By Darla Welchel
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle might not be the 3 R’s that most of us grew up with, but in today’s ecology it is very important for the health of the planet.
The Newcastle Elementary School is turning lessons into practice and earning cash doing it. On Thursday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. the grade school will be holding a Recycling Event in front of the cafeteria.
The recycling extravaganza is being held as a fundraiser for the elementary school to raise money to beautify the front of both the first and second grade and fourth and fifth grade buildings.
Students have already been sent home with pink bags to fill with gently used clothing, shoes and small household items, but there is still a big need for more items, said event sponsor Duane Alexander of Recycle for Charity. Community members are urged to bring their boxes and bags of donations in to help fill the truck.
The school will receive $60 per 3x5 foot cart and there is no limit to the amount that Recycle for Charity will accept. The local donation center, located at 1612 NW 32nd St. to the west of T.G. Farms, donates 80 percent of what they take in back to the Newcastle community, he said.
“Parents get tired of all the school fundraisers,” Alexander said. “This is easy, they just have to clean out their closets and the school gets money.”
The event will accept all gently used items including small household items and battery operated toys and electronics, working or not, he said. Just no TV sets or monitors. Tax receipts will be issued and 100 percent of the proceeds go to the school. Special arrangements can be made for large furniture donations by calling (405) 681-9926.
The class with the most donations brought in will win a Pizza Party.
“Help us keep it out of the landfills and keep our community looking beautiful,” he said. “Feel Great and Donate.”
By Cody Johnson
Have you been craving some good Italian pasta? Do you also want the chance to help out the junior class put on a great prom?
Then come out and support the Newcastle junior class's fundraiser for Prom. They will be holding a spaghetti dinner on Thursday night. Come on out from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the high school cafeteria for a plate full of delicious pasta.
The junior class will also have their parents out to help serve the community along side them. A $5 donation will get you in the door for spaghetti with some traditional sides.
By Darla Welchel
The Newcastle Public Library isn’t just a place to get reading or viewing material; it is also a place to learn.
With a full calendar of events for all ages, the library offers instruction on a variety of subjects. From computer classes to discussions on health, the library has it all in addition to the fun and creative programs offered.
Intro to Computer class – Sept. 11, 18 & 25, 10 a.m.: Learn the basics of using the computer from getting started to searching the Internet and setting up email accounts. These classes are for those with little to no experience. In this class we will set up an email account. Learn to read, send, and delete emails.
Science of Concussions – Sept. 15, 6 p.m.: With the high school sports season under way, a topic of conversation is concussions, especially those that are sports-related. Steve Nedbalek with the Oklahoma State Department of Health will present the program The Truth about Sports Concussions. He’ll go over some of the basics of concussions and causes of traumatic brain injuries, as well as giving the signs and symptoms of concussions for those playing sports but also in children as young as infants or toddlers. Teen and/or adults may attend the program, but registration is required in advance.
Painting Apples in Acrylic – Sept 13, 10:30 a.m.: Learn how to paint a beautiful still life painting of fall apples in acrylic. All supplies provided. Registration would be helpful to library staff.
Cyber Space Series for Teens – Sept. 18, 3 p.m.: Those who attend have a chance to participate in favorites like video games, board games, craft projects and enjoy free food. There also will be a space for those needing to keep up on schoolwork to do so on a library computer and have access to homework and research help.
Registration is not required to take part in the group.
"No Ordinary Bird" at story time – Sept. 17, 3:45 p.m.: The library is telling a story of “No Ordinary Bird” at an upcoming after school story time and craft. Children will hear the story about a special parrot named Alex, and afterward can do a craft program related to the story. The activities are for kindergarten through third-grade children and their caregivers. Registration is not required to attend.
Pre-School Story Time - Sept. 17, 11 a.m.: This time of stories, songs, rhymes and activities is sure to spark the learning juices of the smallest library patrons. The program is for ages birth to 5 years and their caregivers.
In addition to these programs, young readers can improve their reading skills by reading to therapy dogs Maggie and Riley each Tuesday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the ante-room off the library.
For more information about these or other upcoming programs, contact the library at 387-5076 or visit www.pioneerlibrarysystem.org/newcastle.
By Darla Welchel
Newcastle Schools has received its report card for the 2013-2014 school year, and Superintendent Tony O'Brien is proud of his kids' success.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education's A-F Report Card is in, and the Racers received a B+ on the testing - a score that has O'Brien baffled. Although each site brought up their individual grades, the districts' overall grade dropped from an A- to a B+, he said.
Newcastle's overall scores show reading, English and mathematics to be the strong areas of testing, while the areas of science and biology were trouble areas. Detailed information each individual campus and subject can be analyzed on the SDE website at www.ok.gov/sde/.
But still, in comparison with the other 10 schools in McClain and Grady Counties, Newcastle came in ahead all but one - Tuttle. And, the high school raked in an A+ and was named a "Reward School" by the SDE for scoring 100 percent.
Reward Schools are those in the top 10 percent of performance in all assessments, or those in the top 10 percent of schools that have made high progress in reading and math.
"We are proud of the work the students and the educators at these schools have done to merit the distinction of being Reward Schools," State Superintendent of Instruction Janet Barresi said. "The students have proven they are on track to being college, career and citizen ready by the time they graduate."
In addition to the news about the state report card, O'Brien is also excited about the recent ACT trends for NHS. According to information provided by the district, Newcastle high school students scored on average two percent higher in every category from 2013 to 2014. And, they scored higher than the state average in all subjects.
"When you move up two percent on the ACT - that is a major accomplishment," he said. "This is probably one of the two greatest academic achievements for the school along with dual credit."
Newcastle Schools is offering 59 hours of dual credit classes on its campus, O'Brien said. The classes are advanced placement courses taught by the Newcastle faculty and offers students the opportunity complete roughly two years of college.
"These classes are very intensely rigorous and therefore students not only get their high school credits but also college credits, because they are doing that level of work," he said. "For young students who may not be ready for the 'college' atmosphere yet, they are getting the academics while still being in a very structured environment. We control the class, attendance and books that they use for these classes."
Currently students can attain dual hours in English, mathematics, social sciences, sciences and some elective classes. For a complete list, contact the high school department.
By Darla Welchel
The people have spoken and soon construction will begin on the Bridge Creek School campus.
After last Tuesday's election, the Bridge Creek Bond Issue passed with a 65 percent win, said Superintendent of Schools David Marrow. The proposal was for $15,680,000 to make much-needed additions and improvements to the District's facilities.
"In this bond issues, we wanted to get something for all age groups, and we chose items we felt would relieve the most stress to our facilities," he said.
These are the projects slated to be completed, according to the Bridge Creek Bond Issue website:
Construct and furnish a Community Safe Room/Multi-Purpose Activity Center, which will include, a Gymnasium, Wrestling Room, boys and girls locker rooms and lobby.
Construct and furnish a Middle School Cafeteria addition.
Construct and furnish two additional classrooms at the High School.
Remodel the Elementary Gymnasium with a new floor and air conditioning.
Remodel the original brick Elementary School.
Upgrade technology district-wide.
The district demonstrates care for its community by proposing the community safe room inside the new gym. When asked why they were building it, Superintendent Marrow said, that last year's tornado showed them that the community members, especially the elderly, who came to the school seeking shelter in its classroom safe rooms, had difficulty navigating through the hallways.
"The school had let out for the summer, and we had already begun waxing the floors, so the hallways were filled with desks and chairs from the classrooms," Marrow said.
The new community safe room will be one large room, he said. Another reason for the need of a community shelter is because the school does not have the ability to house the community members in the event of a storm that occurs during school hours.
"During the school day, there is only room [in our existing 10 classroom safe rooms] for our students," Marrow said. "This new safe room will allow room for the community with outside access. We feel this will be easier for the community, especially the elderly to use because they can come in one door and won’t have to navigate through students or the hallways."
The new gym, which will be air conditioned, will be connected to the existing old gym with a new girls and boys locker room in the middle, he said.
"When the old gym was built, we only had four basketball teams, now we have 10 teams," Marrow said.
The other much-needed building project is a middle school cafeteria with a kitchen and dining area, he said. The middle school, which moved to the old high school, does not have a cafeteria.
"Right now, I have 750 students using a cafeteria built for 450," he said. "It will also add another meeting room that we can use."
To help alleviate growing pains at the high school, the bond issue will allow the district to add two more classrooms to the building, Marrow said. The addition will up the schools capacity to accommodate 50 more students, sustaining it for five to six years.
Two other projects will take place on the elementary campuses. First the gym at the elementary will be remodeled with new flooring and with the addition of air conditioning, he said. Next, and only after the high school gym project is completed, the original red brick elementary building will be remodeled and updated to accept students again.
After having some walls removed, the building is being used as the Bobcat wrestling room.
Marrow hopes that the district will be able to start on some of the smaller projects like the gym remodel and high school classroom as soon as school lets out next May. Kahle Wilson with Design Architect Plus will be drawing up the designs for the construction project.
"I appreciate the community’s support," Marrow said. "The passage of this bond was a community effort and it is greatly appreciated."
By Darla Welchel
Can you almost taste it?
Slow cooked pulled pork, baked potatoes, baked beans, and other yummy for the tummy fare.
That's right; it is time for the Newcastle FFA Annual Pork Dinner. This year, tickets are being sold for $10 each. For that price, customers will be receiving bigger portions than last year, said FFA member Nicole Lee. In addition to the scrumptious pork, sides include: baked potatoes, salad, bread, beans, dessert, drinks and all the fixings.
Doors will open at 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 15 at the Middle School Cafeteria located on Fox Lane east of Main Street and will close at 7:30 p.m. Although you can buy your ticket at the door, FFA students are pre-selling tickets as part of a contest.
Don't miss this opportunity to not only fill your stomachs but to help out the FFA program.
By Darla Welchel
Newcastle Public Schools has just a few more projects to complete - most of them pertaining to the safety and welfare of its youngest students.
During the State of the School Address at the Newcastle Chamber Business Luncheon, Superintendent Tony O'Brien told community leaders that work on the new Administration Building was almost complete pending some final security and technology upgrades.
But one of the most urgent jobs is a two-pronged fencing project. The first one will be to enlarge both of the playgrounds at the Early Childhood Center; this will double the space of both areas, he said. The addition will come from existing yard space surrounding the current playgrounds.
With the current student enrollment, there is not adequate room for the students in the existing playgrounds, he said. With the extra space, the grounds will need some additional equipment. A new playground apparatus shaped like a pirate ship will be docked on the north playground.
"We are doing this for safety of the Little Racers," O'Brien said. "We have so many of them running and jumping around there are collisions on a frequent basis. We hope to give them more space so to lessen the amount of collisions."
A second fencing project is still in the early planing stages, he said. A fence will be constructed to connect the 2nd-3rd grade buildings and the 4th-5th grade buildings to the cafeteria to help keep the campus secure.
"This is to keep our students safe and behind some type of enclosure, so that they are less vulnerable to outside influences," O'Brien said. "That area is ripe for some bad person to drive up and snatch a kid off the sidewalk."
The final project O'Brien addressed was securing the entrances at all of the district’s sites either into the buildings or onto the campuses, he said. Every site will eventually be dealt with to make certain the students and staff of those buildings are behind controlled access points.
"Long story short, Mammas and Daddies wont be able to walk in and go where they want to go anymore without first being cleared through the office and controlled access points," he said. "We very much want parent involvement in the lives of their students and will work hard to make sure that continues, but with the added security of a controlled access point, so that we know who is having access to students."
He added that parents can expect their students to be safer and more secure than ever before. This will be a work in progress, and the board will need to finalize a priority list in the months ahead. This project is in the planning phase and will be let out for bids soon.
Good Morning Racers,
As I am writing this article, the heat is baking our community, but rain is "ON THE WAY."
This optimistic outlook on life expressed by the weatherman this morning is much like that of many of our faculty and staff members. As you know, the financial heat is baking our school district in more ways than I care to try and count. We are fighting the battle on many fronts, and it has forced our board of education, with my leadership and support, to make some very difficult decisions concerning many areas of our district operations; this includes class size, personnel related decisions, etc.
I shared a quick and simple example of how the funding issues are hitting us with the chamber of commerce at their monthly luncheon this past week. Last year, Newcastle received a total of $4,063,801 ($3,644,331 in original allocation plus $419,470 in mid-term adjustment) in state aid based on our weighted student count. This year, using those same student numbers and supposedly getting an increase of $38.60 per student weight (which should equate to roughly $105,000) the district took a cut of $11,377 because of state formula dollars being held.
Our three major funds (general, building and sinking/bond) continue to be dramatically impacted by the passage of SQ 766 a couple of years ago. This legislation allowed a tax break for corporations who had "intellectual" property that was being taxed. When this passed, it cut revenues to all three of the district's major funds. When all three funds get hit, it severely limits the district's ability to operate in a manner that we consider best for the education of our students.
A result of the SQ 766 passage, is in effect, that the voters of our state moved a significant portion of the tax burden that businesses were helping pay for onto the backs of individual property owners. Our district grew significantly this past year in terms of real and personal property as assessed by the county. However, due to a very significant write off by one of our major corporations, we only grew 2.5% instead of the at least 5.1% that we should have grown. This lack of growth will impact individual taxpayers in the near future unless we grow very significantly within the next two years.
Even with all of these problems, our staff works hard every day to support and teach every student that walks through our hallways to the best of their ability. With limited resources, the staff continues to do outstanding work and I want to thank them publicly for all they do in these trying times.
In the weeks to come, you will be hearing of opportunities to get involved with your schools either physically or financially. With limited resources, we are reaching out to our community to help us sustain and continue to grow our academic and athletic programs, facilities, etc. for the betterment of our students.
Thank you for your continued support of our Racers.
By Cody Johnson
The Newcastle Public School Administration found a new home on the southeast side of campus in one of the oldest buildings in town, putting all central administration under one roof.
The First Baptist Church of Newcastle built the building as their new auditorium in 1948, however many others over the years have owned the building. City Hall resided there until they moved to the facilities on South Main St. The old building remained vacant until it was bought out by Summit Church, from whom the school system acquired the building. Summit remodeled the building previous to the school purchasing it.
Superintendent Tony O'Brien does not foresee outgrowing the new building anytime soon. For the first time, all the district's administration is in one location; previously special education was located in the middle school and technology was located in the high school.
"It's been very positive," O'Brien said. "The good thing is we have [another] auditorium here that's going to be able to be used for all kinds of meetings; town hall, board meetings, all of our professional development meetings."
The school administration went from less than 3,000 square feet to over 12,000 square feet with the move, which came about from a two-step process.
"We had bond money that had to be used on acquisition," O'Brien said, "and we needed more parking space at the ECC."
The school first acquired a building at 120 NE 2nd Street and some land to the east. They then cleared the land east of the building of trees and growth, leaving it a field to be later used for additional parking at ECC before selling it to the City of Newcastle as a new City Hall location for $478,000. The school retained the field east of the building’s parking area.
Superintendent Tony O'Brien then approached Summit Church about buying their building. Since January of 2013, Summit Church has been meeting on Sunday mornings in the school auditorium, having outgrown its facilities.
In an agreement with Newcastle Public Schools, Summit Church received $450,000 for its building, along with being able to use the school's auditorium on Sunday mornings for five years. They will also be able to use the school’s old administration building as office space for the duration of the five-year contract.
It was a great for both parties, Executive Pastor of Summit Church, Jay Stokes said. Not only was it good from a business perspective, it would also help out Newcastle Public Schools, the one buyer that could utilize the property to their best advantage, he said.
"We have a lot in common," Stokes said. "We are both trying to create an environment for families to grow."
Summit Church does not own land yet, but is looking to purchase some within the Blanchard, Tuttle, or Newcastle area in the future to build a new auditorium.
The School Administration began moving into their new building the first week of July. They have completed the move, however there are some safety and security issues still to be completed on the building.
By Darla Welchel
As the township of Newcastle continues to grow, so does enrollment on the districts four campuses.
The past two years has seen the largest increase in enrollment at the Early Childhood Center, but that is not the case for the 2014-2015 school year, said Superintendent of Schools Tony O'Brien.
The middle school received the biggest boost in numbers going from a total enrollment of 395 to 440 students, he said. The inflated numbers can create problems in terms of real estate as the school was already operating at capacity. In all, the district increased enrollment by a margin of 4.63 percent or 95 students.
Newcastle moved up 148 eighth graders to high school at the end of last year, and so far this year, they have seen an increase of 151 sixth grade students. These numbers do not even account for the other grades or new enrollment, he said.
"The middle school is definitely the tightest school [in terms of space]; every classroom is full," O’Brien said. "It was constructed to be easily built onto, but we have to have the funding to do it."
The district will need to pass another bond issue in order to add on to the middle school, but unfortunately, it will not be eligible to propose another one for the next five years, he said.
The speed in which a bond issue is paid off and a district's bonding capacity is all based on a very complicated formula. And although Newcastle Schools' net evaluation has grown, because of State Question 766, its funding has been drastically reduced, O'Brien said.
"State Question 766 took a huge slice of our [funding] pie," he said. "We went up in total growth (in ad valorem tax), [but with the new tax laws, we will receive less funds.] In essence, we should have added $4,335,549 to the tax roles, but in reality, we only added $2,037,181 because of SQ 766."
State Question 766 exempted intangible property — such as patents, contracts and mineral leases and knowledge — from ad valorem property taxes. The exemption applies to about 250 businesses, such as utilities, railroads and airlines.
Initially, officials estimated the change would cut around $30 million from school funding across the state.
Then the state Tax Commission estimated the tax break would total $50 million statewide, but recently, the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration has estimated that the total will be twice that amount.
"This is a huge hit for us," O'Brien said. "It affects us three ways: general fund, building fund and bonding capacity."
"All those bonds sold in 2005 were sold with an anticipated six percent growth rate; we've hit that only one year, and because we haven’t grown at that rate, it has hurt us. When the kids are growing at a faster rate than the tax dollars are, I’m forced to stretch fewer dollars across more kids."
O'Brien said he wasn’t exactly sure what the district would do about the overcrowding at the middle school, and he has lost more than a little sleep over the problem. The board has come up with lots of plans such as transporting students to other locations and making use of portable buildings – none of which are ideal, but may be necessary.
"Our matriculation numbers are pretty flat for the next three years, but that is not accounting for any new homes and families," he said.
Superintendent O'Brien gave a complete report during his State of the School address during Tuesday's Chamber Business Exchange Luncheon. During his address, O'Brien said that there were two solutions to this problem.
"This is year two of SQ 766; the Tax Commission seems to think that we will have one more year of small businesses taking advantage of the deal and most big business have already used it, so it might lesson the affect of SQ 766," he said. "And number two, it depends on how much corporate growth we have; for instance, the new hotel is not on the books yet."