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TMCNet:  Behind the scenes: No summer break for school district personnel

[July 14, 2013]

Behind the scenes: No summer break for school district personnel

Jul 14, 2013 (Hickory Daily Record - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- CATAWBA COUNTY NC -- School is out for the summer. Kids have scattered to the four winds until Aug. 26, and school buildings are empty and silent.

District personnel are sitting around twiddling their thumbs -- looking for something to do, right? Think again.

"Have you ever watched a great sports team and wondered how they seem to succeed year after year?" said David Stegall, superintendant of Newton-Conover City Schools.

"What's not seen are countless hours of films studied to prepare; practices to perfect plays; and effective coaching leading to the finished product. Preparation makes all the difference between winning and losing. In Newton-Conover, we too are working feverishly throughout the summer to prepare for our next winning school year." The overall impression by the community seems to be that with public schools, things grind to a halt during the summer, and somehow magically rev back up in August when the new school year starts.

"I get asked constantly, just what do you do during the summer?" said Steve Demiter, Assistant Superintendent of Operations for Catawba County Schools.

According to Demiter, summertime for the public school districts is like Santa's workshop the month before Christmas: busy.

Every district department, every principal, and most classroom teachers use the summer not only to catch their breaths from the preceding school year, but also to catch up on planning and projects that they either didn't have time for, or couldn't do because of the presence of students on campuses.

Repairs, replacements and new construction In the county schools alone, there are close to 3,000,000 square feet of floor space. Every foot -- whether carpeted or tiled -- is cleaned and refurbished, according to Rick Sain, Director of Facility Management for the county district.

The tile waxing job includes removing furniture from classrooms, finding somewhere to stage that furniture, then stripping floor tiles and applying four layers of wax, then placing the removed furniture back in the classroom.

"We're removing a total of 60,000 square feet of carpet that will be replaced by floor tile," Sain said.

Sain employs a staff of 70 during the summer, he said. Of that, 30 are college and high school students who work a four-day week, 10 hours a day. The work is hard but steady. For those who want to be considered for future summer work, Sain said he begins looking at resumes for summer hiring around the first of January each year.

Jobs include changing HVAC filters -- two each for around 2,000 units. Pressure washing buildings. Replacing light bulbs and strips. Painting, repairing, replacing worn, damaged, and non-repairable items.

"The big misconception out there is, gee, you're off for the summer," said Sain with a grin.

He's also catching up on work orders that were not completed during last school year. Sain said that anyone in the district can use a program called School Dude to enter a work order. He receives more than 7,500 each year, he said.

Adam Huckabee, director of facilities and maintenance with Hickory Public Schools, has a similar to-do list. In the grounds areas , he must accomplish a variety of regular care and replenishing: -- Continue to mow all lawns.

-- Sprig Northview Middle School football/soccer field due to its condition.

-- Treat all athletic fields at the middle schools and high school with nitrogen and post-emergence weed control.

-- Install new mulch in all playground areas.

-- Service and maintain all equipment.

-- Purchase two mowers due to current mowers' age and cost in repairs.

Likewise, Newton schools are painting, replacing sinks and toilets, installing fencing and replacing doors. The district is also upgrading and installing fire alarm panels at several schools and installing and/or adding additional security cameras, plus buzz-in entryways for two schools, according to Robin Rudisill, director of facilities and safety.

Special projects County projects include replacing the gymnasium floor at St. Stephens High School, plus new toilet facilities for the football stadiums at St. Stephens, Fred T. Foard, and Bandys high schools.

New home and away bleachers are also scheduled for St. Stephens, home bleachers at Foard, and away bleachers at Bandys.

This is the first year the district has not been involved in a new construction project, said Sain.

Newton-Conover City Schools demolished the old South Newton Elementary school after the completion of asbestos abatement was completed. Footings for the new elementary school have been poured, but continued rain has slowed progress.

Rudisill informed the board that occupancy of the new school has been moved from the original May 2014 date to July.

Several problems with work on the new middle school by the contractor, John S. Clark Company, have to be resolved, according to Rudisill. Those include a fire access road, and a ramp to the football field and paving at the front entry which do not meet Americans with Disability Act standards.

Hickory Public Schools summer projects include the ongoing construction of the new Longview Elementary School, as well as the renovation of the Hickory High media center. The $210,000 cost has been paid for by a donation. The renovation started the first of July and is scheduled to be finished before school starts back in August, according to Huckabee.

Rolling, rolling, rolling -- keep them buses rolling Catawba County district oversees all 330 buses and their maintenance for each of the three districts. The buses accumulated 2.4 million miles last year in transporting students, according to Demiter.

The bus yard in Newton is crammed with buses inches apart side by side, row by row. Cecil Davis, who manages the bus garage operations for the district, says he can empty the lot in a little over 30 minutes.

Davis takes the summer to go over each bus with 16 trained technicians. Every aspect of a bus is examined, including chassis, interior, electrical and, of course, motor and transmissions. Tires, batteries, brakes -- everything is inspected, brought up to standard or replaced.

The county spends between $12,000 and $14,000 on seat covers annually.

Many of the buses are stripped, masked, and repainted -- including trim. According to Davis, the life of a paint job is about 10 years.

Davis' big complaint about bus maintenance is that engines are not holding up. According to him, the state continues to take the lowest bid for various supplies, like engine oil and transmission fluids.

"It's coming back to haunt us," he said, speaking of engines not lasting as long compared to when using better oil and transmission fluids.

Davis has found other ways to economize, recycling used motor oil to heat the motor pool building instead of the $2,400 a month he was previously spending.

Food, wonderful food Summertime doesn't mean food preparation stops for the county district. According to Angie Honeycutt, a member of the Child Nutrition department, Catawba County provides breakfast for about 700 children and lunch for more than 1,000 a day during the summer for various programs that operate during the week. Those include Kid Connection at 13 different sites and programs at two YMCA sites.

The cafeteria at Maiden High School is charged with the responsibility of preparing and transporting the meals to the various sites.

Honeycutt added that the department is also busy with year-end close out, plus making sure the county complies with all USDA regulations.

Jill Gobin, Director of Food Services with Newton-Conover, is busy like the other districts wrapping up the school year information, but also working with a new budget that began July 1 in menu planning and procurement.

The district is part of a food purchasing alliance, although she has some discretion in selecting products for use in the schools.

"If it's a product I really want to use, I add it to my list for approval," she said.

According to Gobin, the USDA has shaken up food services with new changes for regulations that didn't work to the advantage of the student, specifically high school minimum and maximum portions.

"The Food Nutritional Association lifted the maximum portions for high school students because students complained of being hungry after eating," she said.

Gobin and other food service directors also inventory products that will carry over from the 2012 -- 2013 school year to the new school year.

"Most of the frozen product will keep," she said.

Refrigeration equipment, hot water heaters, garbage grinders and dishwashers have to be checked, refurbished or replaced.

Food services staff also has to be hired, trained, and certified.

Principals and teachers Principals are employed and work year-round, and the summertime is their opportunity to reassess curriculum and best practices, hire new personnel, and make sure the physical plants of education (the schools) are ready to receive students in August.

Jeff Hodakowski, principal at Viewmont Elementary in Hickory, values the time to be able to consider away from the fray of daily school schedules.

"The summer provides time to plan for the upcoming year and to reflect on the accomplishments of the past year. Many hours are spent trying to find new teachers as vacancies occur," he said. "Communication continues throughout the summer as teachers provide input about additional resources needed to help in the classroom. Teachers are also spending time looking at our new reading materials that will be used during the 2013-2014 year." Plus teachers use the summertime to stay current with continuing education hours, either through online courses and community college offerings.

Pat Hensley, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources for Catawba County Schools, conducts a seminar throughout the summer in order for principals in the district to go over an array of subject matter.

In Hickory schools, close to 30 employees have received professional development in middle school concepts this summer. The instruction was designed to serve both as a rededication to the middle school model as well as advocacy for young adolescents ages 10 to 15.

The group met for one day at Northview Middle, and split a second day between Grandview and Northview. This year, students will be assigned a team of two to three teachers who will develop an understanding of the middle school learning, student advisory times, differentiation, and how to integrate technology with instruction.

The district also facilitated what they termed Honors Implementation Week in order to support the NC Department of Public Instruction Honors Portfolio Initiative. The purpose of this professional development workshop was to provide a framework and collaboration to develop honors course portfolios.

Selected honors course teachers met at Hickory High for three days where they reviewed curriculum, instructional materials and methods, and assessment of other components of the curriculum.

And that's not all . . .

Add to the list of departments that are busily wrapping up work from the previous year and planning for the next are finance and technology departments. Budgets, wiring and maintenance of computers and other existing hardware and software, as well as new equipment, occupy both departments in all three districts.

Craig Garner, Director of Purchasing for Catawba County Schools, buys and stores 900 of the most used items by schools. One of those is paper.

"We bring in 15 truckloads of white paper," said Garner. "Each truck contains 21 skids and each skid contains 200,000 pieces of paper." That's 63 million pieces of paper.

Garner has to inventory stock at the end of each year, none of which is bar-coded, he said.

He approves all purchase orders, and said he receives around 6,000 per year.

The county schools also operates an internal print shop that requires maintenance during the summer.

Running flat-out In a nutshell, all three county public district schools are operating flat-out during the summer.

"Summertime is a full-court press," said Dan Brigman, superintendent of Catawba County Schools.

All this to provide the close to 24,000 students in 46 schools in the county the best possible educational environment possible when school begins again on Aug. 26.

Which is 42 days from today.

___ (c)2013 the Hickory Daily Record (Hickory, N.C.) Visit the Hickory Daily Record (Hickory, N.C.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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