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Two years, two months to make up in 180 days

South Boston News
Secondary education supervisor Scott Worner discusses strategies to reverse learning loss among students in grades 6-12. / October 18, 2021

With students missing two months of school in the spring of 2020 and spending most of the last school year at home, making up for that learning loss is a daunting task — one that will take years, not months, to manage.

To understand the depth of the challenge, HCPS Director of Elementary Education Lisa Long asked the Halifax County School Board on Thursday to mull the predicament of the average student.

By the end of this school year, this student is expected to show mastery of the current grade level subject matter. To get to that point, however, significant time must be spent catching students up on the material they missed out on a year ago, extending back to the final months of the school year before that.

For students who were already struggling before the pandemic, the climb to normalcy is even higher.

“Third graders now have not been in school a full 180 days since kindergarten,” Long said, offering an example of what teachers face every day in the classroom. At every grade level, with “teachers walking into Halifax County this year, we’re asking them in 180 days to move their current kids [forward by] two years and two months.

“The weight of the world rests on our teachers, our educators,” she said.

Long and other members of the Central Office instructional team spoke at length at Thursday night’s board meeting about the steps HCPS is taking to overcome the educational damage of the pandemic — as evidenced by the county’s 2020-221 spring SOL test scores.

Those tests, administered at a time when many students were still adjusting to the return to school after a long absence or were stuck at home learning remotely, showed the stark impact of being away from classroom. Halifax’s test scores plummeted, in step with the statewide trend, although the dropoff in pass rates was more acute here than in most areas of Virginia.

Two years ago, as the 2019-20 school year dawned, HCPS teachers and administrators were celebrating the full accreditation of all nine county schools. In mathematics, 80 percent of students division-wide had passed their SOLs.

On SOL tests administered in spring 2021, only 29 percent of Halifax County earned passing scores in math.

“As we all know, students benefit from in-person learning, and the safe return to in-person instruction has always been our priority,” said Pamela Eakes, HCPS supervisor of federal programs. “The past 19 months have been challenging.”

Eakes offered trustees some positive news: HCPS, like other school divisions in the U.S., is on the receiving end of an unprecedented stream of federal dollars to help counter the effects of COVID-19. Through a combination of three pandemic relief packages — two enacted in the final year of the Trump administration, the most recent and largest this spring by the Biden White House — the school division has received approximately $17.2 million to spend on covid-related needs, on top of regular budget funding.

With that windfall, Eakes said, HCPS has invested in resources that at other times would likely languish on a wish-list: new computer laptops and Promethean boards, online learning platforms, professional development resources for teachers and classroom paraprofessionals, even big-ticket items such as school buses and upgraded HVAC systems.

Much of the relief funding has gone to pay for summer learning and enrichment programs, after-school instruction and the hiring of more tutors. HCPS has further used the federal funds to fill a range of other positions — teachers, paraprofessionals, reading coaches, math specialists, virtual teachers, behavioral heath specialists and guidance counselors.

“The principals all had unique needs and so we had a wide variety of additional positions hired,” explained Eakes. She cited several examples: at Meadville Elementary, another fifth grade teacher has been added; at South Boston Elementary, two reading coaches; at Sydnor Jennings, a K-1 transition teacher. Under the terms of the coronavirus relief packages, school divisions are required to use 20 percent of the money to address learning loss. “We’ve spent 50 percent,” said Eakes.

Scott Worner, interim director of secondary education, outlined what’s been done at the middle school and high school to make up for lost instructional time — starting this past summer, when summer enrichment classes were offered on top of traditional summer school.

“Our instructional staff at both schools went to great lengths to reach out to parents and students to encourage attendance” at the summer sessions, said Worner.

All but seven students at HCMS took part in the summer recovery sessions — with the majority attending a first session of classes, the rest attending a second set, and some students taking part in both, said Worner.

At the high school, 195 students took part in the first session of summer recovery classes, and 143 participated in the second session. Overall, “student participation in summer school programs was up nearly 300 percent compared to the last previous normal year,” said Worner.

The summer recovery sessions also proved vital for students who were on schedule to graduate in June but fell short of the academic requirements. Nearly all these outgoing seniors participated in the summer classes and most “were successful and were awarded a high school diploma later in the summer,” said Worner.

The goal this summer of the secondary education instructional staff, Worner added, was “to provide our students with a jump start and an equal playing field for this school year …. It shows you how hard our teachers really work to pull those out of the trenches that aren’t doing what they should be doing, or need the motivation.”

The same goes for helping to bolster students “who are ahead of the game, and don’t need a lot of motivation but are still being pushed [to excel],” Worner said.

“When you come right down to it, we have some of the best kids [in Halifax] and we absolutely have the best teachers.”

In a further measure of teachers’ dedication, Worner added, 70 members of the faculty put in some 1,600 hours of work this summer to revamp the secondary education curriculum to align with Virginia’s Profile of a Graduate, with its emphasis on the “5 C’s” — critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, communication, and citizenship.

Many of those summer staff hours also went toward putting together instructional pacing guides for the upcoming school year, a particularly valuable resource for new teachers. Of these new hires, around 80 percent were products of the Halifax County school system, said Worner.

“That speaks volumes about our own waiting to come back and give back,” he said.

Long offered an impassioned defense of the effort that teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators and staff put into the task of educating Halifax County’s children.

“When we think about test scores, we need to remember that our teachers are doing the best that they can. And when our scores come back, we need to show grace to our teachers, our educators,” she said.

At the elementary levels, teachers are dealing with overwhelming challenges — trying to teach the youngest learners how to read through phonics, yet wearing masks that cover their lips; keeping young children socially distanced; serving meals in the classroom; keeping track of seating charts that are key to the school division’s contact tracing health and safety protocols.

Another frustrating challenge, said Long: developing lesson plans for children that are already behind on their learning, then seeing them sent home to quarantine due to potential exposure to COVID-19.

The emotional impact, Long said, is grinding. “I go from building to building, I talk to parents. They all wonder, ‘Is today the day that my child is going to get the phone call [to quarantine], and I have to worry that my child is coming down with covid?’ Teachers every day walk into their classrooms and say, ‘Is today the day I’m going to get covid and take it home to my children?’ It weighs on everyone.”

Because of the enormous pressure on teachers right now, it has become very difficult to find classroom substitutes whenever a teacher is away. “We know why people don’t want to come and be substitutes. The responsibility is great,” said Long. Because substitutes are scarce, teachers are having to give up their planning periods to cover for colleagues when they are away.

Principals who would rather sit in on classroom sessions — particularly to support beginning elementary school teachers — are tied up making calls home to parents, or pushing meal carts from classroom to classroom, or pulled away by other tasks.

“If I’m a parapro,” said Long, “I get pulled from one job to the next job to the next job.

“This is daunting what we’re asking people to do.

“Every minute of the day, a teacher has to plan out every move he or she takes. It’s exhausting for our teachers.

“Everything a teacher has to do, has to be thought out,” she said.

Wrapping up her presentation, Long said she had only one request to make of trustees — that they find a way to implement the employee pay scale recommended by Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg, which would dramatically increase salaries for division employees based on experience.

The School Board and Board of Supervisors are looking at mid-year implementation of the revised pay scale, beginning in January. To sustain the pay increases, the Board of Supervisors is being asked to raise the county’s real estate tax rate by two cents, from 50 cents to 52 cents. For the owner of a $100,000 home, the extra tax would be $20 a year.

“I encourage you to do all you can do to implement the salary package in January,” said Long. “They deserve that.”

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NO, they are making the teachers sound like they are working a cotton field. Sorry I know teachers and the problem is the DOE in Richmond, and the central office and the admins that hide in the office an blame the teacher when things go wrong. A teacher has a 200 day contract and of that contract they only work around 190-195 days. For 7 hours a day and a few extra duties, they are getting paid enough. Try working a real job where you don't get summer off, you don't get 2 weeks for Christmas, a week for Easter 2-3 days for Thanksgiving. It is time we the people who are paying the bill stand up and say enough is enough! BTW federal money is still tax $$$ these dummies in the central office don't seem to get that. NO New TAXES!~


"Real Job"? God really was scraping the bottom of the barrel when he made you. The greatest gift your mother could have ever contributed to society would have been for her to abort your sorry, worthless sack of skin.


allpolitical2 The days and times on contracts for HCPS employees are for time IN THE CLASS ROOM!!!!! There are days when you and others have had dinner and are relaxing and the teachers are at school working and neglecting their own families for the children of this county. They take work home, still neglecting their families, working way beyond the contracted time and days. You also said " try working a real job" the " summer's off".. much of that time is spent working on the next school year, summer school, or taking classes in order to keep their teaching license to continue teaching. It's not just "free time". Also, you said " It is time we the people who are paying the bill stand up..." Guess what??? The employees of Halifax County Public Schools PAY TAXES, Federal, State, Social Security, Real Estate taxes. If you really want to get to the nitty gritty, the employees are paying their own salaries.


….Allpolitical2, have you ever written Anything positive about the county or the school system or teachers. Teachers work hard for their money.. they have to spend four years in college, in state in Virginia is about $20k a year if you did not know “K” means thousand so some will owe $80,000 before they teach their first class. Then they have to take a state exam an undergo an fbi background check. And in the classroom the teachers try to control and discipline the kids their parents could not. And you also speak of taxes. According to the State of Virginia, the average personal property tax in Halifax is $502, Campbell co. Is $641, Charlotte is $574, Mecklenburg is $521, and Pittsylvania is $557. Fallschurch averages $6000 and fairfax over $4500. Sir, for your next writing can you pick one item and talk nice or are you all venom?


So sorry I offended the snowflakes in Oz, really, and real.
Yes a real job, teachers have a government job that is not affected by daily economic problems like say farming, small business ownership. This is true of all government jobs, they do not produce anything. If you don't understand that you need to re take Econ 101. My mother was a teacher for a time an she said it was the easiest job she had so realall keep my mother out of it. I love how demorats can't argue a point they start name calling. Really, sorry I have read the contract. They are contacted to work a 200 day contract, most school years are approximately 180 days the open house days/ nights are considered two days, yes they have to stay late. Really proved my point, a pay raise will actually hurt their take home pay. They should all do a cost benefit analysis before screaming for a pay raise. An OZ if you want to pay higher taxes MOVE! I like my low taxes and I want them to stay low!


So all political, you proved my point. Nothing positive can you write. Do you have anything positive to say or ever said anything good about the county or government? As far back as March 2012, almost 10 years ago, you wrote after an article about George Wright, a murderer not being extradited to the US by the country of Portugal … wrote a murderer can get away,, but if you don,t pay your taxes Obama will come for you. With you living in probably a big house looking down a your neighbors, should the school system drop all athletics, get rid of the new heating systems and go back to say a pot belly coal heater in each room, get rid of the computers and every student use a pencil and notebook? You have never given any credit to county government or the school system. But, it seems you have stepped up, it looks like you have a computer. What is your next topic, RN Nurses getting a $7500 sign on bonus and making $45to $75 an hour?


allpolitical2, maybe teaching was the easiest job your mama ever had, but she sure screwed up on raising you. Anyone as mean, heartless, cruel, disrespectful, stupid, and unintelligent as you had to come from a broken home. You get on here and troll people with your crazy ideas and uninformed opinions. You've raised a few blood pressures, but what else have you done? Nothing. You can't even make sense when you're bitching about things. You hate it so much here, then leave. You're perfectly free to up and go whenever you want, thereby increasing both property values and happiness levels in this county.


Allpolitical2… are so much in the minority….most parents want more and better for their children and I am very pleased how far race relations have come in my lifetime. But it is still a long road to go for some. I see ABB is adding over 100 jobs, some progress for the county. But we do have empty IDA buildings. I think our county and city employees are working very hard to advance the county. And really, take a look at how much teachers, lawyers, doctors, or. Nurses owe to be certified for their profession. You have only singled one of those professions out, which makes me think you must have had problems somewhere in your elementary or high school studies, were you held back? Our state and local taxes are not too high. But if you think so, move. Buchanan county taxes are less than $300 a year average

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