On Monday, Oct. 12, Swain County Board of Education heard COVID-19 updates and about the district’s academic progress. Mark Sale, Swain Schools superintendent, also introduced new teachers and welcomed them to the Swain family, and invited each one to introduce themselves.
Prior to relocating to Swain County to teach 6th grade at the middle school, Mike DeHart taught for 23 years in Ohio.
“My wife and I have two children. My son is a graduate from Duke University and my daughter lives in Asheville,” DeHart said. “We knew we wanted to be closer to them, and here we are in beautiful Swain County.”
Emily Alexander and Lydia Faust are recent graduates from Western Carolina University and both are teaching 1st grade at East Elementary.
Grey Lakey, former media assistant for the middle school, has a background in journalism. She spent most of her career writing for a local newspaper in Roxbury, N.C. Lakey has helped a lot with remote learning students and played a vital role in students’ distance learning.
“I love teaching English,” she said. “I live in Stecoah with my husband Shawn, who is also a teacher at East, and our 11-month-old daughter.”
Shawn McCarthy is the new IT Fundamentals teacher at Swain High and also teaches Career Management. He will also be helping with the football team.
“I graduated many moons ago from The Citadel. I have a background in manufacturing,” he said. “My wife and I relocated here from South Carolina after becoming empty nesters, and we love it here [Bryson City].”
Alison Cochran, Swain County Health Department director, shared COVID-19 data and percentages within the county. (See page 1 for numbers.)
Case numbers are going up across western North Carolina, she warned.
“We have been able to use contact tracing to determine where the increases are coming from. Tracing back to household contacts, such as eating dinners with families or social gatherings, church attendance and work, have been identified as part of the increase,” Cochran said.
Cherokee Indian Reservation has 90 active cases as of Oct. 12., she reported.
Board Chairwoman Mellie Burns acknowledged that everyone is tired of the virus, but the community is not in the clear and must stay vigilint.
“We are all sick of this. We want it to go away. I want to use this mask as a slingshot and never have to wear one again! Unfortunately, we do not have that luxury right now,” she said. “The only way we can keep our numbers low right now is to make sure that everyone in Swain County does their part; wear your mask, be diligent, wash your hands, stay six feet apart.”
Sale agreed that the social distancing is key. “Six-foot spacing is the most critical piece to keeping our kids safe,” he said.
In other reports, Sale shared information on academic progress with the board. Data gathered over the last few weeks (including from fully remote learning students) shows that students are becoming more proficient the more time that they spend in a school setting, he said.
Although the district has made solid growth, Sale said it would be beneficial to add more reading assistants to provide additional support for students. The county commissioners were in favor of this but no official decisions have been made, he said. He plans to meet with them again later in the week to discuss budgets and plans.
The district has room for improvement when it comes to ACT scores, according to 2019 data that was recently received.
“ACT scores from last year are showing students still struggling with proficiency levels needed in order to be able to succeed in junior college. Students are having to cover so much before they get to high school, so it is overwhelming for them,” Sale said.
He proposed emphasizing elementary learning.
According to the data, 62% of Swain High school students are not showing the proficiency that ACT believes is needed to be successful in college, Sale shared.
“We scored a 26% proficiency level in students and 12% with students testing above proficiency level. For the 2019 school year, we tested and resulted ahead of the state average in reading, yet 62% of our students aren’t at ACT level for proficiency. This tells me that we need to focus more on providing support and additional teachers implemented into our system. I am planning to meet with commissioners to further discuss a plan of action.”
The next school board meeting is set for Monday, Nov. 9 at 6 p.m.