On Tuesday, November 22nd, a fuel leak was discovered on the campus of Clearmont Elementary School.
Yancey County Schools maintenance found that a heating fuel line had ruptured and was seeping into the ground. The line was immediately shut off and administration was notified.
YCS administration immediately contacted local officials of the Health Department, Emergency Management, Building Inspector/Fire Marshal, and Environmental Protection Agency. Several authorities from these offices responded to the site to assist in the proper protocol for this type of situation.
Superintendent Dr. Tony Tipton contacted S.T.A.T. Inc. from Lenoir, NC, who specializes in industrial environment services. Those services include site investigation, risk management, spill containment & control. Representatives from S.T.A.T. were on the Clearmont Elementary School site within two hours of Dr. Tipton’s call and took additional steps to ensure containment of the site.
Because of the projected weather this week and no additional environmental risk, S.T.A.T. is scheduled to return to the school site on Monday, November 23rd to begin the process of removing soil that may contain fuel deposits. Additionally, a geologist has been retained to assist in this process in determining the amount of soil that must be removed.
Dr. Tipton has been assured by all agencies involved that YCS has completed all necessary steps to ensure the safety of the students and community as well as minimize the environmental impact of this event.
“This is just another in a series of system failures that will be costly but necessary to maintain our aging school buildings,” stated Dr. Tipton.
While work is ongoing, a temporary fuel tank has been installed to provide heat to the school.
Dr. Tipton added, “At no time have students been at risk from this spill”.
On October 6th, State Superintendent June Atkinson presented Yancey County Schools with a Top Ten in the State Award for the high school graduation rate at a banquet in Raleigh. The 2015 graduation rate of 92.4% is a slight increase over last year’s rate of 92.1% which shows the continued trend in growth over the past eight years as shown:
“I am so proud of the teachers, school counselors, coaches, principals and district leaders, and others who have worked tirelessly to make sure more students are graduating from North Carolina’s public schools than ever before,” said State Superintendent June Atkinson.
Representatives from Mountain Heritage High School who attended the banquet and accepted the award on behalf of Yancey County Schools are shown below with State Superintendent Dr. June Atkinson:
Principal Kevin Huskins, Counselor Donna Banks, Dr. June Atkinson, Counselor Suzanne Gavneus, Assistant Principal Erik Buchanan
At its regular monthly meeting on October 5th, the Yancey County Board of Education recognized October as National Principals Appreciation Month.
In unfinished business, the Board authorized Superintendent Dr. Tony Tipton to obtain quotes and have a new roof installed on the Bald Creek Elementary Pre-School Building. “The rain last week has shown us that a roof is the top priority in getting this building ready for preschoolers. Yancey County Schools is excited about offering a new preschool opportunity for 4 year olds and we’re working very hard to get it up and running as soon as possible,” stated Superintendent Tony Tipton.
After months of debate, the state budget was finally released on September 25th. The school board approved a Uniform Budget Resolution for the 2015-16 school year presented by School Finance Officer Robbie Renfro who stated, “We are glad to finally get numbers from the state and get our budget in place for this school year. And as always, we appreciate the support we get from our county commissioners with local funds as well.”
In new business and after lengthy discussion in closed session, the board returned to open session and voted, upon the recommendation of Norb McKinney and second by Bill Whiteside, to extend the contract of Superintendent Dr. Tony Tipton for an additional two years. The vote was a 3-2 decision with Mike Orr, Norb McKinney, Bill Whiteside voting for the extension and Jeanne Tyner and Angie Weatherman opposing.
Under his current contract, Dr. Tipton is in his fifth year as Superintendent of Yancey County Schools. This move extends his contract through June of 2019.
In response to this extension, Dr. Tipton stated, “We have accomplished many things in the past five years and with this contract extension, I hope we can continue to move forward in our system. I pledge that the Yancey County Schools will always remember that students come first.”
After an early dismissal of schools on Monday, participating school staff from across the county arrived at MHHS to fill their roles as students and victims to allow for a “real-life” event for the high school staff.
The exercise simulated two shooters on campus who moved through the hallways, leaving victims and evidence for law enforcement and emergency responders to have to process and evaluate.
MHHS Principal Kevin Huskins said, “Drills of this nature are always eye opening and intense. Every agency that participated was professional and well trained. It was a very good experience for our faculty and staff members.”
The Sheriff’s Office, Burnsville Police Department, Yancey EMS, Emergency Management and State Highway Patrol responded to the scene as well as middle school SROs Mike McCart and Rick Turner. Members from each law enforcement agency were involved in cornering and apprehending the male shooter while EMS staged to receive victims at the tennis court area. MHHS SRO Anthony Renfro, who was on campus when the first shots were fired and captured the female shooter very quickly into the drill, stated, “There is nothing like being put in the middle of a scenario to help teach you how to react. It was great for all involved to participate in such a valuable training.”
The Burnsville Fire Department secured the entrance to the school campus and other fire departments across the county were on call to provide backup as needed.
Several people were invited to wear safety vests and move through the school as spectators during the exercise. Commissioners Jill Austin, Jeff Whitson and Burl Ballew, as well as County Manager Nathan Bennett and Commissioner Clerk Jason Robinson felt almost a part of the action as the scene played out right in front of their eyes. Austin stated, “It was wonderful to see this many groups come together with a vision of ensuring safety among our kids. I applaud the efforts made by everyone involved.”
School Board Member Norb McKinney and principals from other schools followed the action by security camera monitor in the principal’s office.
Superintendent Dr. Tony Tipton stated, “Over the past few years, with support from the Commissioners, we have made securing our school sites a priority. This drill is one more step taken to make our schools safer for everyone. I appreciate the many hours and attention to detail that has been put in coordinating this event and want to thank Instructors Chief Deputy Shane Hilliard, Lt. Ryan Higgins and Chief of Police Brian Buchanan. With their help, we all benefit from this type of drill in our schools.”
Members of local law enforcement and emergency response departments met with Yancey County Schools’ administrators and staff this week to coordinate a county-wide emergency drill to be held later this month on the campus of Mountain Heritage High School.
Yancey County Schools will dismiss early on Monday, September 28th to allow personnel from each school to be involved in this real-life, real-time emergency drill. “We take the safety of our students and staff very seriously. Serious enough to dismiss school a half-day and pull staff from across the county to participate,” stated Superintendent Dr. Tony Tipton.
While the details of the emergency situation will not be released prior to the drill, MHHS Principal Kevin Huskins is working closely with his School Resource Officer Anthony Renfro to assure that many “situations” are presented throughout the school building as possible for responders to deal with as in any real emergency. YCS staff members from other schools will serve as “students” in the high school classrooms to provide a “real” experience for the teachers at MHHS. Principal Huskins stated “We are very excited to have all the emergency partners involved in this drill. Our goal is to ensure our students are safe every day they come to school. This drill will enable us to enact our plan and prepare for situations we hope never happen.”
Sheriff Gary Banks, whose office is helping to coordinate this drill added, “Yancey County has, thankfully, not experienced an event in recent years that has required the coordination of all law enforcement and emergency personnel to one specific location. If, worst case scenario, we did have an event at one of our schools it could require not only all of Yancey emergency personnel but mutual aid from other counties as well.” Banks continued, “A training opportunity like this allows us to improve our communication and coordination between departments as well as providing hands-on training for individuals. We appreciate the school system recognizing the importance of this type of drill and opening their doors for training purposes.”
In addition to fire, tornado, and lockdown drills schools conduct on a regular basis, this drill involving law enforcement and emergency responders county-wide is required every two years by NCGS 115C-105.49.
Dear Superintendents and Education Leaders,
I want to share a special message with you and all North Carolina educators before the first day of school. By working together, we can achieve great things for teachers and the students of North Carolina. I look forward to continuing this important work with you, and once again best wishes for a successful year.
View Governor McCory's live message by clicking the link below.
Governor of North Carolina
How well do you know yourself and those around you? Most educators would agree that this is a subject important enough to talk about. This year as we move forward with the theme, “Desire to Inspire”, knowing our students and peers will continue to be important.
We know you and believe that you would appreciate honoring the memories of the teammates we lost last year, Charlene Thomas of Micaville Elementary, and Chrissie Ray of Burnsville Elementary.
One Sunday afternoon last fall, the Micaville teachers, support staff, and administration met in the media center in numbness and pain. They came together because they knew they needed to.
This staff knew themselves and they understood what must be done to prepare for students that would be returning to them in a matter of hours. While dealing with their own grief they planned together and on Monday morning they welcomed their students.
It seemed no time before more suffering returned. This time the administration had less time for preparation because even as students were entering Burnsville Elementary for their day in the classroom, news of another loss was unfolding.
Our superintendent knew the Burnsville staff well and that their struggle between professionalism and emotion could surface since they had had no time together to prepare. A plan was made with the principal that both acknowledged the needs of the staff, and that modeled healthy grieving for their students. The staff responded effectively because even while fighting their personal shock and loss, the welfare of their students remained the top priority.
There were others that understood the unique needs that Micaville and Burnsville had during their grieving and responded accordingly. Sister schools and individuals alike reached out in their own ways. They sensed their offerings would matter.
In June, when the last student bus left the parking lot for the summer, the Burnsville staff still had a need. They had not grieved together as a family. These comrades knew that they needed time together so that is what they did.
Last year was tough, but the reason for my words this morning is not to rehash emotions but to celebrate the strength of Yancey County Schools. In exceedingly difficult circumstances Yancey County Schools charted a course and kept students first. That is of course why we are here.
I have been talking about, “knowing ourselves and those we serve,” but let me change focus slightly. I recently listened to an aspiring school superintendent speak of his formative years when he taught middle school up in Crossnore. I thought his experience was worth our time today because he also believes it is important to know students in order to understand their needs. The story from one of his post evaluation conferences went like this.
Hypothetically his principal asked him, If a visitor to our school randomly chose ten names from the student roster, could you describe the specific needs and challenges of each student, or..... identify another adult within our school that could. In other words, is there an intentional adult on staff in your school that can articulate the unique needs of every student in your school? Granted, Crossnore is a small school and beyond that, I believe this principal was trying to get the young teacher to think beyond his classroom.
It is ok for us to question, is this strategy necessary? Is it practical? How about worthwhile? But.... could it make a difference as we, “Desire to Inspire?”
Incidentally the superintendent in this story was hired in May to serve the 35,000 students of the Spring Branch Independent School District in Houston, Texas. While he was a student in Yancey County he attended Burnsville Elementary, Cane River Middle, and graduated from Mountain Heritage in 1985 I think. It is safe to say that Yancey County Schools inspired and prepared him well.
Earlier I asked, “How well do you know those around you?” We know that understanding student needs is important in tragedy but it is more important as we do our routine.
Routine is important because it accounts for a majority of our time. Thankfully, the hardships we share, and the formal observations for which we make ready are not routine. Routine is instead, how we prepare lessons for the ordinary days; how we pull duty; and even how we supervise the four minutes before class is over. Routine for some is making sure there is on going parental contact. Routine for others is thanking those that help them serve their students.
Routine, very simply, becomes what we choose. Our routine is either monotonous or exciting. It is either repetitive and unchanging or it is inspirational.
The board realizes the success of Yancey County Schools depends on you. We thank you and continue our encouragement as you do your work. Have a good year.
Good morning and welcome back, I hope everyone had a great summer.
On behalf of the Yancey County Board of Education, I welcome our 25 new employees. We are excited to have you as part of our family.
I also want to welcome back our returning employees. Thanks for all you have done for Yancey County Schools and for what you will do this school year. It is my honor to work with such a wonderful group of professionals.
We would like to thank all of you for allowing us a few minutes of your time this morning.
Each year we set a system wide theme designed to help us stay focused. This year’s theme is “Desire to Inspire” Working with our principals this was chosen for a couple of reasons. First, can you think of a better goal for any educator to have than to inspire their students? Second, we must all strive to encourage or inspire each other over the long school year. Third, we must inspire our parents and our communities.
In American, today more than ever, public education must compete in a free market. We must demonstrate to parents that our schools are their best choice. Parents have choices today that did not exist 20 or 30 years ago.
Today, education is a multimillion dollar industry, we have private schools, home schools, charter schools, religious schools, and even online virtual schools. All designed to recruit students and their tax dollars away from public education.
In this time of constant change coming from the federal, state and local levels, we all must help each other and inspire each other to do their best and to be the best.
From time to time we will get discouraged, we are only human. However, if everyone has a true desire to inspire, then together we will be able to support and encourage each other.
The summer has been a very busy time. All 9 schools have had some improvements, some were small and some larger.
A few of the larger items include:
A new roof at Bald Creek. For the past 4 years we have installed a new roof each year, Bald Creek marks the last school that should need a new roof for several years.
At Micaville a new phone system was installed, and at Bald Creek we installed a new intercom.
At the two middle school we installed new gym floors. The 56 year old floors needed replacing. We wanted to have the best looking middle school gym floors in western North Carolina and I believe we will achieve that.
Over the summer we were able to offer elementary students a free summer enrichment camp at two sites, one was at Burnsville and the other was at South Toe. These two camps served around 80 students for 4 weeks. We were able to offer academic support during the mornings while offering fieldtrips and other fun activities in the afternoon. I would like to thank Colby Martin and the Magic Grant for the funds needed to offer this program.
Over the summer we learned that MHHS again improved its graduation rate. Two years ago MHHS reached an all-time high of 92.1%. This year we topped that with another all-time high of 92.44%. This is a tremendous accomplishment, one in which every Yancey County Schools employee can take pride.
This year North Carolina required all children entering kindergarten to take what is called the KEA or kindergarten early assessment. This assessment is designed to determine each child’s readiness for school.
You may not be aware of the fact that the Yancey County School System is one of only a few in the state that do not offer pre-k in the schools. We have begun working with local pre–K agencies to see how Yancey County Schools can help prepare students to enter kindergarten with the necessary skills needed to meet the new state assessment test.
Some of you may ask why begin a new program when we have a budget shortage?
It is very simple, the better prepared students are when they enter kindergarten the more successful they will be throughout all grades.
If Yancey County Schools are to remain successful and a leading school system in western North Carolina we must grow to meet the new challenges set before us.
Everyone here at the central office understands that students come first. I pledge each of you our assistance as we move forward this year.
Together we are stronger and will accomplish much more than we can working as individuals.
Once again on behalf of the school board and all central office employees welcome to the 2015-2016 school year and we wish each of you a safe and successful school year.
At this time I will turn it over to our board chair Mr. Mike Orr.
School districts across the state are waiting to see if North Carolina lawmakers will cease to provide funding for as many as 8,500 teacher assistant positions during the next two years.
While the House budget plan proposes to maintain current funding levels for teacher assistants, the Senate proposes to cut teacher assistants, using those funds to pay for teachers to reduce class sizes in lower grades. Under the Senate plan, the equivalent of 5,300 teacher assistant salaries would be cut state-wide this year with an additional 3,200 teacher assistants cut next year.
“It seems like every summer we are in the same place, worrying if the General Assembly will eliminate more teacher assistant positions,” said Yancey County Schools Superintendent Dr. Tony Tipton.
At the school board meeting on July 6th the Yancey County School Board approved a recommendation by Superintendent Tipton for a Reduction In Force (RIF) Plan. This plan is developed in the event the final budget from the state does eliminate teacher assistant positions.
As stated by School Board Chair Mr. Mike Orr, “While no one wants to eliminate any positions, we believe it is prudent to take steps to be prepared in the event teacher assistant funding is cut.”
School Board Vice-Chair Mr. Bill Whiteside agreed, quoting Benjamin Franklin, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." Whiteside continued, “Because of the uncertainty of when the General Assembly will release a budget, we should be ready to take action if needed instead of waiting and having to hurriedly design a plan.”
The RIF Plan that was approved follows the same guidelines the school system used two years ago when it was necessary to reduce the number of teacher assistant positions because of a reduction in state funding.
Yancey County School Board Policy #7921 calls for the superintendent to first reduce staff through normal attrition. As of now, through retirements and other factors, Yancey County Schools will begin the next school year with 5 fewer teacher assistants in the elementary schools than when school ended on June 12th.
If it does become necessary to use the RIF plan, the superintendent must use the following criteria when eliminating positions: 1) job performance, 2) degrees, licenses, and special qualifications, 3) seniority, and 4) other criteria determined to be relevant.
Yancey County Schools encourages all teacher assistants, as well as anyone interested in maintaining teacher assistants in the classroom, to continue to watch and monitor news coming out of Raleigh.
School board member Mr. Norb McKinney noted, “Yancey County has protected the teacher assistant positions better than most school systems around us by funding the eliminated positions over the last few years out of our savings or fund balance.”
Superintendent Tipton added, “We have continued to fund these positions using our fund balance because we believe it is better to have two caring adults in the early grades than just one caring adult. However, paying teacher assistant salaries out of savings cannot continue. Just as with any budget relying on your savings account to pay monthly bills cannot be sustained. Sooner or later you will run out of money and cannot pay for any of your bills.”
North Carolina has traditionally provided funds to school districts to pay for driver’s education. However, at this time, lawmakers are undecided on whether or not they will continue to fund this program.
This uncertainty has left school systems and students wondering who will pay for the required training. Because guaranteed state funding ran out when the 2014-15 fiscal year ended June 30, many school systems across the state have placed a halt to all driver’s education classes until the question of funding is answered by the state legislature.
Despite this uncertainty in funding, the Yancey County School Board has decided to allow students in the current summer program to complete the full program, earning the necessary requirements to obtain their licenses. If the state’s final budget does not include driver education funding then Yancey County Schools will have to cover the cost of these students completing their driving requirements, estimated at around $4,000. Because the students began the program under last year’s funding the board has agreed to allow the students to complete the training over the summer. According to Superintendent Tony Tipton, “We believe it is only fair to allow this group of students to continue and complete their driver’s education requirements, these students should not be punished because the state legislature has not decided what to do with driver’s education.
The Senate and House have approved a temporary budget to run the state government until Aug. 14th. However, the temporary budget does not include money to fund driver’s education.
The two legislative bodies are far apart on how to fund drivers’ education. The current House budget would continue state funding for driver’s ed. while the Senate budget ends the funding.
Currently the law states that school system will charge parents up to $65 to help off-set the cost for each student to take the training. School systems across the state contract with an outside company to oversee and conduct the driver’s education program. This includes the workbook session and the actual driving part of the program. The two big questions students, parents, and the school systems have for the legislature is who will pay for driver’s ed. and will driver’s education still be required to obtain a drivers license before the age of 18 if it is not funded?
Yancey County Schools will not schedule future classes until the NC General Assembly decides the future of funding for driver’s education.