New County School Superintendent Fields Questions & Comments - TribPapers

New County School Superintendent Fields Questions & Comments

Dr. Rob Jackson. Photo by Clint Parker.

Woodfin – Woodfin Town Council dealt with just a few items at their December meeting on Tuesday (Dec. 20). The meeting was called to order, and the agenda was approved without any changes.

On the consent agenda, the council approved the minutes from the November regular meeting and approved an amendment to the personnel policy with regard to town holidays. They also reappointed Mayor Jerry VeHaun to the Metropolitan Sewerage District Board, made appointments to the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee and Board of Adjustment, approved the 2023 meeting schedule, amended the town’s salary and classification schedule for the fiscal year 2023, and passed a resolution authorizing the acceptance of donations.

Afterward, the board took public comment, where one citizen, Peggy Lyle, spoke, asking the council to address the problem of no center line on the roads in the Sunny Ridge Community and another about what can be done with the old Chandler Lumber Company building, which she said was a hazard to the community since the structure is in a state of decay.

When prompted by a council member to respond about the Chandler Lumber property, Town Manager Shannon Tuch said she was not prepared to talk about the property at the time. 

The new superintendent takes questions and comments

During presentations and reports, new Buncombe County School Superintendent Dr. Rob Jackson introduced himself to the board. Jackson is the first new superintendent in 14 years. Unlike when asked if the Weaverville Town Council had any comments or questions for him, there were none (see article page ??), the Woodfin Council had several comments and questions for Jackson.

The first came from Vice Mayor Jim McAllister, who recently helped with a fundraiser for Woodfin Elementary School’s new playground. “Any update on when construction on the playground might start?” he asked.

“We’ve finalized all the selection of the pieces of the playground…now we’re working on the global supply chain issues, and so our goal is to have that in place by the end of the school year,” answered Jackson.

Councilwoman Judy Butler, who was also at the groundbreaking for the new playground, asked Jackson, “We’d all like to know what we can do for the school. What would you suggest would be the appropriate medium to do that?”

Jackson answered, “[Woodfin Elementary] Principal Roberts and the school improvement team—the leadership team of the school—are probably the best venue in terms of helping us all have our arrows aligned, so we’re all going [in] the same direction… We’ve been able to reopen our doors to volunteers for those who want to come in and read to students and help us as teachers in that work. You know we haven’t been able to do that in the past, so now we’re able to do that.”  

McAllister thanked Jackson for the information but stated, “There are some bigger issues.” McAllister said the school had lost contact with “almost two-thirds of the students” during the pandemic. “We’ve got to as a county and a town, we’ve got to make sure that can never happen again. I don’t know what the answers are, but hopefully, that will be part of your strategies as you get settled in. It’s not a particularly well-to-do school, and we, as a town and the county, we can do better than that. So we look forward to hearing plans to make things better in that area to make sure that never happens again.”

Jackson thanked him for his comment and said he had challenged his leadership team: “With telling our story…we have to do a better job of talking about the great things happening in our schools, so that other [people] like community volunteers want to be a part of what’s happening. We also have to be honest about the challenges we face—some pretty major challenges. We’ve seen the degradation of families and some of our social structures. We depend on our schools to really hedge that up to make sure our students have the support they need.” He said they are looking at the data to make sure that students get the help they need in areas that they are deficient in, and the schools want to make sure “our students all graduate, [are] enrolled, [are] enlisted, or [are] employed. Our goal is [that] 100 percent of students walk across the stage, and when they take that first step after shaking their principal’s hand, they’re prepared for what comes next.” 

McAllister said he’d never heard that alliterative catchphrase: enrolled, enlisted, or employed.” “In education, for a while, we thought every child needed to go to college. Well, that’s not so. There is great success to be had by somebody working with their hands and getting graduated from high school. Going into a great job where they can support themselves and their family. So that employee piece of that three pathway – enrolled, enlisted or employed – is just as important too.”

Another council member asked about the volunteer program, which has not yet started back at Woodfin Elementary School, and yet the school year is halfway over. Jackson said if people have tried to volunteer and not heard back, reach out again to the school as background checks for such volunteers are taking longer and budgets are needed to withstand the strain, but not to give up. He said he would follow up with the principal after the holiday break.

Rest of the meeting

After Jackson finished, Tuch gave her manager’s report, where she went over three new contracts, including new short-term rental (STR) software to track STR in the town. She also went over planning and stormwater meetings and the new trash recycling, which seems to be saving the town about $1,000 per month in tipping fees. In stormwater, the town has signed a $95,000 plus contract with Anchor QEA for the town’s consultant on stormwater issues. The council approved the contract.
Sheri Powers, finance director, presented the mid-year budget to the council. Just before the meeting went into executive session, McAllister took Woodfin Police Chief Michael Dykes to task over the lack of citations along Riverside Drive.

“Chief, we’ve talked about this repeatedly. I, frankly, am running out of patience. We have to do something. The residents… they need us to do something. We’ve set and talked about this with Shannon. I need to know what it’s going to take. What can we do as a council to help you do something about the crazy traffic problems on Riverside Drive?” demanded McAllister.
Dykes responded by acknowledging their meeting and inviting McAllister to come for a ride-along with him to show him how difficult traffic enforcement is along Riverside Drive. “That’s just one of those locations that it’s hard to do speed enforcement.”

McAllister said he spent about three hours riding up and down the area, taking notes. “If you’ll shoot me some dates, I’ll take you up on that [ride-along]. Maybe I don’t understand what it takes to pull somebody over, but we have to do something. So I look forward to working with you.”
“We know it’s a concern, and we are committed to making the area safer. Without a doubt, it’s always our goal to make the roads safer, but it doesn’t always mean more traffic citations,” explained Dykes. Tuch said she is working on a grant to study the pedestrian activity along Riverside Drive.