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News
SAVOR Blowing Rock canceled for 2020

BLOWING ROCK — The Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce announced on Nov. 26 that the springtime SAVOR Blowing Rock Festival that celebrated wine, food and beer will not be hosted in 2020.

Suzy Barker, event and communication specialist with the Blowing Rock Chamber, said the decision was made at the chamber’s annual board of directors retreat on Nov. 20.

“Since SAVOR last year, we’ve been debating on picking a date,” Barker said. “We just found that the event was no longer fully supporting itself and the board allowed us spend our time and resources on events that are more successful and beneficial to our chamber members and our community.”

SAVOR Blowing Rock was originally known as the Blue Ridge Wine and Food Festival and had run every spring from 2008 to 2019.

“In the past few years, this was not drawing the numbers of attendees that it was intended to do,” the Blowing Rock Chamber said in a statement.

A crowded beer and wine festival market was noted as one of the reasons for the decision.

“When we first started, there weren’t so many wine or beer festivals,” Barker said. “You can find something similar to SAVOR just about anywhere at any time of the year. So we do contribute declining ticket sales to that growing market.”

There have been changes to SAVOR in recent years, such as moving the dates from April to May starting in 2018 and hosting different specialty events. Barker said the changes were made with the best efforts to continue the event.

“The festival has undergone several changes including rebranding the festival name to SAVOR, moving the date into May and moving the venue of the Grand Tasting event to Main Street,” the Blowing Rock Chamber stated on Nov. 26. “Despite the chamber’s best efforts there has been a steady decline in ticket sales for several years.”

The chamber said it will spend 2020 trying to re-imagine a new SAVOR event and that it’s committed to bringing visitors to the town during the “shoulder season” between winter and summer, when visitation usually declines.

Barker said there have been ideas shared on what to do, but nothing close to a decision has been made.

“This event has had a lot of community support from locals, seasonal residents and visitors,” the Blowing Rock Chamber said in a statement. “The chamber appreciates everyone who has been a patron over the last 12 years. If it was already on your calendar for 2020 we apologize but still encourage you to visit and SAVOR all that Blowing Rock has to offer.”

The Blowing Rock Chamber stated that it will continue to host its other events in 2020. Blowing Rock WinterFest takes place Jan. 23-26, 2020, Symphony by the Lake is on July 24, 2020, and the 58th season of Blowing Rock’s Art in the Park runs on select Saturdays from May through October.


News
UNC system to implement chancellor bonus pay program

ELIZABETH CITY – The University of North Carolina system recently received approval to develop a chancellor incentivization program that could be worth up to 20 percent of their salaries and is planned to be phased in during the current school year.

The approval came from the UNC Board of Governors at its Nov. 14-15 meetings, which took place at Elizabeth City State University in Elizabeth City.

The BOG approved the program in concept at its Sept. 20 meeting and directed UNC system Interim President William Roper to return to the board with a detailed plan.

“This program provides up to a 20 percent annual incentive compensation opportunity for chancellors based on a combination of individual performance at each chancellor’s constituent institution, as well as performance on several system-wide performance goals selected by the (UNC system) president in consultation with the (UNC) Board of Governors,” the packet information states. “The latter is intended to incent collaboration among the chancellors in pursuing system-wide goals that advance the overall strategic priorities of the UNC system.”

The plan, which went through the BOG’s Committee on Personnel and Tenure, sets a minimum 24-month service requirement to be eligible for incentive compensation.

The program will be broken down into two categories: individual incentive performance awards and system-wide strategic incentive awards, each worth up to 10 percent of an eligible chancellor’s salary.

The individual incentive performance award will be based on the UNC system president’s annual assessment of the chancellor, according to the meeting documents, with an emphasis on “input from system office functional leaders on institutional effectiveness and demonstrated progress on key performance indicators in areas such as student success, finance, facilities, human resources and compliance.”

The individual portion of the incentive program includes tiers of university performance that would equate to different levels of pay. According to the documents, “overwhelming levels” of institutional performance would be worth the full 10 percent of salary bonus pay, “fully acceptable levels with no significant observed performance gaps” would be worth 5 percent of salary bonus pay and “significant areas of improvement and positive trends” would be worth 2.5 percent of salary bonus pay.

System-wide strategic incentive awards would be equal among all 17 chancellors. The incentives would based on three goals set by the UNC system president every three to five years, according to the documents, determined by a ratio percentage of the goals attained.

The system-wide goals will be set at a later date, prior to the program’s implementation.

The incentive pay would come in a lump sum following the end of an academic year, but by the end of the calendar year, according to the plan.

Most current UNC system chancellors make in the $300,000 range, with the lowest making $291,305, according to 2019-20 database information. ASU’s Sheri Everts made $375,098 in 2019-20, meaning a maximum 20 percent incentive bonus would equal $75,019.60. The entire program could end up paying out bonuses in excess of a million dollars.

In other news from the meeting, the board approved creating a task force that would make wholesale changes to the capital improvement application process, which universities currently utilize to get major building projects approved. The goal would be to minimize costs to the individual universities.

Speaking to the full board on Nov. 15, Governor W. Marty Kotis said the objective is for system institutions to not communicate “inflated numbers that a contractor might latch on to and present a higher-than-normal debt.”

Governor Temple Sloan, chair of the BOG’s Committee on Budget and Finance, said on Nov. 15 at the full BOG meeting that the idea was presented with overwhelming support and is something Kotis has pushed for years.

“What we’re talking about is not the behavior of individual campuses or individual campus leadership teams, what we’re talking about is a construction process system that is inadequate, antiquated and quite frankly, it’s broken,” Sloan said on Nov. 15.

A task force will take a look at the process and “reverse engineer” it, as Sloan explained on Nov. 15. Everts was named to the task force that will examine the issue over the next few months, Sloan added. One of the goals, Sloan said on Nov. 15, was to work with the N.C. General Assembly to get a new bill that would cement the UNC system’s capital improvement application process changes.

It was noted in the meeting that the system is waiting for the final passage of the state budget before finalizing an implementing the annual raise process for state employees. Also, the UNC system office said it is working on finalizing regulations and implementations for the parental leave process that it had previously approved.


News
Area schools say no to teen vaping by hosting speaker, education activities

A 16-year-old recently made stops in Watauga, Ashe and Avery to share his story after completing a stay in rehab due to an electronic cigarette addiction.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, electronic cigarettes — also known as e-cigarettes or vapes — are battery-powered devices that can deliver nicotine and flavorings to the user in the form of an aerosol.

While e-cigarette aerosol generally contains fewer harmful chemicals than smoke from burned tobacco products — like regular cigarettes — the nicotine is highly addictive and can harm brain development (which continues until about age 25), according to the CDC. The agency also suggests that young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to go on to use regular cigarettes.

Luka Kinard, a high school junior from High Point, said he started using vaping products to fit in with the older crowd. Kinard shared his story of how his vaping use transformed into an addiction with Watauga High School students on Nov. 4, with help from AppHealthCare. He also visited schools in Avery County on Nov. 13 and Ashe County on Nov. 14.

“We know there are risks with vaping,” said Jennifer Greene, the health director at AppHealthCare. “Unfortunately, these risks can be life threatening, as we have seen with the severe lung injury cases across the country, and additionally, there are longer term risks that are still unknown. We applaud the schools’ efforts to remind our community members that vaping is not risk free.”

Noticing the trend at WHS, Watauga County Schools Lead Nurse Shelly Klutz attended a National Coalition Academy training last year through the Watauga Substance Abuse and Prevention group. During the training Klutz focused on creating a model of how to approach vaping product usage at the high school level. She started asking the students about what they knew about vape products and if they knew about the dangers.

She said most of the students she spoke to had borrowed vape products from friends or had someone else buy the product for them. Of the 25 students she surveyed, roughly 13 of them said they were using a vape product more than 20 times a day.

The rise in young people using nicotine vaping products is one that Watauga County Schools officials have noticed in recent years. The Watauga Board of Education was presented in February with results from the 2018 Youth Risk Behavior Survey — a national school-based survey that provides data on health risks. The survey identified e-cigarette use by Watauga students as a public health concern for the schools.

According to the survey, 13.3 percent of the 872 middle school students who took the survey answered that they had used an electronic vapor product at some point. Approximately 31.8 percent of the 870 high school students responding to the survey said they had used an electronic vapor product within 30 days prior to taking the survey. The amount of high schoolers who were using vapor products at the time of the survey was higher from the 2016 data by 12.7 percent, and higher than the 2017 national and state data.

Kinard was introduced to chewing tobacco when he was in the eighth grade and eventually started smoking cigarettes and cigars. It was during a high school football game that he was introduced to e-cigarettes, and said he was told it was vegetable oil in the product and it was supposed to be safer to use.

Kelly Kinard said she had found her son using regular cigarettes and then noticed when he made the switch to using a vape. She said she then started researching vaping products.

“All I could find online was that it was a healthier alternative to smoking and was a good way to wean off of smoking,” Kelly Kinard. “We said he could do it for a week. But during that week I realized he wasn’t weaning himself off of it; he was actually vaping nonstop.”

Kelly Kinard started finding “Juul pods” all over her son’s room. A Juul is an increasingly popular vape product that has nicotine liquid refills called “pods” in various flavors.

“All Juul e-cigarettes have a high level of nicotine,” according to the CDC. “According to the manufacturer, a single JUUL pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes.”

At first, he was only using the vape a few times a day in the bathrooms at school or a few times at home, Luka Kinard said. This eventually progressed to smoking four pods each day. He said at the time he didn’t see vaping as an addiction, and felt like he was a victim — it was him against the world.

“It got to the point where I was doing it every single day, all the time,” Luka Kinard said. “The only time I didn’t do it was if I was asleep or I was in the shower.”

During this time, his mom started to notice a difference in his attitude but didn’t connect it to his vape usage until later. She said he started showing all of the signs of addiction, and that it got to the point where it was difficult to have conversations with him. In the fall of 2018, Luka Kinard experienced chest pains and cold sweats for several weeks before suffering from a grand mal seizure.

Drug screens and visits to a pediatrician and cardiologist couldn’t determine what caused the seizure. The Kinards reported the situation to the Food and Drug Administration, and Luka Kinard said other people had reported seizures after vape usage as well.

“The FDA has become aware that some people who use e-cigarettes have experienced seizures, with most reports involving youth or young adult users,” the FDA stated in April. “Seizures or convulsions are known potential side effects of nicotine toxicity.”

Kelly Kinard started researching rehabilitation facilities that would treat minors for a nicotine addiction — most would treat other substance abuse but not nicotine. She finally found a treatment center in California that would take her son for nicotine addiction, and Luka Kinard entered rehab for a 39-day stay.

Luka Kinard said he has been sober from electronic cigarette usage since Oct. 21, 2018. While he exited rehab with every intention of continuing to vape, he said he has since decided to continue sobriety and share his story with other young people to warn them of the dangers of vaping.

“Just because it’s just nicotine, it’s still a substance abuse issue and it’s still an addiction,” Luka Kinard said. “Generally when we think of addiction we think hard drugs … we don’t typically think of somebody using nicotine. Just because it may not seem horrible now, it can get there.”

Luka Kinard first shared his story with the Wall Street Journal that December and has since traveled around to speak to groups in North Carolina, South Carolina, Minnesota, Montana and other states to share his story. Inquiries about Luka Kinard speaking to a group can be made by contacting Kelly Kinard at klbkinard@yahoo.com.

He traveled to WHS to speak during the school’s “We Will Not Be Fooled by Juul” campaign week Nov. 4-8. The week’s slogan was created by 11th-grader Mahala Hicks that was then posted on decals and posters with the help of Go Postal. Decals were also made with a phrase created by 12th-grader Henry Jones — “Very Addicting Personal Expense” — which was an acronym for VAPE.

Each day of the campaign week had a different theme with educational games and activities for students to learn facts about vaping, Shultz said. The Thursday of that week featured an activity where students would jog around while also being able to breath through coffee straws to demonstrate what lung damage would feel like.

The following day focused on prevention and cessation and students were able to participate in a survey in which the schools asked students if they would like more information on how to quit vaping. Shultz said 33 students asked for more information on resources to be emailed to them and 15 students said they would like to speak to someone in student services about quitting.

“Even if it was just one, it would’ve been all worth it,” Shultz said.

The campaign week was a collaborative effort among representatives from WCS, the Western Youth Network, AppHealthCare and Appalachian Regional Healthcare System with assistance from public health students at Appalachian State University.

Students who want information on how to quit can visit teen.smokefree.gov or truthinitiative.org. Information for parents and the general public can be found by visiting e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/documents/SGR_ECig_ParentTipSheet_508.pdf or www.tobaccopreventionandcontrol.ncdhhs.gov/ecigs.