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Pioneer Playmakers, Valle Crucis School project, Superintendent Search Highlight Board of Education Meeting

Sarah Miller (far right), co-director of the Pioneer Playmakers, with (left to right) Playmakers Samantha Lang, Alex Newmark, Emma Rasco and Lauren Hawkins Photo by Zack Hill

The Watauga County Board of Education met on Monday, May 8th, at the Margaret E. Gragg Education Center on Pioneer Drive in Boone to discuss regular board matters and recognize the outstanding achievements of students and faculty.

In attendance were board members Marshall Ashcraft, Jason Cornette and Jay Fenwick along with board chairman Gary Childers, vice-chairman Steve Combs and superintendent Scott Elliott.

A highlight of the evening was the recognition of Watauga High School’s Pioneer Playmakers who recently traveled to the Southeastern Theatre Conference and brought home a long list of accolades.

“We have one of the most distinguished theater art groups in the region if not the state,” Childers said. “They have been tremendous, winning all types of awards.”

Sarah Miller, co-director of Watauga High School’s theater department and the Pioneer Playmakers, brought along several members of the cast and crew to be recognized at the meeting. The Playmakers’ other co-director, Zach Walker, was unable to attend as were many of the Playmakers due to other school commitments.

“We’re grateful to be recognized and it’s an honor to speak on behalf of these young ones shining behind me,” Miller, who is affectionately known as the group’s “Drama Mama,” said.

For the sixth and seventh time within 8 appearances in state and regional competitions, the 16-member Playmakers received the “Cast Your Vote” award that’s given based on voting from all of the student ensembles at the competition.

“Their peers chose them which I think speaks to the quality of their work not just as performers but as human beings,” Miller said. “Many won’t go on to study theater but they will all go on to be human beings.”

“We feel like we should prepare students to work in the real world when they leave us and these folks are ready to go do that work. I could not be more proud to present them to you and to tell you we love the opportunity to work with them.”

The Playmakers have been given a “superior” rating at regional and state competitions for 17 straight years and did so again this year with their production of the play, “Our Place.”

“These things don’t happen by accident,” Elliot said, referring to the Playmakers’ long run of success. “Our excellent program rivals anything we do in this school system. Thank you and thank you to the parents. We know it takes whole families working together. And to the students, you have a lot of big fans out there.”

The sixteen playmakers and their awards are Abby Barr, Caleb Chrisohon, Ray Christian (winner of Excellence in Acting award at NCTC Regional Festival), Charlotte Cuthbert, Brittany Daniel (winner of Excellence in Student Design and Production, Sound Design), Elias Evans (winner of Excellence in Acting award at NCTC State Festival; chosen for All-Star Cast at SETC), Lauren Hawkins, Samantha Lang, Kami McGuire, Francisco Miranda Aponte, Alex Newmark (winner of Excellence in Student Design and Production, Stage Management), Sage Park (winner of Excellence in Acting award at NCTC State Festival; chosen for All-Star Cast at SETC), Hannah Rabinowitz, Emma Rasco (winner of Excellence in Acting award at NCTC Regional Festival), Lucy Walker and Andrew Ward.

Cornette expressed his gratitude to the group and their work while also admitting a bit of remorse that his own son had not been part of the Playmakers during his time at Watauga High School.

“Me and my wife have spoken several times and if we could go back we would encourage Josh to go for the Playmakers,” Cornette said. “We found theater is where his heart is. Those are his people. I appreciate you, what you do and what your whole group does.”

Miller won two directing awards for her work: Excellence in Directing at the regional level and the C.C. Lipscomb Award at the state level.

Mia Shanely, Watauga High School senior student ambassador to the board Photo by Zack Hill

The board also bid farewell to the senior member of their student ambassador group, Mia Shanely. Shanely is graduating from Watauga High School this spring.

“Mia immediately impressed the board with honest, direct answers to board questions,” Elliot said. “We’ve had great conversations with her on what students need. We just have the best student advisors.”

Elliot presented Shanely with a special medal to wear during the graduation ceremony.

“There will be a lot of medals worn at graduation but there will only be one that says ‘To Mia Shanely, Watauga County Education, Student Representative 2023.’ We’re very grateful to you and we know you’re going to do great things.”

Shanely will be attending Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, N.C., next year.

“I would like to say it’s been one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had,” Shanely said. “I’ve learned so many valuable lessons. You all have really taught me some amazing lessons about leadership and how to be patient under the pressure.”

The board provided updates on the search for a new superintendent and the new Valle Crucis School project.

“The plan is falling into place nicely,” Childers said about the superintendent search.

During the closed portion of April’s meeting, the board narrowed the applicant pool from 17 to seven. They recently narrowed that pool down to four.

“I’m extremely happy and excited to report we have really great applicants for this position,” Childers said. “We know we have really big shoes to fill but we’re confident we’re going to find someone who can.”

Elliot said that progress is continuing on construction of the new Valle Crucis School.

“We’re still right on track,” Elliot said, noting that work is on schedule with the digging and building of the school’s foundation. “They believe by the end of next week they should be ready to pour cement.”

Elliott said that Watauga County Schools administration in concert with the school’s architect and contractors are already in the process of deciding how to outfit the school’s cafeteria and kitchen as well as preparing proposals for contractor bids on wiring and cable systems.

He thanked Allison Schleede, director of technology for Watauga County Schools, Monica Bolick, director of student nutrition for the school system, and Bonnie Smith, principal of Valle Crucis School for their effort.

“They’re the ones doing the hard work,” Elliot said.

The board will provide more updates on the school construction and superintendent search next month.