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Gravette School Board discusses student attendance, exam exemptions

by Susan Holland | November 4, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
File Photo/WESTSIDE EAGLE OBSERVER Gravette's water tower designates the city as the "Heart of Hometown America."

GRAVETTE -- The Gravette School Board discussed student absences and exam exemptions during its Oct. 17 meeting.

Superintendent Maribel Childress submitted a review of the final exam procedures for 2022-2023 and said this was being done at the request of a patron who felt that more absences, or exemptions from exams, should be allowed.

Childress also submitted the attendance and enrollment reports, noting that the district needs a 95% attendance rate and the middle school comes closest to that figure. She said research shows absences of more than 5% adversely affect a student's achievement.

Board member Tracy Moorman commented that part of the problem is that too many parents are not engaged with their children's education and don't understand the effect of excessive absences.

"We need to find a way to get parents more involved," he said.

Dennis Kurczek, district treasurer, presented the financial report and said all departments were under budget except for facilities, transportation and maintenance, and the technical department. He also presented the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief/American Rescue Plan financial report.

Becky Sears, assistant superintendent, presented the curriculum and instruction report. This included information from the STAR assessment fall data report and the English language learner enrollment report.

Sears said work was being done to explore options for library rating systems, and the district already has a form that parents can get from their school's librarian and fill out if they have objections to their child checking out certain books.

Board member Matt Croxdale asked if parents could be notified by email of what books their child checked out, and Childress indicated that would be impractical because of the sheer number of books checked out each day. The current checkout system doesn't have the capability of doing that automatically, she said.

Kelly Hankins, director of academic success, gave the student success report and told of two programs she is especially pleased with. The Northwest Arkansas Food Bank has established a school food pantry program for students who have food needs in their household, and she is converting an area in the career center for storage of supplies for that program. She also reported on a lunch buddies program where community members from Bella Vista are coming to have lunch with elementary school students.

Board member Heather Finley reported Bright Futures is starting its angel tree program and requested that anyone contact her if they know of students whose names should be placed on the tree.

Richard Carver, the transportation and maintenance department director, presented the transportation department's annual report. He reported students riding the buses had increased by 145 this year and said he was adding another bus route in hopes of eliminating at least 15 to 20 minutes on route times.

Sheila Roughton, food service director, said several reduced-price lunch applications had been denied this year because parents' wages had increased enough to move several students from free lunch eligibility to reduced-price lunch status and from reduced-price lunch eligibility to regular price status. She reported a deficit of $35,000 in the school lunch account.

Board members voted to select Brad Harris as the board member who will serve as the district's delegate to the Arkansas School Board Association conference. He was already planning to attend the conference in person, and other board members will be attending virtually.

A second reading of the handbook policy on e-cigarettes and vaping devices resulted in a discussion indicating several board members still wish to make minor changes, so no action was taken and a third reading will be held at the November board meeting. Building principals reported they have discussed their concerns about the harmful effects of smoking and vaping and programs are being planned to better inform the students about the dangers.

Board members moved into executive session for a 20-minute discussion regarding personnel and employment. After returning to open session, they voted to approve Carissa Lewallen to serve as an alternative learning environment paraprofessional for Gravette Upper Elementary and to continue to employ Emily Barnes, Julie Cernota, Holly Kleber and Courtney Roughton as kindergarten aides through the end of the 2022-2023 school year, with the understanding that if kindergarten enrollment exceeds 154 students and an eighth kindergarten teacher must be employed, these four aide positions would be eliminated.

Board members voted to post openings for two lunch duty aides for Gravette Middle School, to approve the transfer of Roy Blakeslee from a bus driver to a bus aide and to hire Carolyn Taylor as a special education bus aide, to hire William Spyker and Wildflower Jordan as bus drivers and to hire Danielle Brewer, Krystal Harrington and Emma Solberg in the child nutrition department.

The board also accepted the resignations of a bus driver, a special education paraprofessional, a special education clerical worker, a food service worker and a computer technician. It also approved two expulsions.

Ethan Davis, one of the middle school Talent Search students from Gravette High School, led the pledge of allegiance at the start of the meeting. Davis and three other Talent Search students, Brenna Horton, Kasyn Jones and Lucy Nelson, along with their advisor, Rachel Gibson, were celebrated for their accomplishments.

Several FFA students were also present, along with their sponsor Justin Malott and accepted a $17,500 check presented by Jim Singleton, president of Arvest Bank. The check was designated for the Gravette High School agriculture department and FFA and will help with expenses for FFA students attending the national convention in Louisville, Ky.

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