By JONAH LOSSIAH
One Feather Staff
The Cherokee Central Schools (CCS) Board of Education met on Friday, Jan. 7 following the decision to postpone the start of school. During this meeting they addressed COVID concerns and how to move forward with the year.
Superintendent Michael Murray reported that they had tested around 270 staff on Wednesday, Jan. 5 and were awaiting results. Because of the delays in those results and to ensure appropriate staffing for the start of the semester, the Board elected to begin classes on Wednesday, Jan. 12.
“We need to look at riding out this Omicron wave by just trying to keep reinforcing the vaccines and the booster. Because truthfully, if it is transitioning and we’re getting away from not keeping it out of school, we gotta learn to live with it and we’ve got to move forward with it progressively. PHHS and the States have all lined up on the new quarantine measures we’re all taking, and it shortens the quarantine. This virus is different from what you’ve been dealing with before,” said Superintendent Murray.
“We have staff development and things going on that we need to continue. So, we’re going to be very careful about who we let on and off the campus, but we’re not going to go backwards and go to a complete closed campus. We really do need to make sure that we are identifying who needs to be on campus and who does not,” said Murray.
Board member Kristina Hyatt said that she wanted to ensure that community safety was being heavily considered. She said that she had received several phone calls from concerned parents and grandparents who were anxious to return their children to school.
The Board said that they will continue to monitor the spread in the community and stay fully up to date on all protocols offered by EBCI Public Health and Human Services and the CDC.
In lieu of a consent agenda, the Board voted on individual resolutions that had initially been seen on an email poll delivered on Dec. 17. They passed all six of these resolutions, putting in place the following:
- Ashely Oxendine approved as an Elementary School Counselor
- Shawnee Bark approved as a Middle School Substitute Teacher
- Trina Thomason approved for a Level 3 Pay Increase
- Robert Booth approved as an Elementary Teacher Assistant
- Curtis Cagle approved as a High School Math Teacher
- Tyler Hanke approved as a High School Science Teacher
While offering updates to the Board, Superintendent Murray made sure to honor a former CCS employee who had recently passed.
“I attended a visitation ceremony for Richard William Welch today,” said Murray. “You can tell which custodians are model custodians that you don’t ever have to say a word to because they’re truly doing their job. They don’t do drama. That person right there was one of the best I’ve ever seen. I told his family today, on behalf of the Board, that he was an important part of our school family and we loved him. And that we thanked him for his service to our school system,” said Murray.
The Board shared their stories on Welch, talking about how much of a Braves fan he was. They remarked about him driving to watch ball games of CCS graduates if they made it to the collegiate level. Whether it was Mars Hill, Carson Newman, or anywhere else he would try to make it out to support.
Following an extended break, Chairperson Jennifer Thompson polled the members of the Board about any ideas they had for new programs or improvements at the school. Thompson said that she had reached out to the Board before Christmas to come up with some ideas that they would like to have implemented at the school.
Tara Reed-Cooper isolated a couple of ideas. She said that she would like to start investigating how they could improve the school-provided lunches at CCS. She also said that she had been in communication with some leaders at the Cherokee Indian Hospital and the Cherokee Youth Center about collaborating for some new programs at the school. Reed-Cooper said that working with these entities could offer significant learning opportunities with real world experience.
“It sounds like it could be tremendous,” said Assistant Superintendent Beverly Payne. “Part of what we are trying to do is exactly what you just described. In Middle School we expose students to a variety of career fields and help give them information to make decisions and maybe start a pipeline into particular career pathways once they get into High School.”
Chairperson Thompson said that she would like to see some work done to assist with mental health awareness at the school. She said that she had looked into a program that was studied at Clemson University and has some momentum with incorporating student resource officers (SROs) on campus.
“Each of the SROs were the central person. Kind of like that social-emotional learning. The SROs, we could task them with the responsibility to help lead it. Because I know that our guidance counselors, our social workers, they’re already overtaxed with what they do. Our teachers are already overtaxed. Not that our SROs are not, but because there are specific trainings that are geared towards SROs, I thought it might be something that might be interesting to look into. Because with the pandemic, so much more of that mental health awareness needs to come out,” said Thompson.
The Board discussed each of these ideas and started the ground work for who to speak with about building on these concepts at CCS.
The Friday, Jan. 7 meeting of the CCS Board of Education was called to order at 4:45 p.m. with Chairperson Jennifer Thompson; Co-Vice Chairs Tara Reed-Cooper and Melanie Lambert; Secretary Kristina Hyatt; Board members Regina Ledford Rosario and Berdie Toineeta; Superintendent Michael Murray; Assistant Superintendent Beverley Payne; and Administrative Assistant Terri Bradley all in attendance. Tribal Council Rep. Bo Crowe was late to the meeting and HR Director Heather Driver was an excused absence.
The next meeting of the School Board is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 27 at 4:45 p.m. This meeting will have the Board’s attorney present and they have the option to discuss matters in closed session if necessary. Otherwise, the meeting is open to the public.