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Parents of soon-to-be Thomas Nelson High School students will receive letter soon

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By Erin L. McCoy

Parents of high school students in the Nelson County School District are likely to receive a letter by the end of the week, either from Nelson County High School Principal Eric Gilpin, or from Thomas Nelson High School Principal Wes Bradley.

“The content of the letter is simply for each principal to be able to communicate with those families and say, ‘Glad you’re going to be a student at this high school,’” Nelson County Schools Superintendent Anthony Orr told the Nelson County School Board in a work session at Boston School Thursday. 

The letter will also serve to inform parents which school their child will attend, as many people are still unsure in which high school’s district they reside, Orr added.

School Board Chair Adam Wheatley said several parents had commented that they would provide false addresses or P.O. boxes to make sure that their child attends the school he or she prefers. Wheatley warned that students and families may face ramifications if they attempt to attend a high school outside their district of residence, and he pointed to several recent court cases in which Jefferson County parents were discovered to be sending their children to Oldham County schools.

Orr confirmed several parents had said they intended to falsify their addresses. A number of parents spoke in strong opposition to moving their children to the new high school at a June public hearing. Thomas Nelson High School is slated to open in August 2012.

“Our response for that is you have to make sure that whatever address you give us is the place where that child spends the night, and as that becomes an issue we’ll follow up and check to make sure,” Orr said. “If we find that’s not true, it’s going to be an unfortunate situation for the student, because we’re going to move them back to the school where they’re districted,” even if it’s the middle of the school year.

Orr said parents and students will tentatively be able to tour Thomas Nelson High School in March.

“There’s a lot of people that I think once they see Thomas Nelson, will have a lot of their concerns — some of their concerns — alleviated,” board member Nicky Rapier said. 

Technology rules at Nelson County High

Allowing students to use their personal technology at school — from smart phones to laptops — may facilitate education and improve student-to-computer ratio as long as the proper limitations are in place, Orr proposed to the school board.

Orr said he has been working with Gilpin to consider changing the school’s policies to allow students to bring their computers to school and keep their cell phones on. These technologies can be used in the classroom for creative lessons and to expand students’ Internet access, Orr said.

The high school is also considering letting students make phone calls, as long as they’re only permitted between class periods.

“We’ve talked about trying to reduce the number of students per computer,” said Orr, explaining that if some students brought their own computers more of the school’s computers would be accessible for the other students. This is a much more affordable option for reducing student-to-computer ratio, he said.

Board member Damon Jackey acknowledged that there is evidence to support that better student-to-computer ratios improve learning opportunities.

“Parents are already going to be buying them. Let’s let them bring them in,” Jackey said.

Orr said the district already has the infrastructure in place to support a large influx of new Internet users — a hidden cost other districts that have implemented such a policy had to account for.

He added local businesses and citizens buying new computers would be encouraged to donate to the district in exchange for a tax receipt.

But Rapier was concerned those students without computers or cell phones might be singled out.

Orr said those students would still have access to district computers.

Wheatley emphasized the district would not take responsibility for students’ property if it is lost or broken.

Extra duty salary changes

Board members were still undecided about the details of a proposed change in salaries paid to district staff for performing extra duties — whether they’re coaching the football team or the academic team. Previously, they were paid a percentage of their salaries, but last month, Executive Director of Operations Tim Hockensmith proposed a plan of flat salaries with the option of paying anyone holding a particular position the same salary, or paying salaries in three tiers based on years of experience in the position.

The proposed plan doesn’t give staff credit for years of holding the same position in another district, Hockensmith said. Orr said this was because the district didn’t want to be perceived as trying to recruit from other districts’ staff.

Rapier said he understood both sides, including the argument that staff ought to be credited for experience in other districts, but was confused on the details.

“It may put us in the mind where we can’t get a good academic team coach,” he warned.

But Hockensmith was careful to keep the salaries in line with about 30 other districts, Orr pointed out. 

“Probably in most of the cases where there’s a difference between us and other districts, we’re ahead of them,” Orr said in reference to pay scale.

The board emphasized that academic credentials should be the most important consideration when hiring someone who may be a coach. Most often, coaches also work or teach in the school building where they coach — making them more accessible to and in touch with their students, according to Orr.

In other news:

• Director of Construction Chuck Thompson reviewed change orders on several of the district’s construction projects with the board, though it is not expected to vote on the changes until its Nov. 15 regular meeting. One change would amount to a $2,300 credit after omitting some unneeded insulation from exterior walls at Thomas Nelson High School. Changes and additions to Foster Heights Elementary lights and bleachers were also included.

• Replacement of the New Haven School elementary wing roof was expected to begin Monday and Tuesday, when school was closed. The project is tentatively slated for completion at the end of December, Thompson said.

• Construction crews worked to complete a rubber-coated fence Friday and lay the rubberized surface on the Nelson County High School track. The asphalt on which the track will be laid has sustained some damage from players’ cleats and general exposure in the past few months and will have to be repaired first, Thompson said. Weather permitting, he said he hopes the track will be complete by the end of this week.

• The district’s first audit using a new auditor, Smith & Company CPAs, is almost complete and should be ready to present to the board at its regular meeting this month, Hockensmith said.

• School improvement plans, which are modeled on the District Improvement Plan approved last month, will likely be on the agenda for approval at the board’s regular meeting Nov. 15.

• The school board reviewed three drafts for a 2012-2013 school calendar. All three show a one-week fall break and two-week spring break, but one shows spring break beginning in mid-March rather than late March. They also differ in the date when winter break begins — either Dec. 21, Dec. 22 or Dec. 17. The placement of four-day weekends throughout the year varies as well. All three show school ending in the last week of May.

The school board may select any of these calendars, combine them, or make changes according to what board members think is best, Human Resources Director Sara Wilson said.