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LETTERS / Is Newsela a Trojan Horse? You Decide

September 9, 2022 Letters to the Editor. By TERRY OLDHAM / After reading Jay Fenwick’s response to Mark Murphy, I remained curious with regards to his endorsement of Newsela, the teaching supplement purchased by the Watauga Board of Education. I was neither for nor against Newsela and expected in advance to find both positive and negative aspects. Here’s what I found…

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LETTERS / Educational Issues to be Addressed at the September 12th Meeting of the Watauga Board of Education

September 9, 2022 Letters to the Editor. BY MARK A. MURPHY PhD, JD / In my prior Letters to the Editor of the High Country Press (on August 10, 22, and 30th) I raised very serious and specific concerns, and supporting factual information, about the “woke political indoctrination” and associated “woke” teaching methods that have occurred and are still occurring in the Watauga Public Schools.  In my August 30 letter, I stated my intent to formally submit a request to the Watauga Board of Education for an Agenda item for their September 12, 2022 meeting.  I did formally submit a request for a 10-minute Agenda item at that meeting, to discuss the factual evidence I have collected that supports my concerns.

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LETTERS/ Re: Published Response from Mr. Jay Fenwick on August 22nd, 2022

August 30, 2022 Letters to the Editor. BY MARK A MURPHY PhD, JD / In two prior Letters to the Editor of High Country Press (on August 10 and August 22), I raised serious and specific concerns about the “woke” educational materials and methods currently being used in the Watauga County Schools.  I described many specific facts to support my specific concerns, but I neither named or criticized anyone personally.

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A bright finish for Team Sunergy: App State solar vehicle team takes second place in the 2022 American Solar Challenge

August 23, 2022 Appalachian State University’s student-run solar vehicle team, Team Sunergy, overcame several obstacles in the 2022 American Solar Challenge (ASC) — including brake and electrical issues — to secure a second-place finish in the competition’s multi-occupant vehicle (MOV) category. The team completed 1,549 miles over the eight-day road race across the historic Oregon Trail and took home the event’s Electrical Design Award for the second year in a row.   By J. Todd Coates and Kyla Willoughby

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New Semester, New Home: 6,100 Students Move Into App State Residence Halls

August 23, 2022 Familiar sights are abundant during move-in week on the Appalachian State University campus: Moms and dads lugging books and minifridges; siblings cramming comforters through doorways; and new and returning Mountaineers making sure to bring the essentials — snacks. Move-in for most App State students living on campus for the fall 2022 semester took place Aug. 16 through 18, with approximately 6,100 students moving into 18 residence halls on campus  By Tracy Tilley

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LETTERS / New “Woke” Teaching Methods in the Watauga County Schools

August 22, 2022 Letters to the Editor. BY Mark A. Murphy PhD, JD / The Pandemic lockdowns and masking caused physical and emotional harm to everyone, including Watauga County School students. During the Pandemic, the NC State Board of Education, NC Department of Public Instruction, and Watauga County Board of Education quietly initiated new training programs to support “woke” teaching methods and materials based on “Social Emotional Learning” (“SEL”).    The parents of Watauga County K-12 students need to understand “woke” indoctrination is being administered under the guise of Pandemic recovery.

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2022 Avery County A&H Fair Runs Wednesday, September 7 through Saturday, September 10 at Newland’s Heritage Park

August 8, 2022 It’s almost time for one of Avery County and the High Country’s most anticipated yearly events– the Avery County Agricultural and Horticultural (A & H) Fair. Thanks to the collaboration of the Avery County Government and the community members who volunteer to operate it, this year’s Avery A&H Fair will run from Wednesday, September 7 through Saturday, September 10.  It will be the fourth year that it will be hosted on the Heritage Park property since the completion of the county’s agriculture building on the site. Heritage Park is located at 661 Vale Road in Newland, which is approximately one-half mile behind the Ingles Markets Grocery Store. By Tim Gardner

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Avery County Schools to Open 2022-23 Academic Year for Students on Monday, August 15

August 5, 2022 Approximately 1,900 students will head back to classes in Avery County Public Schools on Monday, August 15, to open the 2022-23 academic year. That first day of school will run the entire day. “We are very excited to welcome all staff and students back for the new academic year.  A lot of preparation (by school officials, teachers and other employees) has taken place this summer in hopes of making the 2022-23 academic and sports year the best school year ever in Avery County,” said Schools Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman, who was hired to the post by the then Avery Board of Education members in 2019. By Tim Gardner

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Watauga Virtual Academy Aims to Increase Flexibility in Coming School Year

July 28, 2022 Watauga County School’s online public school, the Watauga Virtual Academy, is working this summer to prepare programs aimed at increasing flexibility and options for students and families in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade across the county. This fall, the WVA will offer K-8 homeschooled students the opportunity to attend part of their school day at the virtual academy. WCS has offered a similar program to high school students for the last several years which allows dual-enrolled students to take part in athletics, clubs and extracurricular activities at Watauga High School.

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Back 2 School Festival Announces Schedule for 10th Annual Event

July 13, 2022 [Boone, NC] – The 10th annual Back 2 School Festival will be held on Saturday, August 13 at Watauga High School. As in the past couple of years, each school will be assigned its own time for students to come pick up supplies. The schedule for the 2022 event is as follows:
8:30 am – Valle Crucis/Cove Creek/Watauga Virtual Academy
10:00 am – Parkway/Mabel/Bethel
11:30 am – Green Valley/Two Rivers/Home school
1:30 pm – Hardin Park/Blowing Rock
3:00 pm – Watauga High

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Appalachian State to Open Lab School at Elkin Elementary; University will be Only UNC System Institution to Operate Two Lab School Programs

January 10, 2022 Appalachian State University is partnering with Elkin City Schools to open the university’s second laboratory school aimed at enhancing student education, improving outcomes and providing high-quality teacher and principal training. Under the plan — which was developed in collaboration with Elkin City Schools leaders and approved by the Elkin City Schools Board of Education on Dec. 13 — a lab school will open at Elkin Elementary School in August 2022. The “school-within-a-school” model will serve approximately 100 students in second through fourth grades. The lab school will be one of nine in the state as part of the University of North Carolina System Lab School initiative, which was established by the N.C. General Assembly in 2016 to improve student performance and provide real-world experience for the preparation of future teachers and school administrators. The Appalachian State University Academy at Middle Fork opened in Walkertown in 2018 in partnership with Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. With the opening of the Elkin lab school, App State will be the only UNC System institution to operate two lab school programs.

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Cove Creek Teacher Assistant Alisa Watson Presented the Servant’s Heart Award

December 16, 2021. Cove Creek School Kindergarten Teacher’s Assistant Alisa Watson was presented the Watauga County Schools Servant’s Heart Award by the Board of Education at its monthly meeting held Dec. 13. The Servant’s Heart award is the highest recognition the school board can bestow on teachers, staff and community members who go above and beyond the call of duty in their service to the school system. Watson was nominated by Cove Creek kindergarten teacher Patti Hensly who has worked with Watson in the classroom since she came to the school 12 years ago. Hensly lauded Watson for her work ethic and dedication. “I have worked with Ms. Alisa for 12 years now at Cove Creek, and she is one of the hardest working people I have met during my 30 years in Watauga County Schools,” Hensly said. “I’m sure she hasn’t been out of work more than I could count on one hand in those 12 years.”

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Watauga High School Students Prepare Firewood for Families in Need

November 22, 2021. Members of Watauga High School’s Interact Club spent last weekend working to split, stack and deliver firewood to families in need of heating fuel for the coming winter. The group partnered with members of Boone United Methodist Church’s Firewood Ministry to complete the day of service. Susan Irving, a business and marketing teacher at WHS who acts as the club’s advisor, said the Interact Club is a Boone Sunrise Rotary-partnered organization with 40 student members that works on two service projects each month, one that benefits their school community and one that helps the community at large. Irving said student officers in the club select a project each month that others can volunteer to participate in. For this month’s project, the Interact Club’s Social Media Manager Anna Grace Anderson chose to collaborate with the BUMC Firewood Ministry. 

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Watauga County Schools Receives Grant to Establish Calm Corners

November 19, 2021. Watauga County Schools has received a $12,000 grant from the Watauga Substance Action and Prevention Coalition to establish Calm Corners in classrooms across the district as part of the WCS Compassionate Schools Initiative. According to Watauga County Schools Prevention Counselor Candis Walker, a Calm Corner is a space in a classroom or office where students take themselves to help regulate emotions and get their brains ready for learning. Watauga County Schools utilizes the spaces in certain classrooms across the county, but Walker said the grant would go a long way to further the effort to establish Calm Corners in more schools. Denise Presnell, a social worker at Hardin Park School, said Calm Corners had been shown to reduce negative interactions between teachers and students, improve peer relations between students, keep students in the classroom where they do not miss out on instructional contentment and peer interactions and to reduce office referrals.

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Parkway’s Edie Berke Wins Watauga County Schools Spelling Bee

November 5, 2021. Parkway Eighth Grader Edie Berke correctly spelled the word “Municipality” in the 14th round to secure victory in the Watauga County Schools district-wide spelling bee held Nov. 5 at the Margaret Gragg Education Center in Boone. The top-speller in each school was invited to attend the competition held at the WCS central office. This year’s contestants were: Liliana Wyatt of Bethel, Sophie Parker of Blowing Rock, A.J. McAulay of Cove Creek, Zeke Walker of Green Valley, Maya Shinnar-Weinberg of Hardin Park, Alex Barnes of Mabel, Edie Berke of Parkway and Joey Cornett of Valle Crucis and Katy Califf of the Watauga Virtual Academy. A single speller from each school secured a stop at the district-wide spelling bee final by winning a competition among fourth through eighth-grade students at her or his school. Meredith Jones, Watauga County Schools Director of Middle Grades Education, said regardless of the competition’s outcome, students had demonstrated hard work and dedication to make an appearance at the district bee. 

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Watauga County Schools Set Dates for Vaccine Clinics Following CDC’s Vaccination Approval for Children Ages 5-11

November 3, 2021. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) officially approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, and Watauga County Schools are wasting no time offering the vaccine to children in the county. There are currently two vaccination clinics scheduled for students in that age category, first on Wednesday, November 10 from 4-7 p.m. at Hardin Park Elementary School and again on Saturday, November 13, from 8 a.m. until noon at Hardin Park. “We are happy to hear that the CDC has approved vaccines for 5 to 11-year-olds and, I encourage our families to consult with their family medical provider, pediatrician, and trusted sources of medical information in making the decision about whether or not the vaccine is right for their children,” said Watauga County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Scott Elliott.   By Nathan Ham

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Watauga County Schools Nets High Marks in State Bus Safety Inspections

October 19, 2021. Watauga County Schools has received a high rating on the annual North Carolina bus safety inspections conducted by the Department of Public Instruction. Each year, officials from the state visit every school district in North Carolina to assess the condition and upkeep of their buses. The inspections are scored on a demerit system in which a lower score indicates a better performance. Last year, the state average inspection score was 32 — Watauga County Schools scored 21.75 on this year’s test. The annual inspection tests school districts on several criteria regarding the upkeep and maintenance of its bus fleet. Transportation Departments are judged on the overall condition of the fleet, their quality of their monthly in-house inspections, their paper and electronic records, parts inventory, and office procedures. Watauga County Schools Maintenance Director Jeff Lyons said the positive inspection report was the direct result of the dedication and skill of his team of mechanics.

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Skyline/Skybest Donation Jumpstarts WCS Middle School Golf Team

October 19, 2021. A donation from Skyline/Skybest has been used to jumpstart the inaugural season of play for Watauga County Schools’ new middle school golf team. Made up of 32 golfers from seven different schools, the team is set to finish its season next week after completing six matches. Skyline/Skybest donated $3,707 that was used to purchase each golfer on the team a shirt and hat as well as golf balls, tees and other equipment. The WCS team has hosted two matches this year at Sugar Mountain and Lenoir Golf, the team was able to provide meals at those matches thanks to the funding. The WCS team has hosted two matches this year at Sugar Mountain and Lenoir Golf, the team was able to provide meals at those matches thanks to the funding. Edward Hinson, Chief Marketing and Sales Officer for Skyline/Skybest, said supporting local schools was an important part of the co-op’s work in their community. “An essential component of our cooperative is to help support and meet the needs throughout the communities we serve,” Hinson said. “On behalf of SkyLine, our board of directors, our executive team and our entire membership it is our honor to support your athletic endeavors. We applaud the efforts of Watauga County Schools including the student engagement and education on and off of the field.”

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Watauga County Board of Education Honors School Principals

October 14, 2021. The Watauga County Board of Education paid tribute to the work of school principals during its October meeting in honor of National Principals Month. Principals from each school were invited to the meeting to be recognized. Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott and the board thanked principals for their multifaceted and challenging work that, Elliott said, had become even more vital over the course of the pandemic. “Principals are among the hardest working, yet often least recognized individuals in education,” Elliott said. “Principals set the academic tone for their schools, and it is their vision, dedication, and determination that provide the mobilizing force for achieving student success. Each October, we seek to honor these unsung heroes for their tireless efforts in pursuit of excellence in education.” Elliott said one of a principal’s most-important roles in a school was as an educational leader.

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Avery County Schools Again Adopts Optional Wearing of Mask or Facial Coverings in School Facilities

October 13, 2021. The Avery County Board of Education voted unanimously (5-0) Tuesday night in favor of optional wearing of masks or other facial coverings for all students, teachers and staff in the county’s public-school buildings. As a result of the Board’s vote, parents of students in the Avery School System have the right to decide whether or not their children wear a mask or another facial covering when inside those facilities. However, mask wearing will continue to be required on all regular school and activity buses.  Additionally, all visitors to the county’s schools can enter the schools by phone appointment only.  Visitors will be screened upon entry and will be required to wear a mask.  At indoor school events such as athletic games, school officials ask that non-vaccinated spectators wear a mask, but this will be on the honor system. There currently no such recommendation or mandate by Avery County Schools for outside athletic contests such as football games. By Tim Gardner

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Watauga County Schools Wrap Up First Week of Education Back in the Classroom for the 2021-22 School Year

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

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Watauga County Schools Administrators Prepare Gifts for Local Law Enforcement

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.

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Watauga County Schools Welcomes Teachers, Staff to Annual Convocation Ceremony

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.

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