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Trustee alleges high school disparities

SoVaNow.com / August 21, 2019


Frustrated by what she sees as unequal educational opportunities for students at Bluestone High School, trustee Dora Garner peppered fellow School Board members with questions that she said points up a problem with school division priorities.

Garner came prepared to Monday night’s board meeting with a list of written questions, many of which she answered herself, about dual enrollment and AP classes that are offered — or not offered — to high school students at both Park View and Bluestone.

Asking why more students at Bluestone High School took advance placement tests compared to the number at Park View, Garner attempted to elicit an acknowledgement by Superintendent Paul Nichols that students at Bluestone have fewer opportunities to earn dual enrollment (DE) credits. That shortcoming, she argued, leaves Bluestone students with only one option for rigorous classwork — the Advanced Placement classes.

Students at Bluestone who take AP courses do not earn dual enrollment credits, according to Garner, while those taking AP classes at Park View can earn dual enrollment credits since the Park View AP classes are taught by the same teacher who teaches the DE class.

Students who pass dual enrollment classes in high school earn credits toward a community college associate’s degree, which in some cases could eliminate up to two years of four-year college and reduce the cost of obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Teachers who do not meet the dual enrollment certification standards set by the community college board cannot teach DE classes, although they can teach AP. The primary requirement for teaching dual enrollment coursework is having a master’s degree in the field of study.

According to Garner, no Bluestone students will earn an associate’s degree at the end of the current school year, but at least 24 students at Park View High School will earn their AA degree.

Garner’s other frustrations, which she said demonstrate a disparity of educational opportunity for students on the east and west ends of the county, include:

» Classroom sizes — no teacher at Park View has a class with more than 25 students while some classes at Bluestone have as many as 29 students.

» Students at Bluestone who do not wish to take an AP English class have no other options but to enroll in a general English class. Garner asked why students are no longer allowed to participate in Park View’s DE English class via video conferencing, as was done last year after the only qualified DE English teacher was transferred from Bluestone to Park View.

» Students who attend the Regional Governor’s School from Bluestone will not earn their associate’s degree because they will not earn enough credits to qualify for the degree, Garner claimed. Trustee Wanda Bailey said this could become a universal problem since the community colleges may not allow students in the ninth and tenth grades to take dual enrollment classes. Historically, this is the only way students in Mecklenburg County were able to earn the number of credits they needed for an AA degree, Bailey said;

» There is preferential treatment afforded the children of School Board members when it comes to dual enrollment opportunities, Garner claimed. While he was not named by Garner, trustee Brent Richey took this to be a reference to him, since his children attend Park View High School and thus able to earn dual enrollment credits in English, which is not available to students at Bluestone. Moreover, Richey’s wife, who is the division’s only qualified DE English teacher, was allowed to transfer from Bluestone High School to Park View High School at the start of the 2018/19 school year.

Richey chose not to engage Garner over her final comment other than to ask her to clarify what she meant. Nichols interjected that he was not aware of the problem with students at Bluestone not having the same opportunities until Garner raised the points during the meeting and promised to investigate the matter.

“We are concerned about equal opportunity for our students. More than two years ago we realized there would be an issue with finding qualified DE teachers and thus the move toward classes with high rigor through AP classes,” said Nichols.

“The additional accreditation requirements imposed by community colleges have removed a number of teachers from the qualifying pool. Whether the students receive DE or not comes from the community college, so we will have to take a good strong look to make sure opportunities are being made available,” he said.

Nichols’ words were not enough to appease vice chairman Gavin Honeycutt. “I have strong concerns. We have the technology and teachers for these DE courses in one place or another. We need to be Skyping, so every student has the same opportunity to succeed. So instead of telling me why we can’t do it, tell me how we can. We need to make those opportunities available and we need to be doing it now.”

In other business, board members learned that the most recent audit of the school activity funds at each of the schools in the county was clean and there were no significant findings.

Bill Mayhew, who heads the school division transportation department, said the bus schedule for the new school year is in place and transportation for the first week went smoothly with only a few students getting on the wrong bus.

He also said the cameras installed in the 15 new buses allow drivers and his staff to view everything that occurs on the buses, including destruction of the bus, altercations and more. “We can see from every angle.”

By selling several the older buses, those that had been in use since 1998 or before, Mayhew also said the school division raised $200,000 which was used to pay down the debt service owed on the new buses.

Nichols said the division is making considerable progress toward fulfilling the one-to-one laptop initiative for students. By the end of the 2020-21 school year, every student in grades 1-12 will have a chrome book that they can take home with them for use during the school year.

The school division has ordered 72 new clear touch boards (interactive boards) to replace broken Promethean boards in the classrooms. To date several of the boards have yet to be delivered. Once received, they will be installed, Nichols said. The goal is to replace all Promethean boards with clear touch boards by the time the students migrate into their new school campus in Baskerville, since the clear touch boards are portable, they can be moved into the new facility.

The school division has also hired a new compliment of janitors and Nichols as well as Honeycutt and Garner commended head of operations, Brian Dalton, on the cleanliness of the buildings ahead of the first day of school. Honeycutt also praised Dalton for the landscaping work done outside each school.

Dalton said the credit should go to Green Acres Landscaping of Clarksville, the contractor hired to maintain the grounds at each school building and the division central office.

Robin Moore, head of food services, said the free breakfast and lunch program offered at the elementary schools is being well received, so far.

Nichols shared the news that projections from the state anticipate that the school age population in Mecklenburg County will continue to decline over the next few years. In each of the last decades, Mecklenburg County schools have lost around five percent of their student population. Virginia’s Secretary of Education is looking at new standards of quality that will more positively impact rural schools according to Nichols to address this issue.

Finally, Nichols shared a draft crisis plan for each of the schools. These must be submitted to the state. Nichols said the plans were developed in conjunction with local law enforcement and Emergency Services Director Jon Taylor.

Board member Rob Campbell, who is also a sergeant with the state police said his initial review uncovered one issue that needs to be addressed for safety reasons. The current plans make the head administrator at each school the “principal commander” during periods of crisis. They are not the most knowledgeable as they often lack tactical experience, according to Campbell. For that reason, the principal commander should be the most senior ranking first responder on site. In cases of fire, that would be the senior firefighter, for medical emergencies that would be the senior medic and for other emergencies that would be law enforcement. Each plan should include language that designates the school principal as a liaison with the principal commander once the first responders are on site.

Nichols agreed noting that this is the input he needs before submitting the plans to the state as required by law.

During the public comment period, Donna Wall, the parent of a Park View High School student shared her frustration that her child was not told that the school would not offer a class in AP statistics except online, during the current school year. Her child had enrolled in the class and did not learn it was not available until the first day of school. By then, the enrollment period for taking the online class – Virtual Virginia Statistics – had closed.

The closing comment for the board meeting was offered by Trustee Wanda Bailey who is an outspoken proponent of reading to children. She reminded those with school age children that the start of the school year was a perfect time to begin a new tradition and read to or with your child.

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Comments

So the division Superintendent was unaware of the disparity between the two schools and the DE offerings at each location. This didn't just happen for the 2019-18 school year, it also happened during the 2018-19 school year. How does a Superintendent not know that students at ONE of only TWO high schools he has to over see are not able to earn DE credits and that Bluestone students, including Governor's School, will not earn an Associates degree?


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