School system to consider use of closed schools

By Mary Katherine Murphy - [email protected]

LAURINBURG — The Scotland County Board of Education wants to hear from parties interested in making use of the former Washington Park and Pate-Gardner school buildings.

During a meeting on Tuesday night, school auxiliary services superintendent Larry Johnson informed the board that a local company — which he would not name — is interested in renting Washington Park several days per month as a “training facility,” and may make a presentation to the board on Monday night.

Board members did not discuss whether the two closed school buildings should be sold or leased, but decided to formalize a process for interested parties to approach the board before the end of the year.

In other business, school staff outlined the system’s latest strategic plan, which is effective through 2020. Goals include graduating 91 percent of students college and career ready, and increasing student performance on state tests by at least 5 percent annually.

Those goals, according to curriculum superintendent Valarie Williams, can be achieved in part through more thorough implementation of a K-12 literacy plan. Though Scotland High students’ scores on math and biology End of Course tests has improved over the years, a decline in scores on the state English I test is consistent with younger students’ struggles in the same subject area.

“If you look at the data across the district, our students are having trouble in the English/language arts area,” said Williams. “If you really narrow it down, we’ve noticed that our students can read, our students can tell stories back, but the biggest issue that we’re having that’s following them and causing the most trouble is the writing.”

As for school instructional staff, the goal of human resources superintendent Cory Satterfield is to bring 74 percent of teachers above a “proficient” rating to “accomplished” or “distinguished” as determined by principal assessments and student scores. Another goal is to reduce teacher turnover by one percent each year for the next five years.

“First of all, we have to do a better job of making sure that we keep our first-, second-, and third-year teachers here,” said Satterfield. “We’ve looked at that, we’ve hired a full-time beginning teacher coordinator, and we’re already seeing the effects of the support we’re giving our new teachers.”

The system is also hoping to keep students in school as much as possible by reducing the number of out-of-school suspensions issued. Parents of students suspended for 10 days or less from Scotland High, Carver, or Spring Hill can elect for their children to serve out the suspension term at a “suspension center” at Shaw Academy.

In August, Johnson said, 20 students throughout the district were referred to their school’s office for a disciplinary issue. In August 2014, that number was 38. The system is also down from nine suspensions of African-American students during the first week of school to four.

“We are looking at different strategies of how we can keep kids in school, because if we keep them in school, they’re not dropping out and we keep them engaged,” said Johnson. “If they’re suspended, then they’re out doing whatever they want to do.”

Also on Tuesday, the board received a clean financial audit report from Rockingham accountant Dale Smith of the Anderson, Smith, and Wike firm. The audit also covered the system’s compliance with the terms of state and federal grants it receives.

“Ya’ll are as well-run as any district we go to,” Smith said.

The audit did reveal one are of procedural noncompliance in administration of the state pre-kindergarten program. Smith noted three instances where the system failed to meet state timelines for developmental screening of students.

“Given how much money flows through the district, to only have one finding that’s not financially-related is very good,” he said. “You’ve got $60, $70 million that flows through here … we audit quite a few districts and we typically will have findings here and there.”

Smith encouraged the board to maintain its level of unassigned fund balance of $2.7 million, though there is no statutory guideline for school boards’ maintenance of fund balance. That fund can also provide for emergency capital repairs if necessary, as the board has nearly depleted its capital outlay fund balance rather than requesting monies from the county board of commissioners.

“If you have any kind of emergency capital need, you don’t have the money in capital outlay to pay for it,” Smith said. “You’re going to have to borrow from the general fund in order to meet that emergency need.”

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.

By Mary Katherine Murphy

[email protected]

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