Recent board of education meetings have been bogged down with hot topics, but Thursday's meeting allowed members to complete much-needed tasks.
Unlike the December and January meetings, the California R-I Board of Education received a break from full houses and controversy as it primarily focused on standard business. In addition to approving contracts for upcoming projects, the board also approved the 2023-24 district calendar and listened to a program spotlight on reading programs at California Elementary School.
The board recognized Jackson Cassil for being selected to the second Class 2 All-State football team as a defensive linebacker. Members also accepted the resignation of four staff members district-wide: Seth Womack, high school activities director and head football coach; Jill Kirksey, elementary school librarian; Stacey Karabegovic, English as a Second Language teacher; and Clayton Stewart, a full-time substitute teacher. Superintendent Daniel Williams said Karabegovic is retiring at the end of the school year.
The board approved two contracts for upcoming projects, along with a contract for mowing services. It also approved the 2023-24 district calendar and health insurance for employees.
Higgins Asphalt was the lowest bidder for asphalt work throughout the district, coming in at $295,273.49. The bid includes work at the elementary/middle school bus lane, an eastern lot near the downtown Central Bank branch, two middle school lots, an elementary school lot, the elementary/middle school circle drive and seal coating a playground.
Charles Luebbert Hardwood Flooring was the only company to respond with a bid to refinish the high school gymnasium floor. The bid for $32,287 includes new graphics for the floor.
The board also discussed numerous bids received for district-wide mowing services. The lowest bid -- for $77,500 annually -- was a combination bid from Bruce's Lawn Care, LLC, who would use Bueker Lawn & Garden for spraying. However, Land Guard LLC was the second-lowest bidder and the preferred company after checking references. Williams said Land Guard will have a minimum of three employees working simultaneously, whereas previous companies only used two.
"We can move away from having someone mowing our grounds (daily), basically every single day of the week somebody was here with the two-man crew," he said.
The Land Guard LLC contract is valid March 1, 2023-Feb. 28, 2024, and has a no-bid renewal option at the end of the first and second years, giving the district three years before it must re-bid mowing services.
"I will tell you our mindset will be pristine at all times, and we will have a heavy magnifying glass from day one to set those expectations," Williams said. "... We know that people judge the quality of education that happens inside our walls by what it looks like outside our walls, because that's what they see, and we want to make sure we set a good image."
The board also approved the 2023-24 district calendar. Marcia Bibb, middle school counselor and member of the calendar committee, said the presented calendar maintains the same number of in-person days for students and staff as previous calendars. The calendar has 170 in-person days for students and 180 in-person days for staff, with the school year starting Aug. 23 and ending May 16, 2024. Williams said there are snow days already built into the calendar.
Information regarding two upcoming out-of-state trips was also presented to the board. The boys' golf team is traveling April 6-8 to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for a national championship golf tournament. Meanwhile, the high school band is planning an April 12-18, 2024, trip to Orlando, Florida, to "provide band students an opportunity to collaborate with world-class clinicians and improve their musical skills."
Angela Butts-Althoff and Taylor Schenewerk, Title I reading teachers at California Elementary School, presented a program spotlight regarding elementary school reading programs to the board.
Schenewerk said they use a systematic, explicit approach for improving a student's understanding of reading, which is split into three parts -- word recognition/decoding, language comprehension and reading comprehension. Students use a variety of techniques daily to assess and improve their reading skills.
In the word recognition or decoding stage, students learn about phonological awareness and phonics for recognizing and manipulating spoken parts of words and sentences. For instance, students would learn various letter sounds like the "/ar/" in car, or "/or/" for horn.
Oral language comprehension teaches students the meaning behind words. Students learn vocabulary and language structures, along with text structures, in this stage. At California Elementary School, Schenewerk said, students regularly study root words, suffixes and prefixes.
Fluency lies between decoding and comprehension, Schenewerk said. Children must be fluent with the different sounds to understand or produce speech, along with being fluent with reading different phrases. At school, she said, students learn to "swoop" syllables within text, marking where one would pause or take a breath while orally reading it.
Butts-Althoff explained the many different methods used for assessing students' skills and working with them. She said IXL, an online learning program that received its own program spotlight at the November board meeting, is used by ELA teachers in first through fourth grades to help determine what skills they need help on. She said students also use Reading Counts, where they can independently read books to be quizzed over to determine their comprehension. Reading Eggs and EPIC are also used to make reading more palatable for children.
Many additional programs -- completed as classes, one-on-one between teachers or Title I specialists and students, or completed independently by students on computers -- are used to track a student's progress at regular intervals.
In other business, the board:
• Approved health insurance for district employees. Williams said the health insurance rate remained the same, while voluntary dental and vision insurance premiums slightly increased.
• Approved a contract with the High Roads School, of Columbia, for the enrollment of a student with special needs.
• Approved a City of California plan for rehabilitating Old Riley Field for use by the Parks & Recreation Department.
• Discussed a process for identifying potential opportunities in hiring new staff. Williams said the district published openings for some positions, such as a Spanish or business teacher, to determine what opportunities they may have moving forward.
• Revised the Safe Return to In-Person and Continuity of Services Plan (SRCSP) or "reentry plan" to remove quarantine requirements for students and staff that test positive for COVID-19. Williams felt there was no weight to the old plan as the district doesn't require students or staff to test, therefore punishing those who test. Per state law, the SRCSP must be updated every six months.
• Rescheduled a budget workshop for board members.
• Approved updates to board policies and administrative procedures. In January, Williams said the updates were mostly mundane, mostly to address law changes or add clarifications.
• Approved consent agenda and financials.
• Heard a "policy spotlight" regarding school cancellations. Williams discussed his process for determining whether to cancel school for inclement weather, which is based on input from Durham School Services, transportation provider for the district, and the National Weather Service. He said elementary and middle school events are canceled if school is canceled, although high school events may continue. The board discussed whether outside groups could use district facilities in inclement weather, voicing concerns about safety and liability. The board decided if schools are closed for bad weather, district facilities should also be closed to prevent accidents.
The California R-I Board of Education will next meet 6 p.m. March 15 in the California High School media center.