Board approves high school curriculum changes

Suzette Lowe

If the Jackson County Board of Education approves the request made by Ripley High band director Eric Staats, band students should see new uniforms in June 2021.

Staats explained that the current uniforms are 13-years-old and can no longer be repaired. Colors are fading, seams cannot be re-sewn and zippers cannot be replaced.

“This band program has won so many awards throughout the years,” Staats said. “I want to continue and expand that tradition. Field presence is extremely important in competitions. I can’t tell you how much this would mean to the students, giving them something to look forward to.”

Fundraising has been difficult in the health pandemic, but through the efforts of the band boosters, local businesses, the City of Ripley, and other donators, $22,104.50 has been raised towards the purchase.

The total cost to outfit 100 band members is $100,697.85. With funds already applied, Staats requested that the board advance the remaining amount of $78,593.35. He pointed out that if done soon, there will be a discount of $2,500 applied.

Superintendent of Schools Blaine Hess gave details of the process if it receives board approval.

“We would issue a purchase order for the amount,” he explained. “The funds already raised would be applied and the remainder would be reimbursed back to the board over the next few years.”

The request will be addressed at a future meeting.

The principals of the two county high schools spoke regarding classes that will be added to the curriculum in the next school year and some that will be removed.

Luke Swiney, Ravenswood High principal, said that some of the classes being deleted are being replaced with “Lead the Way” classes which allow a more practical, hands-on instruction. Robotics classes will be expanded to allow four years of study.

“This program keeps growing,” Swiney said. “The instructor, Toni Burks, is doing an excellent job with it.”

For Ripley High, principal Jimmy Frashier said the focus was on fine arts and engineering. He pointed out that one class, introduction for band, has the potential to train new band members but also refresh current ones.

“This can help students get caught up on what they may have lost due to the interruptions caused by the pandemic,” he said. “The engineering classes will be part of the “Project Lead the Way” offering problem-solving and practical applications.”

For a complete list of the curriculum changes approved by the board, see the information box. For more detail, visit

In his report, the county superintendent informed the board that 160 employees, age 50 or older, received the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 on Jan. 7. Hess said he has submitted the names of substitutes and any board members that were interested in receiving the vaccine as well.

“The next round should be those younger than 50,” he said. “We don’t know when that will be but as soon as it is available, we’ll get it started. With the state handling it, we will bring all the teachers to one building, so that particular day may mean closing schools.”

The impact of COVID-19 on students’ academic success was also discussed.

“Of those students who remained in the virtual school program, 150 did not make adequate academic progress,” Hess said. “In middle and high school, students had to pass 75 percent of their classes with elementary students required to pass English and math. We will not be doing them any favor if we let them continue down this path, so some student applications will be denied.”

There are currently 389 enrolled for the second semester in virtual school but each will be subject to academic progress from the first semester.

On Jan. 25, those students who have not made adequate advancement must either return to in-class instruction or opt for home schooling.

In-person instruction in all grades will begin Jan. 19. Hess said that he will continue to monitor all situations, with close contact with the health department. If the DHHR map has Jackson County in the red, high school students will have distance learning.

“Active cases may result in individual schools being closed for a certain amount of time,” he said. “We will do whatever is necessary.”

As for personnel who contract COVID-19 from this point forward, leave time is under review.

Hess said that the federal mandate, Families First Corona Virus Response Act, which required leave to be approved was not renewed by Congress. The board will consider, after careful analysis, the feasibility of setting up a local policy to address this issue.

Board members Jim Frazier, Steve Chancey, Dan Barnette, with Bobbi Farrell attending by phone, and Ben Mize absent, approved the following:


• Retirement: Samuel P. Hicks, bus operator Route #13 effective June 30, 2021

• Employments: Renee Swisher and Laura Ricker, substitute teachers; Bryant Phalen, assistant wrestling coach, Ripley Middle; Stormy Cavender, temporary cook III half-time Ravenswood Middle

• Transfer: Donald D. Richards II, bus operator Route #22 to Route #47

• Other: Whitney Scholl, teacher, rescindment of leave of absence, Ripley Middle; Justin Johnson, teacher, family medical leave of absence ending date changed from Jan. 22, 2021 to Dec. 21, 2020.