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It’ll be Mecklenburg High School, Middle School

SoVaNow.com / March 27, 2019
Voting Tuesday night at their regular monthly meeting, the Mecklenburg County School Board selected the names for the county’s new high school and middle school. By a 6-2 vote, trustees adopted the names preferred by parents, students and others who participated in an online poll: Mecklenburg County High School and Mecklenburg County Middle School.

The other two choices were Lake Country High and Lake Country Middle School and Lakeside High and Middle School.

Trustees Wanda Bailey and Brent Richey voted against the choice and Trustee Rob Campbell was absent from the meeting. Bailey said she could not support a name that received fewer than 50 percent of the votes from those participating in the online survey. Of the nearly 2,800 votes cast, Mecklenburg County High and Middle School received 1,176 votes, Lakeside High and Middle School received 1,052 votes and Lake Country High and Middle School received 494 votes.

Richey said he felt that two of the choices, Lakeside and Lake Country, were too similar, and local resident Bain Cameron told trustees that their choices were “droll,” “bland,” “dry,” and “non-inspirational.” Cameron said he would have preferred the board to opt for name choices that were “fun, “engaging to the imagination.”

Clarksville resident Ann Miller said she wanted the new schools to be named East-West High and East-West Middle, a reference to the names of the former county schools attended by the county’s African American population prior to integration. The school that is now Park View Middle School was named East End High, and Bluestone Middle School was West End High.

In other action, Holley Tillman with the Y-Street 24/7 Campaign for Tobacco Free Schools asked school trustees to become part of a statewide campaign to turn school campuses and events into tobacco-free zones. While Mecklenburg County already has a policy banning the use and possession of tobacco, e-cigarettes and vaping products on campus or at school sanctioned events, Tillman asked the board to consider replacing its policy with Y-Street’s more comprehensive policy.

Tillman said the language in the Y-Street policy aligns with the legislation signed by Gov. Ralph Northam earlier this month mandating all local school boards to develop and implement a comprehensive tobacco-free policy banning the use and distribution of any tobacco product or nicotine vapor product. The Y-Street policy will likely be the same or similar to the one that the Virginia School Board Association will recommend for schools.

The bill, House Bill 2384 and Senate Bill 1295, will prohibit anyone from using or distributing the tobacco products on a school bus, on school property, and at on-site and off-site school-sponsored activities.

No action was taken on the request.

Director of Secondary Schools Jeffrey Scales said a new policy handed down by the Virginia Department of Education could impact the school division’s accreditation status for next year and beyond. The policy holds that once a student has received credit for passing the required number of SOL tests for their diploma, they will no longer take these tests, causing a dramatic decrease in the number of students taking SOLs in any given year. Students who are taking the test into their junior and senior years are the ones having the most difficulty with passing these tests.

In October there was a significant change in the SOL testing protocol, Scales said. The U.S. Department of Education reduced the number of SOL tests students must pass to earn a diploma.

Until this change, it was common for high school students earning an advanced diploma to come out of school with 11 SOLs, compared to the nine needed to earn an advanced diploma. Administrators appreciated these students’ willingness to take SOL classes, because their results boosted the overall scores for a particular school and impacted whether a school would or would not be fully accredited.

“This will be the new norm,” said Scales, noting, too, that this change primarily impacts SOL passing rates for Algebra II, Chemistry and US History. Those three subjects of the core SOL have traditionally boosted schools’ SOL passing rates and kept them fully accredited. Students can still take the class, but they will not be allowed to take the SOL test once they already received the mandated number of verified credits in that subject area.

Those are the classes taken by students pursuing an advanced diploma. The result is that “we’ve got to work harder to make sure we pass everybody to be a fully accredited school,” said Scales.

In other business, the School Board approved the purchase of an additional service truck for the transportation department and approved an updated consolidated student handbook and code of conduct manual.

Nichols shared the news that a team of educators, government and business leaders from Mecklenburg County gathered with those from 30 other school divisions to take place in the first meeting of the Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network, an initiative of the Virginia Department of Education. The goal for these meetings is to promote deeper learning at all grade levels and to align instruction and assessment across the state with the expectations of the Profile of a Virginia Graduate.

The profile — which was adopted by the state Board of Education in November 2016 — describes the knowledge, skills, attributes and experiences identified by the board, higher education and employers as critical for future success.

Part of their focus was on ways to increase the variety and number of opportunities for high school students in career and technical education programs. One of the reasons there are fewer SOL tests required of these students is because the number of verified credits students must earn through career and technical education programs has increased.

“We also learned a lot. One of the main things we learned is that we need to do a lot of professional development with our students, parents, community, teachers and staff, and that is something that we will be working significantly on because it will be part of our accountability [to the state].”

Gary Cifers presented new graduation expectations for students currently in the ninth grade: “We are working on our GPS for graduation,” Cifers said. It is a booklet that describes the class requirements a student will need to graduate, depending on the student’s chosen career track. The booklet will also provide information about the potential growth in a chosen career field and list the most popular occupations within that field and the median income. Information about opportunities for learning outside of the classroom and certification opportunities will also be identified in each booklet.

Under the Portrait of a High School Graduate mandate, “instead of SOLs, our graduates will have to prove their worth with attendance, discipline, with learning the soft skills, and we’ve got to find a way to encourage that among parents, starting with this year’s ninth graders.”

Billy Upton with Ballou Justice Upton Architects shared a 3-D video of the rendering of the county’s new consolidated secondary school buildings and campus. Upton said the design and permitting process are still on track and he expects to break ground for the new buildings by late summer or early fall.

Members of the Southside Youth Development Corporation is partnering with Mecklenburg County Public Schools to enable students who might not otherwise have an opportunity to attend summer camps this year. It is a six-week pilot program, paid for through a Department of Education grant, that will be inline with the career tracks being created by the school division.

They will be modeling their summer camp after the Epic Summer Camp program designed by University Instructors public consulting group in Staunton. The camp programs will be geared toward two subject areas — English Language Arts, STEM, team building, arts and crafts, math, communication, healthful living and EPIC challenges — during each week of the summer camp experience to help students prepare for college and careers.

Through these subjects, students will develop social and emotional intelligence, thinking and life skills, those soft skills educators and employers believe are necessary for success as adults.

Dora Garner asked what age group would attend camp and how they would be chosen. Josh Ellis with University Instructors said the school district will select the camp participants from students in grades six-eight.

The cost, $69.99 per student per day, will be paid from the grant money received by the Southside Youth Development Corporation, and transportation will be provided by the school division.

Nichols said there will be a slight increase in health insurance costs for teachers and staff but that increase will not be passed on to them and the increase will not have to be “picked up by the school.”

School Board Chairman Dale Sturdifen announced that he would not be seeking a third term as trustee. Sturdifen, who is running in the GOP state senate primary on June 11, encouraged anyone living in Election District 2, which covers parts of Chase City and Boydton, to run for the seat he is vacating.

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