August 20, 2021. It’s finally Friday and for students, teachers and staff at the schools across Watauga County, the first week of school is almost complete. This school year started with 4,734 students in Pre-K through 12th grade in Watauga County, including 85 students participating in the virtual academy in kindergarten through eighth grade. Overall, the schools boast a staff of 720 individuals that make the school days go as smoothly as possible for the students attending in-person and through virtual classes. Students and staff are currently required to wear masks inside school buildings due to the rapid increase of COVID-19 cases throughout the county. High school sports are back to as close to normalcy as they have been since the winter months of 2020. The Watauga Pioneers open the 2020 football season at home tonight against T.C. Roberson. By Nathan Ham
August 13, 2021. As part of Watauga County Schools preparation for the upcoming school year, the district’s principals, administrators and central office staff met for a day of education and collaborative planning this week at the district’s annual day-long leadership retreat. The theme for this year’s retreat and the upcoming school year is “stronger together.” Each year, the team dedicates a portion of their time to arranging a project that will help out a member of the community in some way. This year, the group elected to construct care packages for members of local law enforcement. Superintendent Scott Elliott said he’d spoken to deputies and officers whose changing and unpredictable schedules sometimes required them to skip meals and go for long periods of time without a break. After gathering input from Boone Police Department Community Resource Officer Kat Eller, Elliott decided that the school system’s leadership staff would pack gift bags of snacks, drinks and other goodies for officers to pick up on their way out of the station. The team compiled over 100 gift bags with each bag also containing a handwritten note of appreciation to the officers.
August 11, 2021. As Watauga County Schools prepares to welcome back students on Monday, Aug. 16, teachers and staff came together to celebrate the system’s annual convocation ceremony. Held at Watauga High School, convocation gives new and returning teachers a chance to meet and connect with community partners, attend health screenings and a benefits fair and prepare to start the new school year together. The ceremony was host to three speakers who addressed the convocation’s theme, Stronger Together, Watauga County Board of Education Chairman Dr. Gary Childers, Principal of the Year Patty Buckner from Parkway and WCS Teacher of the Year Misty Hyler from Hardin Park. Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott said that convocation was an opportunity to bring teachers and staff from all over Watauga together to allow them to start the school year from a place of unity. He said convocation serves as a reminder of the deepest motivations behind the profession of teaching and the ability teachers have to empower students and others.
August 10, 2021. The Back 2 School Festival served over 1,300 students at the annual event on August 6 and 7 at Watauga High School. In addition to handing out school supplies such as backpacks, pencils, crayons, headphones, and three-ring binders, the Back 2 School Festival gave away free shoes and masks, and provided COVID-19 vaccines to attendees 12 and up and their parents. “We had around 60 people get vaccinated at this year’s event, which is just terrific,” said the festival’s publicity coordinator, Matthew Lucas. “It’s awesome seeing folks step up and get vaccinated and help keep our schools and our community safe.” Festival attendees were entertained by Charlotte performer, Caleb Sigmon of Sigmon Theatrical, who came up for Friday’s event, along with the Appalachian Football club’s mascot, the Sasquatch. Area businesses and organizations also set up booths in the high school gym, with groups like Daymark helping kids make their own stress balloons, while the Children’s Council signed families up to receive free books from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
August 10, 2021. At a board of education meeting on Monday evening, the Watauga County School Board changed course after previously voting to support optional mask-wearing for students and staff. Monday’s vote was unanimous to require all students and staff to wear masks effective immediately. According to guidance from the school system, athletes are “strongly encouraged” to wear masks during practice, however, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association has not adjusted its current optional mask-wearing policy as of now. At the board’s previous meeting on July 26, a 3-2 vote by the board made mask-wearing optional for students and staff. However, now that the rate of active positive COVID-19 cases nearly tripled from July 30 to August 6 (22 cases to 63 cases), the school board decided to return to required masks in schools. By Nathan Ham
July 5, 2021. Haleigh Lawson, recent Watauga High School graduate and student representative to the Watauga County Board of Education, was presented with the Watauga County Schools Servant’s Heart Award by the board at its June meeting. Lawson has served over the past two years as one of two student representatives who sit on the Watauga County Board of Education. Chosen from a pool of applicants after an interview process, the two student board representatives are tasked with connecting students and their interests directly with the board of education. Elliott said the Servant’s Heart Award is the highest honor presented by the Watauga County Board of Education, and is given to only the most deserving students, employees, and community members in recognition of the highest level of service and leadership.
June 30, 2021. Watauga County Schools has been named an Accomplished District by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, a national non-profit organization that certifies teachers based on a rigorous set of evaluations and standards. The recognition is given to school districts in which 20 percent or more of teachers have achieved National Board certification. Watauga County is one of just 79 school districts across the nation that were awarded the Accomplished District designation. To achieve a National Board certification, teachers must prepare a series of essays, presentations and videos that demonstrate their content knowledge, differentiation in instruction, command of teaching practices and learning environment, and their abilities as an effective and reflective practitioner of teaching. “Attaining a National Board certification is a powerful statement of a teacher’s dedication to their craft,” Watauga County Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott said. “Getting certified is one of the best things a teacher can do to advance their training and commitment to their profession. We are lucky to have so many teachers in Watauga who are willing to undergo the process of becoming certified. It’s a testament to the quality of the teachers who are leading our classrooms.”
June 16, 2021. In an effort to build community with our 9th graders in their transition to high school, there will be a common read for all freshmen! The selected book is Refugee (by Alan Gratz), and it will be incorporated into different lessons and activities in courses across the curriculum. We definitely encourage parents to read the book as well because it can lead to great discussions with your child! A free copy of the hardcover book (and a bookmark) is being provided to all students! Students who have not already picked up their copy should plan to get their book from their K-8 feeder school any day Monday-Thursday until July 1st. For students who did not attend one of the public Watauga County Schools, you may pick up your copy at Watauga High School. This book is for ALL freshmen to read and enjoy! “Freshman Orientation” will be Thursday, August 12th for students AND parents! Please plan to come at your scheduled time based on the student’s last name.
May 21, 2021 For the first time since the school district began tracking last year, Watauga County Schools has reported zero positive cases of COVID-19 among its students and staff. The figures are compiled weekly by school nurses at each school and monitor positive cases in each group along with the number of tests given at schools. Since last August, nurses have administered 802 COVID-19 tests in schools. From the onset of the pandemic, Watauga County Schools nurses have performed significant and detailed contact tracing of positive COVID-19 cases in schools in concert with AppHealthCare and local health officials. Since the beginning of the school year last August, nurses have reported a total of 112 COVID-19 cases among staff, and 251 in students. Over the last several weeks, schools across Watauga County have played host to in-school vaccine clinics for students and their parents. Three total clinics at Watauga High School have inoculated 238 students, staff and parents.
May 19, 2021 Watauga County Schools has opened applications for the K-8 Watauga Virtual Academy — the school system’s dedicated online school that will open next year. The virtual academy is set to offer full time online enrollment to students in grades K-8 and will give Watauga parents a new level of flexibility in their children’s public education. Remote learning in Watauga County Schools isn’t an entirely new concept. Like so many things that changed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was first implemented in schools as a solution to statewide mandates that closed in-person instruction. But while online school has some of its roots in the remote learning of the past year, the Watauga Virtual Academy’s Director, Tamara Stamey, stressed that the WVA will be an entirely new experience for families. “The WVA will be a school unto itself, and students will not be cross enrolled to a brick and mortar school,” Stamey said. “This means we will have a more direct relationship with the students and families in the WVA — I believe it will streamline our communication as well. The virtual academy will be a school just like the ones housed in any of our physical buildings that follows the yearly calendar and provides direct instruction to students.”
May 18, 2021 For the second consecutive year, Avery County High School will not hold graduation ceremonies on campus. In 2020, they were held off-campus because of the State of North Carolina’s social distancing guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, they will be held at a neutral site due to a lack of parking and related problems because of the ongoing construction facilities and renovations at the high school. This is only the second time in the school’s 52-year history that graduation is not being held either in its football stadium or gymnasium. Avery High’s 2021 graduation ceremonies will be held the evening of Thursday, May 27 with a rain date for Friday, May 28 at picturesque McRae Meadows near Grandfather Mountain. Graduation will commence at 5:00 p.m. Seniors are asked to arrive at McRae Meadows no later than 3:30 p.m. on May 27. Gates will open for families of those graduating at 4:00 p.m. Families and other guests are asked to bring their own lawn chairs to sit in during the graduation. By Tim Gardner
May 18, 2021 Watauga High School will hold a graduation ceremony for the Class of 2021 at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 28 at the Holmes Convocation Center on the campus of Appalachian State University. The school system previously announced that graduation ceremonies would be held in the high school stadium. Recent loosening of statewide restrictions on large gatherings allowed the school to move the ceremony to its traditional venue at the convocation center and will not require a limited number of guests for each student. Watauga County Schools and Appalachian State University request that guests follow NCDHSS guidelines on masks and large gatherings that can be found online at https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/information/individuals-families-and-communities/face-coverings-and-masks.
May 14, 2021 In light of the recent CDC approval of the Pfizer vaccine for anyone ages 12 and older, Watauga County Schools will hold four school-based vaccination clinics over the next two weeks for students in that age range and their parents. WCS Superintendent Scott Elliott said the shots are available to anyone in the community regardless of school enrollment. Children under the age of age 18 will require written parental consent to receive a shot. The Pfizer vaccine will be provided free of charge by Boone Drugs.
May 7, 2021 Hardin Park Second Grade Teacher Misty Hyler was named Watauga County Schools district-wide Teacher of the Year May 7 during a surprise visit to her classroom from her family, peers and Watauga County Schools Staff. Hyler was presented the award by Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott, who was joined by several members of the Watauga County Schools central office staff and outgoing WCS Teacher of the Year and Northwest North Carolina Teacher of the Year Erin Ellington. Each year, Watauga County Schools celebrates its Teacher of the Year winner with a surprise ceremony. WCS Staff works to coordinate visits from family and friends to surprise the winning teacher in their classroom. Elliott thanked Hyler for her hard work and what she means to the school district.
May 4, 2021 In its April 22 meeting, the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors re-appointed two members and appointed two new individuals to serve on Appalachian State University’s Board of Trustees. The re-appointees are Chair Scott Lampe ’94, of Davidson, and Bonnie Schaefer, of Boca Raton, Florida, and Blowing Rock. New appointees are Fairley Bell Cook ’81, of Raleigh, and Joseph Jeffries Chesson ’77, of Wilson. All begin their terms July 1 and will serve four years.
May 4, 2021 After a national search, Dr. Shannon Campbell has been named dean of Appalachian State University’s College of Fine and Applied Arts effective July 1, 2021. Campbell is currently inaugural Associate Vice President of Graduate Studies and full professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver. She has been a professor of strategic communication for more than 20 years. She has a successful record as a higher education administrator who mentored faculty, students and staff, managed diverse staffs and large complex budgets, and developed and implemented policies, operations and procedures at all university levels. “Shannon believes deeply in the power of access to education for all,” said Interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Heather Norris. “She has a strong appreciation for and understanding of the vision, mission and values of App State, and I am confident she will continue to build upon the legacy of strong leadership within the College of Fine & Applied Arts.”
April 26, 2021 Watauga County Schools has named Bryson Payne as Watauga High School’s next Men’s Basketball Coach. Payne is set to take on the role after serving as head coach of the schools’ junior varsity and associate head coach to the varsity basketball team over the past four years. Payne will take on the coaching position in addition to his current classroom role teaching American History and Civics at WHS. Since coming on board with Watauga County Schools in 2016, Payne has worked in various capacities in the WHS basketball program. In his time at the school, he has coached at the Freshman and junior varsity levels and recently served as Associate Head Coach under former men’s coach Laura Barry. Watauga High School Principal Dr. Chris Blanton said Payne’s experience and commitment to his community made him the best candidate for taking the lead role in the WHS Basketball Program.
April 23, 2021 Audrey Jones, seventh-grade science and social studies teacher at Parkway School, has been named Watauga County Schools Rookie Teacher of the Year. The newest addition to WCS’ yearly teacher recognitions, Rookie Teacher of the Year is awarded to a teacher in his or her first year teaching full time. Candidates are nominated by Principals, Assistant Principals, Central Office Directors, and first-year teacher mentors for their outstanding work ethic, dedication and skill. Jones graduated from Appalachian State University in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in middle grades education. Before beginning her teaching career, Jones worked at App State on a project to develop sustainability curriculum for middle grades students and as a tutor at a local church. Parkway Principal Patty Buckner said Jones is a skilled and talented teacher who has already made an impact at her school.
April 20, 2021 At their regular monthly meeting on April 12, the Watauga County Board of Education had a chance to view a presentation put together by architects from Clark Nexsen on how the new Valle Crucis School could look. “They brainstormed their vision for the school by submitting ideas of things they’d like to keep, toss and create in the constrictions of a new school in Valle Crucis,” said Garrett Price, the Director of Communications for Watauga County Schools. “The team will now go on to establish more detailed plans and designs and present them to the board in the next few months.” Price said that the faculty and staff at Valle Crucis also got to participate in a similar brainstorming function at the school to get their opinions on what to include and not include at the new site, which has a completion date set for the spring of 2024. By Nathan Ham
April 19, 2021 Davidson-Davie Community College is giving its students yet another way to advance their education by transfer to Lees-McRae College, a four-year school located in Banner Elk, North Carolina. The agreement was formalized in a signing ceremony that included both colleges’ presidents on Friday. “We are thrilled to announce our new partnership with Lees-McRae College,” said Darrin Hartness, Davidson-Davie president. “Knowing that we can offer our students another path to an affordable, four-year education, through guaranteed admission to a school with so many program opportunities, is very important to us.” Called a comprehensive articulation agreement, the partnership between Davidson-Davie and Lees-McRae includes guaranteed admission for those who earn their associate degrees at Davidson-Davie. Students who transfer also will receive merit scholarships that discount tuition by up to 60 percent. Other discounts are available for those who choose online programs.
April 16, 2021 Watauga High School will hold a vaccine clinic for students and parents from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, April 21 in the high school gym. The clinic will offer vaccinations to all Watauga High School students ages 16 and older and their parents. Held in partnership with AppHealthCare and Boone Drug, the clinic will offer doses of the Pfizer vaccine — currently the only shot approved for people ages 16-17. Parents and students who are interested in receiving a vaccine may sign up through the Boone Drug website at www.boonedrug.com/covid-vaccine. Eligible Watauga High School families will receive further instructions on how to sign up for the vaccine from the school. Watauga County Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott encouraged students and parents to sign up for the vaccine at the high school.
April 13, 2021 Recently, 23 of Watauga’s best math students met virtually to test their mettle against their peers in the annual Mathcounts competition — a contest that tasks young mathematicians to tackle challenging math problems in a timed tournament format. The High Country MathCounts Chapter competition is usually held in person on the campus of Appalachian State University at the Reich College of Education, but was moved to a virtual platform this year because of the pandemic. The competition typically consists of both individual and team events, but because of the online format, no team-level events took place this year. Teams across Watauga practiced for several months leading up to the competition to hone their mathematics skills on multiple types of problems that include algebra, geometry, number sense, probability and statistics. The problems are designed to stretch students’ critical thinking and challenge them to learn advanced mathematics in middle school. Six students from the High Country competition advanced to the next level of the contest.
April 5, 2021 Watauga High School will hold a graduation ceremony for the Class of 2021 at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 28. So the school can allow students to have as many guests as safely possible while adhering to state restrictions on large gatherings, the ceremony will be held outdoors at the Jack Groce Stadium on the campus of Watauga High School. With the current COVID-19 restrictions in place, students will be allowed to have up to four guests attend the ceremony. Students will receive information from the high school on how guests can be registered soon. Every effort will be made to hold the ceremony on Friday evening weather permitting, but if inclement weather cannot be avoided, a rain date is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 29.
March 24, 2021. For the first time in an online format, Watauga County School’s best readers met earlier this month to test their skills at the district-wide Battle of the Books competition. Valle Crucis took home the win in the elementary contest, while Parkway edged out the competition at the middle school event. Parkway’s team was coached by School Librarian Owen Gray and Jess Palmer. The Valle Crucis group was led by Valle Crucis librarian Jane Brown. A long-standing tradition in Watauga County Schools, each year Battle of the Books tasks teams from each school in the district to a competition that tests students ability to recall specific details and answer questions on books from a state promoted list they’ve read over the past year. Each team plays every other team once in the competition and each round consists of 12 questions — six posed to each team.
March 18, 2021 During a special meeting that took place on Monday, the Watauga County Board of Education voted to allow students in grades 6-12 to return to the classroom, beginning on Monday, April 12. Students in Pre-kindergarten through second grade returned to the classroom on March 8 and students in grades three through five will return to the classroom on Monday, March 22. Students will attend class in person on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesday’s will continue to be a remote learning day for everyone while the custodial staff sanitizes school buildings. All students will continue to have the option of attending school remotely through the Watauga Virtual Academy. By Nathan Ham