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Three Halifax County schools fall short as other make the grade / October 21, 2013

Three Halifax County Schools fell short of earning full state accreditation for the 2013-14 school year — Halifax County Middle Schools, Sinai Elementary and Sydnor Jennings Elementary — but the rest have made the grade.

Nancy Zirkle, school testing coordinator, explained to School Board trustees at their Thursday night monthly meeting that the middle school came up short because 73 percent of students passed the English benchmark test over a three-year period, on average, thus missing the state requirement of 75 percent.

The HCMS pass rate in math was only 62 percent, also below the state requirement of 70 percent.

In contrast, 77 percent of middle school students passed the history test and 76 percent passed in science, thus meeting the state’s 70 percent requirement.

At Sinai Elementary, which also fell short of full accreditation:

• the math passage rate was 67 percent, the school’s lone problem area.

At Sydnor Jennings,

• the 73 passage rate in English was below the state-required 75 percent, and the 67 percent pass rate in math was below the required 70 percent pass rate.

In response to a question about how the schools are addressing the problem, Zirkle said, “We’re doing a lot of training, making school improvement plans, looking at schedules and mentoring to try to bring all our scores up.”

In other business, trustees tackled the issue of rejoining the Governor’s School, but made no decisions on the matter. The board will hold a special meeting on Monday, Nov. 4 at 5:30 p.m. to get more information about participating in the special school.

School guidance counselor Shawn Haws reported that he had talked with representatives of the Keysville school and presented trustees with the costs of participation. The cost per student for those taking the Humanities courses is $4,651.84 while those enrolled in the STEM curriculum are charged $1,839.50.

Haws also told trustees that the school is adding a new field — the Health Science Academy which he hopes to get more information on soon. Trustees discussed the costs of possibly sending five students to the special school next year and ten in the following year.

The Southern Virginia Higher Education had offered to host a virtual Governor’s School, but Haws stressed that Governor’s Schools are given charters and have to be conducted face-to-face which at this time rules out a local virtual governor’s school.

He noted that one of the great advantages of Governor’s School is that it is set up as a college campus and students have the opportunity to mingle with students from the other nine areas involved in the school.

Herndon said the biggest expense lies in the transportation of students to the Keysville campus. She said she has been talking with school administrators in Mecklenburg County about the possibility of sharing transportation costs.

When questioned about the value of participating in Governor’s School, Haws was quick to point out that students have very different ways of learning and that while the high school offers most of the same courses as does Governor’s School, the reaction with students from other areas is often appealing to those at Governor’s School.

The next logical step, he said, if trustees are interested in rejoining the school is to have a representative from the Governor’s School come down and address them.

In other unfinished business, trustees approved a $5,500 budget to have a compensation study of teacher salaries carried out by VASS Educational Services. Trustees Phyllis Smith and Roger Long had served on the compensation committee with administrators Herndon, Valdivia Marshall, Jay Camp, Frosty Owens and Donna Henderson and recommended that the study be carried out.

Trustees, Walter Potts and Cheryl Terry, both expressed concerns about being able to have the money to pay teachers according to what scale might be recommended. Smith, however, said the consultants were advised that the pay scales would have to be governed by the amount of money trustees had available for salaries. The study is expected to be completed by the end of March 2014.

Board chairman Kim Farson asked that trustees Long and Dick Stoneman serve on a finance committee to begin work on next year’s school budget. Herndon offered a schedule which starts the budgeting process with a work session on Nov. 4 with more sessions continuing through March to meet an April 1 deadline for presentation of the school budget to County Supervisors.

Trustees approved a request from Dave Guill, director of transportation to declare 18 old school buses as surplus vehicles, thereby allowing them to be sold. Guill suggested that none of the vehicles is road worthy and might be disposed of through the use of sealed bids.

The board also heard a presentation from Dr. Julie Brown, project director for the Danville River Region Collaborative who advised them of her group’s program for issuing National Career Readiness Certificates. Brown said her region includes six school divisions from Patrick County to Henry County and measures skills in three areas with the support of 25 local employers. The group pays for the tests that are given to the students for their certification.

Earlier in their meeting, trustees heard from three citizens who offered their concerns on different matters.

The first speaker, Greg Donner, who heads the drama department at the high school, asked trustees for help in improving facilities in the high school auditorium. Donner explained that Halifax County Little Theatre had secured a grant from the Virginia Commission of the Arts for an analysis of the existing lighting and curtains and the estimated cost for their upgrades which he believed would run somewhere between $80,000 to $120,000.

He asked board members to look at the study which showed that the curtains in the auditorium are dry rotted, torn and not up to current fire code standards, and the lighting system is obsolete, too weak to light any show presented there.

The second speaker, Angie Scott, said she is a parent of a member fo the high school varsity football team and pointed to the number of players who have quit the squad and the issues they have expressed about the team members and the coach. She suggested that trustees should talk to team members about their concerns with the program.

The third speaker, Diane Thomas, asked trustees to consider reestablishing participation in Governor’s School, at least by considering video conferencing at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center. She said she feels that the school system offers too little for challenging the brighter students at the high school.

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