Marathon End-of-School-Year Meetings for Dade B of E

Dr. Sandra Spivey, the elegant ex-superintendent of schools who is now DMS's new principal, gives a "State of the School" presentation to the board.

It’s the end of the school year and the Dade County Board of Education has been meeting exhaustively, first for a marathon work session last Thursday, May 17, and then again this Monday, May 21, when it tackled another plateful of business in its formal session.

Thursday’s program was opened by Dr. Sandra Spivey, the new principal of Dade Middle School, who presented a “State of the School” report on DMS at this, the end of her first year of leading it. “We have a lot of opportunities to sort of move from good to great,” summarized Dr. Spivey.

Dr. S went over what had been new at the school this year—herself, the principal, as well as an academic coach, a part-time nurse and the Chromebook internet stations for all students that county schools received in the middle of the year. She also covered what will be new for next year. That includes a full-time SRO (school resource officer), more parental involvement and extensive facility and campus improvements. DMS’s open physical spaces have been a subject of worry for the system and community in the face of heightened security concerns, though Dr. Spivey says students report feeling safe at school.

Academically, Dr. Spivey said math scores were up dramatically and that DMS is doing a good job of moving challenged kids up toward the median though it seems less successful in improving the lot of those at the higher end of achievement. “Believe it or not, the most underserved group in Dade County is the gifted,” interjected Dr. Jan Harris, schools superintendent, adding that the system is working on beefing up its advanced placement courses.

Dr. Spivey said one improvement that had made a difference to DMS teachers this year was changing the bell schedule. “They were losing a lot of their instruction time at the end of the day,” she said.

Dr. Spivey, who before she took over at the middle school was a county schools superintendent in Alabama, took the report as an opportunity to praise her teaching staff. “Hands down, this is the best group of people I have ever worked with. They care about the students and they care about each other,” she said. “That’s not a bad place to start from.”

The board then heard a presentation from Russell Seifert of Creative Solar, a company that was bidding for a limited solar energy project at Dade County High School. Operations administrator Dr. James Cantrell explained that the school system was applying for a grant for the solar initiative, and at the formal board meeting on Monday, board members approved the project and $107,615 to pay for it.

Seifert said the solar power would be produced by panes affixed to the school roof with special mounts that stabilized them against violent weather. Solar energy is not stored, he explained, but sold back to Georgia Power if there is more than the school can use. In the case of DCHS, he said, such a scenario is unlikely though it might be imagined to happen on the odd weekend. This is a limited project that will replace only a fraction of the $12- to $13,000 worth of electricity the high school uses every month. Seifert says it will probably save the school $1000 to $1100 a month—he guaranteed a more modest estimate of $5600 a year.

The downside of solar power? “It costs a lot up front,” said Seifert. But the panels and mounts are expected to last for decades, the power bill savings add up, and the system will be of use to students for their science projects, said Dr. C.

Next there was another energy-savings presentation from Don McPherson of ABM Building Solutions. McPherson explained ABM made its income from money schools already paid in utility bills, assessing the waste factor and fixing it so that ABM could guarantee a savings to the school each year. “In every year we do not meet the guarantee, we write you a check for the difference,” said McPherson. He said in 20 years AMB had written only one check.

McPherson said the company looks at such factors as cracks in school walls—if you can slide a dollar bill through it, you’re probably already sliding a lot of them in wasted heat and air conditioning, he said—how long toilets keep running after they’re flushed, and setting the temperature of cafeteria sink water so it doesn’t have to run a while to get hot or cold enough.

No action was taken on the ABM proposal at the May meeting.

Davis principal Josh Ingle, also the system's security chief, spoke briefly on safety, announcing that on June 7 he will meet with Dade Emergency Services Director Alex Case to continue discussing protection plans for Dade schools. Dr. Harris thanked Dade as well as the Trenton city government for partnering with the school system to provide SROs for all the schools.

Dr. Cantrell provided an operations report at the Thursday meeting. He discussed with the board estimates for planned work at Davis School, sealing the exterior, painting the inside and revamping the lighting and electrical work. Bid amounts were not revealed and board members did not mention dollar amounts until an eye-popping difference between two of them begged the question of whether the bidders understood what it was they were bidding on. Then it emerged that one bid was $327,000 and the other $69,737. Dr. Cantrell could not explain the difference, but at its Monday meeting the board approved the lower amount.

District 2 member Jennifer Hartline said the gym floor at Davis was in terrible shape and asked why that wasn’t on the planned slate of work. Dr. Cantrell explained that actually it was on the list but that it had been judged unwise to do it at the same time as the other work—maybe during the Thanksgiving break, he said.

At the formal May 21 meeting, besides the $69K for the renovation work at Davis, the board okayed $43,552 for recreation equipment for the school and $10,094 for a security fence there.

Additionally, the board approved $13,101.56 for a new electricity pole and meter at the high school and unspecified amounts for new LED signs such as the high school already has for the other three schools as well as transportation routing software discussed and requested by by Dr. Cantrell at an earlier meeting.

Also at the Monday meeting, Dr. Cleta Long, who heads the school system’s nutrition program, discussed coming renovation in the high school cafeteria. School cafeterias are an important part of education, she said. Kids don’t just eat breakfast and lunch there, they also learn social skills, she said.

She said the new lunchroom would look “like something you’d see in McDonald’s,” with high tables interspersed with lower ones and counters so nobody ate lunch alone. “It’s really their environment and what they like,” she said, referring to the students.

Again, no cost estimates were mentioned and Dr. Harris said later none were available, that the project was still only in the planning stages.

Chris Greene, one of the school system’s high-tech employees, spoke after Dr. Long. He said the system’s big session of computerized testing had gone smoothly with the new Chromebooks, though: “We got hit with a pretty good ransomware attack just before the testing.”

Greene explained that ransomware attacks held files and documents hostage and that the system’s firewall had been helpless to stop this one. “When this happens, things stop working,” he said. He said it had been necessary to hire data recovery engineers to get everything back, and suggesting engaging an outside monitoring service to avoid future attacks. Dr. Harris commende Greene and the system’s other tech, Bill Bankston, saying they had both worked around the clock during the cyber crisis.

Dade Elementary academic coach Darlene Rogers then presented the board with her school’s summer reading brochure, which lists a variety of books students may choose from according to their interests and reading level. The list was sent home with students and will also be available at the Dade Public Library—which has stocked multiple copies of recommended books—as well as many local businesses, doctor’s offices and restaurants. “We want to create a generation of children who love to read,” she said.

The board then went behind closed doors for an extensive executive session on personnel, after which it issued a lengthy list of staffing and coaching recommendations, published in an earlier Planet article. (See Planet home page to access.)

The next formal B of E meeting is at 5 p.m. on Monday, June 18. Meetings are usually preceded by an informal workshop the Thursday before.

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