The 6 p.m. called meeting began with a presentation on the school, which showed a substantial savings in tax dollars from what was originally estimated.
The fourth elementary school was expected to cost $13.2 million, but Parrish Construction Group bid $11.1 million with a final cost of $10.7 million due to decreased expenses during the recession.
Representatives from Parrish presented the board with a symbolic check for $348,128.97, the amount saved from the original bid price.
Interim superintendent Dr. Mike Newton thanked Parrish for their work, saying the county got the best ‘bang for its buck’ with an investment in the community and children.
“When I accepted the superintendent position, I thought the construction of the school would be one of my biggest headaches, but it really wasn’t,” he said. “Everyone really did a great job working together.”
After a 25-minute executive session, Chairman Ted Stone announced that Dr. Gail Wincey would be the principal for Turner Woods Elementary. She is currently the interim principal at Mattie Wells Elementary.
The board also voted on transfers for teachers to the new school from the county’s other elementary schools.
Newton said there were two rounds of options for teachers.
“Not many opted to transfer to Turner Woods in the first round,” he said. “In the second round, teachers were asked to give their first and second options for schools.”
The superintendent said, from there, the four current elementary principals sat down with him and his executive cabinet to discuss transfers.
“We wanted to make sure first and foremost that we have a good principal and good staff to start off at Turner Woods,” he said. “Dr. Wincey will be leading a search internally for an assistant principal.”
The 7 p.m. regular board meeting started with public comments from retired Jones County High principal John Trimnell, who said his concerns were related to the new elementary school and district lines.
“We need to take a step back and look at the situation of how lines were drawn on a computer without knowing what the roads are like,” he said. “I was a substitute bus driver this year, and I drove the only bus that goes by the new school.”
Trimnell acknowledged that the board was dealt a bad situation with growth and budget cuts, but his concern was the cost to open a new school after taxes already going up once.
“You have two options. One, you don’t let it open,” he said. “But, I know you’re not going to do that. The second is to look at district lines. I think they’re in bad shape.”
Trimnell said one child lives seven-tenths of a mile from Gray Elementary but will be riding a bus four miles to Turner Woods.
He also said Rudolph Collins, who is school system’s transportation director, did not have the option to fine-tune the map or give input for its creation, which will lead to problems.
“One of the lines crosses Luke Smith Road, but there’s nowhere to turn a bus around,” he said. “We’ll have to drive a bus out of the district, which wastes diesel fuel.”
Trimnell said Gray Elementary was hit hard when Dames Ferry opened, splitting the faculty.
“They build teams, but when you divide people, it makes things weak,” he said. “Instead, why not put K-2 at the new school and keep grades 3-5 at Gray Elementary?”
Trimnell said the big tests are in third and fifth grades, so they would all be together at the same school.
“It would solve a ton of problems if you divide the school K-5,” he said. “You wouldn’t have to buy new materials; they’ll just get divided. Now, we have to duplicate because we’re dividing faculty.”
He went on to say that furniture could be moved with teachers, which means they wouldn’t need to purchase anything new.
Stone asked Trimnell why he waited to bring these issues to the board since plans for the school have been in the works for three years.
“I’ve talked to two of the board members about it,” he answered, “and it’s been more than 45 days ago.”
Trimnell also said he expected the system would have a permanent superintendent that could have found simple solutions.
“We’re in an awful situation now,” he said. “The way I understand it, you’ve already let your assistant superintendent go, and Dr. Newton is off Fridays. That means you’re operating at 40 percent at the top level.
“We need a new superintendent, and we need one now,” he finished.
Education Curriculum Director Kelly Roberts presented the board with benchmarks for K-5 students, stating that teachers have been working diligently to target weaknesses.
“CRCTs started today,” she said, “but so far, we’re very pleased with our progress.”
Roberts said the middle schools are doing well with the exception of social studies in sixth grade and science in seventh grade.
“Teacher collaboration is working,” she said.
JCHS principal Chuck Gibson was asked to give a dropout report, but what he presented the board was more detailed than in the past.
“Graduation coach Bonnie Peters has been instrumental in digging deep to get more information about our dropouts,” he said. “The problems don’t start in high school.”
Gibson described the first person on the list who is in the Program for Exceptional Children but was pursuing a regular diploma.
“He earned 1.5 credits at the Ninth Grade Academy and missed 20 days before Christmas break,” he said. “This student went all the way through our system.”
Gibson said the transition team is working to find solutions by identifying students earlier.
“That way, we don’t have to talk about them as casualties,” he said. “We’re focusing on the graduation rate, and we’re trying to be proactive.”
Board member Deloras Moon said indicators show progress is being made.
“AYP made us look at every single child,” she said. “This report shows why every child failed. I appreciate this information.”
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Vicki Rogers gave board members reports with suggestions for new books for the English and foreign language departments at the high school.
English department chair Karen Mitcham said current books date back to 1994 and further.
“Other departments have gotten new books, so we’re glad it’s our turn,” she said. “The new curriculum has more literature from 1914 to present. We needed new books to prepare the kids for testing.”
Rogers said teachers looked critically at all options, and foreign language department chair Linda Bowden commented on the selection process.
“We got to sit down with reps from the company,” she said. “The new books have much more contemporary vocabulary. Last week, some of my students were confused by pay phones.”
Stone moved to accept the recommendations, and board member Mark Andrews asked about the cost.
Rogers said the books are part of the budget process.
“Prices are included for classroom sets or for each student to have a book,” she said.
English teacher Kirstie Knighton said classroom sets can make teaching difficult.
“It’s hard to teach college prep English out of one classroom set,” she said. “Not every child has the ability to access the Internet at home.”
Rogers presented the results of a survey sent home with students at Mattie Wells Elementary and Wells Primary about the name of the school once the two are merged.
“The consensus is for the name to be Mattie Wells Elementary,” she said.
Andrews moved to adopt the name, but Moon called for discussion, saying she had not heard the name was being decided.
“I think we need to allow time for the public to comment,” she said.
The motion was amended to table the vote pending further comments on the name.
Susan Eilers presented a policy change to graduation requirements for students who are not native English speakers that exempts them from the foreign language requirement. The motion to accept passed unanimously.
Facilities Manager Carol Miller presented bids for furniture at Turner Woods Elementary. The low bids were $26k for administrative furniture and $147k for student and cafeteria furniture.
That motion passed unanimously along with the five-year facility plan that was presented at the board’s work session April 6.