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Teachers report on science fair, Innovation Grant project

by Susan Holland | March 6, 2023 at 9:37 p.m.
Susan Holland/Westside Eagle Observer Carolyn Huntsman, Title I reading teacher at Gravette Upper Elementary School, pauses for a photo after giving her presentation at the Feb. 27 meeting of the Gravette school board. Huntsman was a winner of one of the fall 2022 Superintendent’s Innovation Grant Awards and used her grant money to create a library for third- through fifth-grade students designed for their skill level, thus creating interest in reading.

GRAVETTE -- Keli Zimmer, a seventh-grade science teacher at Gravette Middle School, led the pledge of allegiance to the flag to open the Feb. 27 meeting of the Gravette school board.

Jay Oliphant spoke to the board about the LEARNS bill. He thanked Maribel Childress, superintendent of schools, Representative Hope Duke, and Heather Finley, school board president, for providing feedback on the bill. He said he supported many of the legislation's initiatives but was concerned about the process. He was particularly concerned about vouchers and the education freedom account, fearing it would favor wealthy families and be a detriment to Gravette students.

"The legislature has put us in a 'no win' situation," he said, and he hoped to hear from board members on their feelings about the bill and that they could reach a consensus.

Zimmer was welcomed and gave a report on the seventh-grade science fair. She said that out of 150 students, 124, or 83%, had completed a science fair project. Awards were presented to students in various categories and to overall project winners. Fourteen projects have been entered in the regional competition, which will take place on March 10 at the University of Arkansas. Zimmer brought three student projects to display at the meeting.

Also introduced and celebrated was Carolyn Huntsman, a winner of one of the fall 2022 Superintendent's Innovation Grant awards. Huntsman is the Title I reading teacher at Gravette Upper Elementary. Her project was to create a library for third- through fifth-grade students that is designed for their skill level, thus building interest in reading. She used grant money to purchase three sets of books with six copies of each book so they could be used in small group settings.

Board members voted to approve the consent agenda, which included approval of the January 23 board meeting minutes and approval of field trips for HOSA students, EAST students and FFA students to attend their respective state conventions.

Business manager Dennis Kurczek gave the January financial report. He said a little more than $1.2 million was received in property tax revenue for the month and a $173,000 safety grant was received that will be used for reimbursement of safety and security expenditures. He said utilities were running about 60% of budget. Installation of new turf on athletic fields has been completely paid for and there is a $1.2 million balance in the building fund. He said there was nothing new on the ESSER/ARP report.

Scott Beardsley, representative of First Security Beardsley, presented the 2023 proposed budget. Board members voted to adopt the proposed budget of expenditures with tax levy for the fiscal year July 1, 2024, through June 30, 2025, and to approve the related sample ballot.

Becky Sears, assistant superintendent, gave the curriculum and instruction report. She shared the STAR winter test data and expressed her pleasure that students in several grade levels tested higher this winter than they did last spring. She said students must test out of early literacy classes before they can take the STAR test and said second graders in early literacy are now down from 55 to eight.

Sears also shared information about how parents can help in a school emergency and said a copy would be given to every family. Suggestions were compiled from a community meeting. Board member Matt Croxdale suggested they also be posted on the school website.

Superintendent Childress gave the 2022 fall semester discipline report. Board members expressed concern about the increase in the incidents of insubordination and about some indecent exposure incidents at the elementary school. Elementary principal Nikki Brecheen said the indecent exposure reports were repeat incidents by the same person. Childress noted that there was some inconsistency in discipline reports because each school tabulates incidents differently.

Daniel Rice, technology director, gave a report on the need for generators at the school. There is not a need for one at each school, but he said one is particularly needed at the career center, where the servers are housed to ensure the administration building can be up and running quickly after a power outage.

Childress presented a follow-up of her earlier FTE report, with all shared FTE positions listed on one page. She also gave the monthly attendance and enrollment report and said that enrollment is up slightly.

She gave an overview of the governor's 144-page LEARNS bill and said there are many positive aspects of the legislation, including emphasis on safety and mental health, early learning opportunities, increased salaries, increased accountability and increased choice. However, there are many unknown factors about the bill, and finances, how the programs will be paid for, are a big concern.

Board members were asked to consider a building secretary salary increase and to consider staff requests for the 2023-2024 school year, including transitioning food service employees from a five-hour to a six-hour contract, hiring an additional bus technician, extending the contract of kindergarten aides, hiring an eighth kindergarten teacher at Glenn Duffy Elementary School and hiring an agricultural science teacher at Gravette High School. Superintendent Childress noted that a work session on salaries and staffing is planned for March 7, and these requests will be discussed at that time.

In action items, board members voted to extend the fourth pre-K classroom for the 2023-2024 school year. Pre-K enrollment is completely full and there is a real need for an additional classroom.

Also approved were the January 2023 policy changes and updates as recommended by the Arkansas School Board Association and presenting three 2023-2024 school calendar options for consideration by all district faculty. The personnel policy committee has reworked all three options.

Board members approved the partnership agreement with the city of Gravette for school resource officers and approved compensating the Gravette Police Department for their services. They also approved hiring a Safety and Security Coordinator for the district to begin as soon as a qualified candidate is approved. The salary for this position would be $46,000, to be paid out of ESA funds.

Approval was given to hiring Tom Hardy as a special education bus aide at a rate of $15 per hour and to hiring Abigail Giffin as a kindergarten aide at Glenn Duffy Elementary School for the remainder of the 2022-2023 school year at a rate of $100 per day to be paid out of general operating funds.

Board members voted to hire Katlin Hardin as a speech-language pathologist, to approve an additional classroom teacher for Glenn Duffy Elementary School, an assistant principal for Gravette Middle School, a critical reading teacher at Gravette High School, to be paid by ARP/ESSER funds, and a full-time or part-time director for the Western Benton County Career Center for the 2023-2024 school year, to be paid with ARP/ESSER funds, with compensation to be determined based on certifications and experience. Superintendent Childress reported the WBCCC is the fastest-growing career center in the state. Automotive, welding and construction tech classes will be offered next school year, and already only four openings are available.

Approval was given to the food service department to solicit bids for groceries, milk, bread and paper goods for the 2023-2024 school year and to the transportation department to solicit bids for two new buses for the 2024-2025 school year.

Members voted to approve the transfer of an eleventh-grade student from Gentry to Gravette and the transfer of a sixth-grade student from Gravette to Decatur.

Names of candidates for a new monthly school board award for outstanding employees were placed in a bowl, and board member Matt Croxdale was asked to draw for the winning name since it was his idea to present this award. The winner will be honored at a surprise celebration.

Board members moved to an executive session at 7:42 p.m. to discuss employment. After returning to open session at 8:16 p.m., they voted to extend Superintendent Maribel Childress' contract for another year, making it a two-year contract with a 3% raise in current salary.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:19 p.m.

photo Susan Holland/Westside Eagle Observer Keli Zimmer, a seventh-grade science teacher at Gravette Middle School, poses with a couple of the projects prepared by her students for this year's seventh-grade science fair. Zimmer attended the Feb. 27 school board meeting and reported about the fair. She said 124 of her 150 students completed a science fair project. Fourteen projects were entered into a regional competition at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

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