VILONIA — The Vilonia Board of Education approved school bus services being extended into a gaited subdivision, where the road will be privately maintained, as long as the owners keep up their end of the bargain.
"Our practice has been to run only on a county maintained road or city streets," said Dr. Frank Mitchell, school superintendent, addressing the board. Yet, he recommended adhering to the request from Ben Davis, owner of Seven Point Lake subdivision, located three miles south of Hwy 64 Bypass on Highway 107, with a "memorandum of understanding." The agreement will release the district of all liability regarding the upkeep of the roadways. It will also stipulate that the roadways will be monitored by the Faulkner County Road Department. The bus service will cease, Mitchell said, if the roads fall below standards set by the county. Also, Mitchell said, the area is one that will fall under the inclement weather policy due. Road foreman Glen Willhite was in the audience and said the road to be traveled is currently equal or surpassed all county requirements.
Mitchell said Vilonia School District sends buses to "just about every corner of this school district. We pick up just about every kid that we can."
Arrangements, Mitchell said, must also be made where the bus driver has access in and out of the gate. The gate generally remains locked and must be opened by a code.
In other business, the board:
• Approved a yearly bonus of $300 for full time employees, $150 for half-time employees and bus drivers.
• Approved a student transfer to the Russellville School District.
• Approved the purchase of two school buses at a cost of about $160,000. There was also some talk about applying for second lien bonds for the purchase of security cameras and switches but no action was taken on that matter.
• Approved the purchase of the Observe 4Success System and 15 I pads at a cost of about $18,240.71. This equipment is to be used by teachers.
• Approved the replacement of the kiosk at the high school at a cost of about $5,030 to continue the alumni memorial project. Mitchell said he would like to see a link on the school’s website with access. As well, he said, he would like to see more participation.
Prior to the board meeting, an address to the public allowed the principals from each campus as well as Mitchell and Cathy Riggins, assistant superintendent, to share information regarding old and new district goals. Each of the principals, Andy Ashley, Rick Kelley, Lori Lombardi, Susan Loyd and Kelley Walters, focused on programs and achievements specific to their campus. More than one talked about assessments, Common Core Standards, ways to help students with college and career readiness, and teachers working on professional growth.
The buzz phrase for the district appears to be student engagement with each repeating it.
"Our district goal is to initiate student engagement," Riggins said, concentrating more on the social and academic aspects regarding the district goals.
Mitchell’s report covered all aspects from academics to the teaching staff, technology and school facilities. The facilities stretching out on five campuses, he said, are in "pretty good shape." All of the teaching staff, he said, will be evaluated by the administration. As well, he said all of the principals have passed the state testing to allow them to become staff evaluators. Common Core, he said, is being taught K-12. There are some misconceptions, he said, being said about it. Maybe some think there is something sinister behind it, he said. "I haven’t found that yet," he added.
The district, he said, has been implementing more technology devices but financing is a problem in that area.
He touched on some entrepreneurship programs and grants such as one received in connection with the Vilonia High School store, the Eagle Nest, allowing an embroidery machine to be purchased and students to be trained on it. It’s not about the school making money, he said, but training the students to work and perhaps inspire them to want to own a business.
Goals for 2014 include putting strategies in place regarding student’s achievement levels, encourage project based learning, and to implement a crisis plan and train personnel. A main goal, Mitchell said, is to follow through with adding a sixth campus and finishing the building of the Intermediate School including equipping it with furnishings conducive to learning enhancement.
The subject of maintaining a financial stability was addressed more than once. Mitchell said it will be important to "streamline" where possible district wide. Things to consider, he said, will be efficiency in hiring for new positions and eliminating non-essential positions and services. He suggested cutting back on "things we can do without."
Mitchell talked about the limited student population growth and the $7 million in assessment that was lost due to CUDD moving a portion of their business outside of Vilonia. They still have a plant in Vilonia, he said, but their fleet of trucks used to service gas wells are gone. Due to the loss of tax revenue, he said, the district will gain some state aid but it will not make up for the loss of revenue generated from that business. "We have to look at how that is going to affect us," he said.
He suggested capitalizing on School Choice and to "better publicize our school" to attract students to the district.
Gifted and talented teacher and program coordinator Chere’ Beavers also spoke. Vilonia School District’s gifted and talented program is a K-12 program, with different types of services provided for students at grade level tiers. Currently, she said, there are 255 identified gifted students in grades 3-12. The gifted children, she said, are a special needs group just like students on the other end of the spectrum. Sometimes people have the opinion, she said, that they will do just fine on their own, that they are gifted, "so they will get it." Their gifts, she said, are all individual, and so are their weaknesses and insecurities. The program allows teachers to work with them to strengthen those abilities, too, she said.
After about 90 minutes, the meeting ended with students from the high school’s East Lab presenting a power point on "How are you Involved," where they interviewed students asking them what they like about their school.