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MacBook Purchase Plan, Principal Change at John G. Carlisle Questioned at Covington Meeting

Disagreements emerged at Thursday's meeting of the Covington Board of Education when the idea of putting MacBook computers in the hands of all high school students came up.
 
Though the board ultimately voted to support the 1:1 initiative - a master lease with Apple, Inc. - there was a lengthy conversation prior. Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Charlene Ball told the board that when she was hired last August, she was had two immediate tasks: implement the Footsteps 2 Brilliance program and get laptops in the hands of all high school students at Holmes.
 
Ball evaluated multiple computer options and questioned teachers about which system may be right.
 
"We told the teachers, if money was no object, what would you want for the kids?," said Superintendent Alvin Garrison.
 
Board member April Brockhoff said that money was an object, though, and asked how many teachers the district lost in the last year. Garrison said that the teachers were not fired by the board; they left to take other jobs.
 
Ball said the point was that the teachers all wanted the Macbooks for their students. Brockhoff was still skeptical, asking why does it have to be a Macbook? Why was a Macbook the key to success for the students? Why couldn't it be another computer?
 
Ball explained that according to the experts she consulted, the Macbook would allow the student to be able to do more things in almost every subject, and not having the Macbook would put the students at a disadvantage among other students in the area.
 
Board member Jerry Avery stated that the district hired people to tell it what it had to do to get to the end result that it wanted: to find the best tool the students could have, and the district got its answer.
 
"We can't afford to wait," Avery said. The cost: $756,364 over four years.
 
Board member Glenda Huff asked if Ball had asked the site based council if it would like the Macbooks, because if the council didn't want them it wouldn't have to use them and the district would be out a lot of money. Ball said no, the site based council had not been consulted because it has control over curriculum, and this project was not a curriculum matter. Ball said the Macbooks were an educational tool, and the school just bought some new computers last year that were not under the authority of the site based council. She said the council would be informed of the choice the board makes, but it is not under the council's authority.
 
Brockhoff also asked if the district could afford it, and Annette Burtschy, finance director, said that if it was a priority, the district would treat it like a bond payment.
 
"If our goal (as a district) is to be the best urban district in the United States, we positively have to do this," said Ball.
 
The board voted 4-1 to move forward, with Brockhoff dissenting, saying that she did not believe that the district exhausted all its options and did not have a firm financial plan.
 
Earlier in the meeting, Danielle Axtel, a site based council member at Holmes High School - and a candidate in November's school board race, asked the board if they would delay action on the 1:1 initiative. She said before the district signed a hefty check she would like more information on the deal they were making with Apple.
 
Mary Wheatley, from the Covington Education Association, told the board that parents and staff had come to the association with concerns about the principal hiring process, and the way things were being handled at John G. Carlisle school since they now have two half time principals.
 
Principal Joy Collins resigned her position late this summer to take another job, and assistant principal Sharon Craig announced her retirement. Superintendent Garrison appointed Scott Alter and Sherry Lindberg as interim co-principals for the 2016-2017 school year, and will post the job of principal for the school at the end of the school year.
 
Alter led the turnaround at Glenn O. Swing Elementary which now ranks as the top elementary school in all of Kenton County, and in the 99th percentile across the state. He and Lindberg will continue their roles at Glenn O. Swing as principal and teacher/assistant principal, respectively. 
 
Wheatley said her organization has set up a meeting with Garrison for next Tuesday to discuss the concerns brought to her.  
 
Garrison told the board that he has acted strictly according to the laws and regulations set up for hiring principals, and that he had those regulations in a packet of information that anyone can study. He further assured the board that he used the same regulations and laws when they chose principals for Holmes High School, Holmes Middle school, Sixth District Elementary, and Latonia Elementary. The principals of Biggs and TLC were also new but they don't have site based councils.
 
Other notes:
 
The board adopted the working budget for the district. The budget of roughly $55 million was explained by Finance Director Annette Burtschy, and she invited the board members to call her if they had any questions. She said the numbers would jell even more in the next two weeks and she would have a final budget by the next meeting later in the month.
 
The board approved the hiring of another person in the finance department. They also approved a partnership with Youth Build alternative programs, and the Brighton Center Workforce Development.  
 
Bill Grein, District Assessment Coordinator, talked about the five-year Strategic Plan and how it is coming together with the input of students, teachers, parents, classified staff, administrators, and community and business leaders.  Brockhoff said she would like to see  a simpler version of the plan so she could explain the goals and visions to her neighbors.
 
Grein also told the board that the ACT test scores for juniors and seniors were mostly up, but when he looked at where they had come in five years, he said they were definitely  closing the gap between what the scores are and the average in the entire state, and he was pleased about that.
 
Suzanne Thompson, Elementary Director, told the board about the Footsteps 2 Brilliance which was initiated in January. She explained that they have seen a bump in the benchmark for the preschool  and kindergarten but that the evidence of that increase was not conclusive that it came solely from the F2B program. She wanted to study it further to see if the district should continue the program.
 
Finally, the board passed a policy amendment concerning graduation requirements, and the members were asked to come up with a name to call the basic diploma, and present their suggestions at a special meeting.
 
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor