School Board Re-Ups with Super; Buys More Chromebooks

School’s out for the year but that doesn’t mean school administrators are lying in lawn chairs sipping drinks garnished with small umbrellas. Monday’s meeting of the Dade County Board of Education was in fact heavier than usual as the system girds itself for school year 2018-19.

First, personnel: A full list of personnel changes is at the end of this article, but let’s start with the headliner: After an evaluation earlier in the day, the board announced it had reupped its commitment to Dade’s popular schools superintendent, Dr. Jan Harris, for three years.

(Photo: The super in full sartorial splendor and two colors of shoes--there's a story there--for school-opening ceremonies in August 2017)

Dr. Harris, a former superintendent in the Alabama public school system, took over Dade County Schools in 2016 from a series of short-lived administrators not all of whom had received much love and tenderness from the B of E. Her tenure at the helm has been marked by a period of unusually smooth sailing in that regard, the super seeming to get along well with her board and even—also a rarity in Dade—with the county and city governments. This in the face of budgetary surprises, security scares and the sweeping changes she made last year in school leadership—all but one of Dade schools, Dade Elementary, had a new principal for 2017/18.

One way or the other, Dr. H seems to have elicited a pretty strong vote of confidence from board members, who extended her contract through June 30, 2021.

In other business, the board heard from its high-tech staffers, Bill Bankston and Chris Greene. Greene asked for and was granted approval to seek bids for a computer security firm to keep the schools’ computer systems safe from attacks such as the ransomware blitz he described at an earlier meeting. “We’d love to have this in place before we start school,” he said.

Greene explained that the system had worked with such firms before successfully but with the frustration that good firms seemed to go out of business overnight. The goal this time is to find a company that’s been around a while and seems likely to keep doing it, said Green.

Bill Bankston asked the board’s blessing to solicit bids for new Chromebooks. Wait a minute, asked board members, didn’t we just buy 1600 of those a couple of months ago so that our students would have a one-to-one student-to-Chromebook ratio? At a cost of $281,056 in SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) funds, The Planet will add.

Yes, said Bankston, but 670 more are now needed. Rather than assign one unit to a student, to carry around in the halls and take home—and possibly leave at home, or possibly break in the halls or at home—the teachers had decided to keep the Chromebooks in their classrooms, he explained. Students are assigned to one in their class—“So they do have accountability,” said Bankston—but in their next class will use another one which also stays in that room when they leave. As such, some classrooms are now short of the units, including in subjects such as physical education which perhaps were not imagined to need them for instruction but now find they do.

“Is this need-based or want-based?” asked District 2 member Jennifer Hartline.

These days, said Bankston, probably need. “We have a paradigm shift,” he said. Teachers used to use chalk, then they used Promethean boards, said Bankston; now they’ve shifted to Google Classroom “It just blossomed into a new style of teaching,” he said.

The board questioned Bankston as to the shelf life of the units. He said four or five years, but he wasn’t sure—the schools are still using the oldest ones they got years ago as a donation, he said. They are updated automatically and continuously, he said, so the problem wasn’t so much obsolescence as wear and tear. Finally, they are not prone to computer viruses though they can contract “extensions,” which are less serious and of which the teachers are responsible for keeping their sets free.

Bankston received approval for the new Chromebooks, and will solicit proposals.

Board Chair Carolyn Bradford asked the board to accept or reject the one bid the board had received for an important summer project: the renovation of two buildings. The board elected to reject it. “I think we need more than one bid,” said Ms. Hartline.

In the interest of getting the work done before school resumes, the board authorized Dr. Harris to solicit and collect at least three quotes to present at next month’s meeting.

The board approved $65,921.80 in SPLOST for texbooks for Dade High science classes. That amount includes books, workbooks and online resources for several science concentrations at the high school for the coming eight or nine years.

It approved an intergovernmental agreement with Dade County to supply school resource officers (SROs) in all the schools. The Dade County Commission has already approved the agreement, and The Planet has already detailed its substance—that the school system and county will split the cost for two more SROs for 2018-9, the two entities already sharing the cost of an SRO at the high school, and the county already funding one at Dade Elementary.

The board also renewed routine agreements with Dade Head Start and Bright From the Start, pre-kindergarten programs, and Learning Focus for professional learning for teachers. Board member Gen. Bob Woods (ret.) asked that teachers be required to highlight how professional learning changes the way they teach “so we can connect these dots.” The super said professional development is one of the most important factors in student achievement, and its success can be gauged in advances thereof.

Dr. James Cantrell reported on construction projects: Pressure washing and painting are going on at DES and a fence is going up at Davis Elementary. He asked for and was granted a $12,500 change order for work going on at Dade Middle School on the long-heralded track-slash-access road. Basically, he explained, clearing trees in the work area has created a lake at the bottom. Ditches need to be dug and the whole drainage problem addressed.

The board also approved $45,000 in SPLOST for paving at Davis. While the county is paving a long-awaited walking track around the school, said Dr. Harris, it has agreed to go ahead and do the parking lot at cost.

The board decided to ask for a proposal from energy-saving services including ABM, an Alabama company that had made a presentation at last month’s meeting (ABM's Don McPherson is shown at that demonstration at right). It also okayed surplusing for auction a couple of 30-year-old pottery kilns the high school art department is no longer using as well as a 1982 Chevrolet truck the system considers it has gotten its money out of.

Financial director Paula Stallings reported that workers’ compensation insurance is down this year at but motor vehicle insurance is up after this year’s fatal bus-v.- pedestrian accident. “We really thought they were going to drop us,” she said.

The board officially adopted the $18,847,585 fiscal year 2019 budget it had considered at a special called meeting last week. More budget doings will occur later in the summer as the county digest is finalized and expected revenues assessed.

Finally, here is the list of personnel changes the board approved after its regular executive session on the subject:

Retirement: Emma Katherine Ables Brewer

Resignation: Opal Moreland, DMS custodian

Promotion: David Tate from special education parapro to special education teacher at DHS

The board is hiring:

Gregory Martin to teach Ag Ed grades 9-12

Clifford Dewight Parrish, DMS Custodian

Brandi Gann as DMS half-time art teacher

Shenea Hill, DMS engineering technology

Bonnie Harris, secretary/bookkeeper at Davis

Kristy Branson, Bus Aide

Jeff Poston, half-time bus driver

Blake Crisp, maintenance worker

Wendy Stevens, bus monitor

Aaron Case, DMS wrestling lay coach.

The next meeting of the B of E is scheduled for 5 p.m. on July 16 in the school board’s offices in front of Dade High on Highway 136 East.

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