancing guidelines that are still in place a limit of 25 spectators will be allowed at any indoor court game. Unfortunately, Cheerleaders are considered spectators, so it is unclear how that will play out this year. Outdoor sporting events will be limited to 100 spectators on the field.  The logistics of holding all these sports in such an abbreviated amount of time will be challenging.  As school board member Fred Goldsmith pointed out, some students normally involved in two or more sports will have to make a choice of only one sport this year due to the overlap of times. 

Macon schools gets more Jetpacks

When Macon County Schools announced in August that they would be providing families with Jetpacks to assist with wireless internet needs, more than 350 families applied for one.  At that point there were not enough available to distribute to every family who requested one.  Since that time, the state has supplied Macon Schools with additional Jetpacks.  The total number of available jetpacks is now at 520.  Schools will be contacting parents who had previously applied to see if they still need one. 

Dr. Baldwin receives handmade gift

Students from  Ann Porter’s Computer Tech class and Sabrina Cashion’s apparel and food class at Highlands School, presented Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin with a handmade gift of hand sanitizer spray and a holster to carry it in.  Dr. Baldwin proudly displayed the gift for board members to see at Monday night’s School Board Meeting.  Each teacher at Highlands School also received one as a gift.

Additions made to MMS reno project

Renovation plans for Macon Middle School continue to progress forward. The project, which is expected to top $13 million will be the first significant overhaul the school has seen since its construction. 

The scope of work to renovate Macon Middle School includes the addition of a 6,400 square foot locker room facility – which would be added to the facility’s existing 100,477 square footage. Work needing to be addressed includes roof repairs, wall assembly, cabinet and window replacements, interior finishes such as paint and restroom partitions, HVAC replacement, and plumbing updates.

The Macon County Schools Facilities Review committee, which is comprised of members of the board of education and county commissioners met earlier this month to discuss additions to the renovations for the middle school. Additional needs include updated security technology by adding a door contact monitor capability to all exterior doors, updated security finishes to the front desk lobby, and renovations to a classroom to fall in line with the rest of the school. The additions were approved by the review committee as well as Macon County commissioners. 

Commissioners also voted to approve a prequalification policy for the bidding process for the renovation project due to the $13 million price tag, which will require bank financing to complete. Prior to a board vote to award the construction contract, applicants will go through a prequalification process by a committee comprised of Macon County Finance Director Lori Carpenter, Macon County Planning Director Jack Morgan, Macon County Purchase Agent Lindsay Leopard, and Macon County Manager Derek Roland on the county level. The committee will also have four slots comprised of approved members by the Macon County School system.

Brittney Lofthouse contributed to this article.