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Halifax County Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg responded to questions during the hour long community forum held at Cluster Springs Elementary School Monday. (SOMcL photo)
SoVaNow.com / September 21, 2017
“I’m here to listen to your concerns,” Halifax County School Superintendent Mark Lineburg told some 40 people who showed up Monday evening for the second of five Community Forums that are being held across the county.

Participants at the Cluster Springs Elementary School forum viewed a 10-minute Powerpoint presentation with remarks by students about their respective schools. The slideshow also revealed other information: declining school enrollment across Halifax County.

In 1997, the county had a school enrollment of 6,432 students. Today, the county has a total of 5,011 students.

Taking over the discussion, Lineburg noted that the Halifax County School Board has set goals for the coming year, with full accreditation for all nine county schools being its top priority. Of the nine schools, only four — Cluster Springs Elementary, South Boston Elementary, Sydnor Jennings elementary schools and Halifax County High School — are fully accredited.

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work and elbow grease,” said Lineburg of the job ahead, pointing out that school administrators, principals and teachers all are working together to achieve accreditation.

The second goal is to determine both long- and short-term facility needs of each school, although work to the high school is the top priority.

“We want the high school to be as attractive as what you have here at Cluster Springs, South Boston Elementary and the middle school,” Lineburg said. He added that the HCHS building is showing a lot of wear and tear from its nearly 40 years of use.

The third goal of the board is to improve compensation for school employees that will allow the system to maintain and attract highly qualified personnel.

Lineburg said Halifax County ranks among the 15th lowest paying systems in the state. Lineburg said HCHS Principal Michael Lewis told him that he lost about 16 faculty members during the last school year to surrounding communities because of the disparities in pay.

The School Board’s fourth goal is oversight of policies for student behavior and special education programs. Lastly, trustees have called for improved attendance at schools by both students and staff members.

He noted that a 12 year old student in the local school system will spend far too many days having a substitute teacher rather than a regular teacher leading the class.

The first speaker during the public comment period was Fay Satterfield, who explained that while she serves as a member of the school board, she was speaking as a taxpaying citizen at the moment.

Satterfield told Lineburg that she would like to see volunteer services by community business people included in facilities planning. Some of these people, she noted, have years of experience in construction planning.

She referred to an offer made to Halifax County Supervisors back in August from Mark Gosney, who offered his help as well as that of other business people who felt they could offer the efficiency that is demanded by taxpayers.

Another speaker asked Lineburg how long it will be before he envisions the county having a new or renovated high school. She explained that she currently has a student at the high school, but also younger students at other schools who will later move on to the high school. She said she hopes they will be able to enjoy the new or renovated high school.

Lineburg's answer was a simple “soon, I hope,” although he pointed out it will take time for the facilities committee to complete its work which looks not only at the school itself but also the fieldhouse and the stadium.

Another participant asked Lineburg of his opinion of the use of school uniforms. He responded that felt that uniforms will have little impact on instructional improvement.

A very young speaker asked about rules for use of cell phones at school and was reminded that cell phones cannot be used to make calls during the instructional day. Students at the high school are allowed to send text messages while in the hallways on their way to class or during lunch period he was told.

Yet another person asked about the future of the Cluster Springs Early Learning Center. Lineburg pointed out that a declining enrollment as well as the availability of space at other schools will be considered in determining the future of the little school which has a current enrollment of 68 students.

A bus driver is concerned about having students from the high school, middle school and an elementary school all riding together on her bus. Lineburg said he was not aware of the situation which he later learned happened on only two or three buses which transport students from sparsely populated areas.

The hour-long session ended with Lineburg saying he would be available for as long as people wanted to talk with him on a one-to-one basis. He thanked those in attendance for coming out to the forum, explaining that their input is very helpful to him as he works to achieve the board’s goals.

The first of the forums was held last week at Scottsburg Elementary School where over 30 people attended. Three more are scheduled with the next one set for Monday, at Sinai Elementary, then at Sydnor Jennings Elementary on Tuesday. Oct. 10 with the final meeting set at Halifax County High School on Monday, Oct. 16. All forums begin at 6 p.m.

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