by Johannes Brann

The October regular meeting of the Northeast Vernon County (NEVC) R-1 School Board heard of the district’s efforts to assess the reading ability of students in grades K-3, approve district bus routes and dates of the annual audit of school finances.

With all board members, the district’s two principals, superintendent and board secretary present, the board approved the consent agenda (authorize financial transfers between school fund accounts, payment of bills and payroll along with approval of the previous meeting’s minutes) on a 7-0 vote.

Typically, once the School Board President calls the meeting to order, all in the room stand as a board member offers a prayer for the district and the meeting. This is followed by a period of anywhere from  10 to 25 minutes as board members review each bill and payroll item, with the superintendent answering questions which sometimes turns into a discussion.

While approval of the Consent Agenda is usually the first agenda item, this time it was preceded by a presentation from Senior Class President Sam Herrin and Class Secretary Alexus George, about plans for the Senior Trip.

“President Sam Herrin and Secretary Alexus George of the NEVC Class of 2024 present initial information about the Senior Class trip to Destin, Florida at the Oct. 19 school board meeting.”

Sam Herrin, “While we haven’t figured out everything for our trip, we’re planning to go to Destin, Florida. If it’s OK, we’d like to be gone for five days; we’d leave after 11 a.m. on April 26 (a Friday) and be back in school by the First of May.”

“We will stay in a house which has three floors and is just three blocks from the beach”, added George.

Board member Connie Gerster said, “I’ve been there; it’s beautiful and I know all of you will love it and have a great time.”

“Do you have an estimate on how much, altogether, the trip will cost?” asked board member Scott Pritchett.

“About $10,000”, responded Herrin.

At this, the eyebrows of board members all raised at once but relaxed when George said the Senior Class already had $7,000.

In May of 2022, the Missouri General Assembly passed two bills (Senate Bills 681 and 662) which were stitched together into a single 33 section, 166 page wide-ranging piece of education legislation. Among the provisions is a change in approach for elementary students with a reading deficiency.

Explained Schell City Elementary Principal Eric Rhodes, “I and my staff, we really love the new approach the state has taken in Senate Bill 681.”

He explained how previously, schools were to identify students in grades three and up who were deficient in their reading and then work with them.

“Now we are to assess all students from Kindergarten through the third grade and for those deficient (generally a grade or more behind), we have to create what’s called a Reading Success Plan by Oct. 20,” explained Rhodes.

Reporting this to the board on Oct. 19, he said the assessments and plans have been completed.

The elementary principal added, “And so we’ll be working with students when they’re younger which means we’ve got more time and so it’s likely that more students will be better readers. Yeah, there are videos for some things but in school and for most of everyday life, you’ve got to be able to read and our teachers are focused on making that happen for all our students.”

Rhodes reported an elementary enrollment of 100 with 95 percent student attendance while Principal Dr. John Lawrence stated the number of high school students stands at 104, also with a 95 percent attendance.   

Each year, in the fall and again in the spring, Missouri school boards are required to review their district’s school bus routes, ask questions, make changes and formally adopt them. Board President David Bruce asked if any changes had been made.

NEVC R-1 School Superintendent Chris Holcomb caught the eye of the board secretary who is also the district’s director of busses (Janice Graves) as a chuckle came into his voice, “Uh, well, let’s just say we’ve made some adjustments on the fly.”

Graves laughed and nodded.

“But now I think we’re fine and so I’d ask you approve the routes I sent you,” added Holcomb.

The motion to do just that was approved on a 7-0 vote.

While the annual audit of school finances for the previous school year is due is due by due to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Schools (DESE) six months later (Dec. 31), the audit for the 2021-2022 school year was not completed until May of 2023. When a district misses that deadline, the state withholds student tuition payments until the audit is turned in.

In his report, Holcomb said, “The auditors are scheduled to be here on Oct. 24 and 25, and this year, I’m determined to get our audit in on time.”

Reminding the board that two board seats will be open in next April’s school board election, he noted the filing dates are Dec. 5-26 with the office closed on Dec. 25.

“The open seats will be those currently filled by Scotty Pritchett and Mike Newman,” said Holcomb.

Newman immediately added, “I won’t be running; I think I’ve done my bit and it’s time for someone else to step up.”

Except for a three year stint off the board, Newman has served every year the NEVC R-1 board has existed as well as on the old Walker School District board prior to its merger with Schell City in 1996, about 30 years in all.

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