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News from the Board -- April 12, 2019

On Friday, April 12, 2019, the Onslow County Board of Education held a special meeting in the Family Education Center on the OCS Central Services campus. The meeting’s agenda included a grant presentation from the Onslow County Partnership for Children, a closed session regarding school safety, school governance and professional development, and the 2019-20 budget framework.  

To start the meeting, Board Chair Pam Thomas said that the 21st Century Community Grant presentation would be removed from the agenda and moved to another meeting, following a family emergency of the scheduled presenter. From there, the Board went into closed session to hear a presentation from staff on school safety.  

When the Board returned to regular session, they had a discussion about school governance and professional development. Ms. Thomas said that this year the Board used more than its allocated funds for conferences and professional development, as more Board members were taking advantage of the opportunities available to them. She said that, moving into budget season, the Board should consider increasing that allocation, so they can continue to attend development opportunities. However, she did ask the other Board members if they would entertain the idea of putting in place parameters on how much money individual Board members could spend on PD, or how often they could go to certain types of events. 

Board members Paul Wiggins and Earl Taylor emphasized the importance of Board members being lifelong learners and modeling that to staff and students, as well as the importance of going to events and conferences to bring ideas back to the district. They did, however, also agree with Board members Jeff Hudson and Bob Williams who said that it is important to be good stewards of taxpayer money by strategically selecting the professional development opportunities Board members attend.  

Moving into the budget framework discussion, Superintendent Barry Collins shared with the Board the three main areas of concern identified by teachers, principals, departments and other staff as the Board prepares next year’s budget. Those areas of concern are safety and security, mental health and math.  
Board members heard from Executive Director of Student Services Brendan Gartner and Director of Exceptional Children Services Patti Dunlap, who shared statistics regarding mental and behavioral health issues in the district. Dr. Gartner shared that mental health concerns are growing and that the district’s 12 full-time social workers and 49 full-time school counselors are stretched thin in the attempt to identify and address all needs. Ms. Dunlap said that of the 4,000 children in OCS that are identified as having exceptional needs, 44 percent of them qualify for EC services due to issues related to mental health or emotional needs and development.  

Board members discussed the mental health issues the district faces and agreed that they need to work toward solutions. Solutions discussed included hiring more staff that are focused on mental health and wellness, instead of reallocating some of those duties to school counselors and other staff, providing balance in the education experience to relieve some of the pressures created by testing and the drive to succeed, and reaching out to community partners to get help in addressing the problems students face.  

The Board talked about how addressing mental health issues could have natural, positive effects on test scores, school safety, and staff retention.  

On the subject of math scores, Board member Paul Wiggins said that math success starts in elementary school and asked staff if there were any plans in the works for improving math instruction at the elementary level. Chief of Human Resources CJ Korenek shared with the Board that her department has been working on a partnership with ECU to provide elementary educators access to the ECU certificate program on elementary mathematics.  

In other budgeting discussions, the Board talked about the teacher salary supplement, maintaining public assets, and the pros and cons of keeping certain educational programs.