School board approves security, reading programs

Jan. 16, 2013 @ 05:03 AM

Local public schools are about to get more secure, and the children, or at least some of them, are about to get more help reading.

Superintendent Jeff Moss said that based on conversation he's had with the three middle schools' principals in Lee County, he estimates more than half of students in grades 6-8 can't read at grade level, and that there's something he thinks could change that, if it's expanded.

SanLee Middle School has started using a program from Vanderbilt University called READ 180, Moss said, with good results so far. He said East and West Lee middle schools want in as well, so he suggested the district buy into it and a related one called System 44. According to Scholastic, the educational company that has rights to the program, READ 180, is for students at least one year behind, and System 44 is for students who essentially are beginning readers.

"This will work with students who cannot read at all, up to struggling readers," Moss said, noting that there's only enough money to pay for about a quarter of the students who need help, but that the students will cycle in and out: "... Once a student graduates out of one program, another student takes that spot."

The program includes specialized reading material and lessons, as well as outside coaches and consultants who work with students twice a month. It will cost about $274,000 for this year, and about $15,000 each following year for technological support. In addition to the bi-weekly coaching sessions, students will work on improving individually or in groups for 45 minutes a day.

The board approved it 6-0. The seventh board member, Wendy Carlyle, didn't arrive until after the voting was over.

Board member Mark Akinosho asked what else might be done to help middle school students, or to lessen the problems at the elementary level by encouraging reading at home, and Moss said that's where the district's 1:1 Laptop program comes into play by allowing students to have access to nearly unlimited reading material.

"If you don't have a literacy-rich environment, it doesn't matter if they have a love of reading because there's nothing to read," he said.

In security matters, the board rescinded a vote to sign Central Carolina Security to a contract to install various security measures around campus. The project is to fit the main entrances of all 16 district schools with intercom and remote lock systems, and to fit the other 91 entrances around the district with digital proximity locks.

The school board had previously approved, pending county funding, the company's $206,000 bid, but Moss said after he and other officials heard it was going to take six months, they approached the next-lowest bidder — Ken-Nect Communications, at $211,000 — and were told four weeks, which was more in line with what officials had originally expected.

The board approved the switch, 6-0.

Moss said the system will allow greater control over who can enter the schools or not, as well as cut down on human error by allowing the district to program which times the doors will be open or locked at individual schools.

"We don't have to worry about someone forgetting to go by and lock the door — and for (Parent Teacher Association meetings) or other late meetings, we can have it open."

In other actions, Moss passed out a summary of the financial analysis he said was done during the conversations about switching to a year-round school. Several board members and people from the general public had questioned whether such research was ever done and what the fiscal impact of such a switch would be, with Moss saying at a public hearing it would be negligible. He stood by that statement Tuesday, announcing that switching all elementary and middle schools to year-round schedules would cost an extra $3,136 in utilities and $29,244.80 in transportation costs.

"That, in my mind, was not significant when we're talking about an $88 million budget," he said. It's unclear if the elementary school redistricting process that would be required in such a switch would cost anything, or what that cost might be.

Moss also announced 3.63 percent of students dropped out last year — the lowest rate in the district's history — and that officials will respond to a public records request from Brian McRae, who wants all board members' emails related to an incident in October at which McRae and others allege Moss used inappropriate language.