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Dare superintendent talks about closing achievement gap

Superintendent of Dare County Schools John Farrelly told the school board at its December 8 meeting “it’s vital for us, short and long term, to recognize the significant achievement gap that is going on, really for every student across the country, but more importantly for us in Dare County . . .”

Farrelly then sketched out several supplemental programs that would help students catch up.

District administrators have looked at several options. The goal is to come up with a plan for the next 18 to 24 months.

For the short term, an after-school tutoring program is an option.

Running a comprehensive summer school program is one proposal. Farrelly said that the state has not funded summer school for a decade. A comprehensive program would run for three to four hours a day in two sessions, starting June 15 to July 4 and July 15 to August 15.

Additional proposals include extending the school day upwards of 20 minutes per day and/or increasing the school calendar five days at the start and five days at the end of the term.

Farrelly acknowledged that the only way the additional instructional time would work is to pay staff.

Said Farrelly, “it’s worth it for us to consider every possibility so we can catch our kids up . . . We have high expectations. We’re a high performing school system. I think our community is expecting us to be proactive. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

To consider what’s next for students and staff, Farrelly asked for a special meeting. On Jan. 7, 2021 at 5 p.m., the school board will meet to consider how instruction will be offered in the school term’s second semester.

Several citizens submitted public comments electronically about current set-ups and decision making. Keith Parker, director of secondary education and digital communication, read the emails.

Charity Gray Breto asked “are there any plans being made to open the elementary schools? Have you consulted with Sheila Davies or an actual medical doctor regarding opening and the excessive quarantine since the last BOE meeting?”

Another person criticized Dare’s quarantine policy and pointed to Currituck County as a different, less restrictive model.

A person identified as Katie wrote in that “My child’s first year of public school has been ripped from him, stolen.”

The accuracy of tests was criticized and challenged as a basis for decision-making.

Board discussion about a revised policy titled “School Safety” reflected some of the criticism from public comments. Board member Joe Tauber objected to the nebulous the term “health officials.”

The board adopted on first reading revised policies on the testing and assessment arogram, graduation requirements, student fees, employee use of social media, employee leaves and absences and licensure. A regulation about licensure that deals with the Dare County Beginning Teacher Support Program Plan was also adopted. The policy on student safety was not adopted at this meeting.

On the consent agenda, the board approved budget amendments to appropriate additional funds from the state including coronavirus relief funds and behavior support funds and realize a reduction of $48,505 due to charter schools’ average daily attendance; appropriate fund balance to write off debt owed by school nutrition fund ($334,359) and After School Enrichment Program ($57,772); and appropriate local capital improvement funds for Manteo High School roof replacement project and funding for projects not completed in Fiscal Year 2020.

The board accepted a Giving Tuesday donation from Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas of $10,000. The board approved using the cash donation toward a new filtering system for the district’s network that monitors emails and messages for cyberbullying and violence comments and assists with remote classroom management.

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