In normal years, the Roanoke Regional Chamber hosts the Roanoke County State of the County and the State of the Schools addresses together at a breakfast meeting. Members of the Board of Supervisors, School Board, Chamber, Roanoke County officials and staff, and Vinton Town Council and staff gather for some socializing followed by the speeches and presentations.
This year, in one more bow to COVID-19, the State of the County Address was presented virtually by Board of Supervisors Chair David Radford on November 12. The State of the Schools address was presented by Chairman Mike Wray via video on November 19.
Wray’s speech was not your run-of-the-mill presentation—it was a show and tell tour of several representative county schools demonstrating the actual state of the schools to citizens. The video tour was produced over the course of three days by Roanoke County Schools Director of Community Relations Chuck Lionberger and RVTV3. Wray was even asked to come in the same suit for each filming.
Here’s his presentation, in part:
As we all know, 2020 has been a year like no other and this year’s state of the schools presentation is no different. With some help from RVTV, we’re going to take you around to some of our schools to see first-hand instruction during this pandemic and how Roanoke County Public Schools continues to be an innovative leader in education.
We all recall in March how overnight our schools were thrust into pandemic mode. Over the span of just a few days, our teachers and students had to transition from teaching and learning in the classroom to teaching and learning from home.
I commend our entire instructional staff for how they handled such a rapid transition last spring. Fast forward to summer and our staff were hard at work planning for how to bring students back in a safe way while also adhering to public health safety guidelines including mask wearing and social distancing.
The School Board remains committed to making sure our schools are as safe as they can be, and that includes during this pandemic. Our staff has worked diligently to develop a health plan to keep students safe.
The view from Fort Lewis Elementary School: Students sit at desks that are spaced at least six feet apart, and everyone must wear masks except when they are at their desks and six feet apart. On the school bus, students must wear masks at all times, and we’re spacing students out to one child per seat, with siblings sitting together.
We also encourage all students and staff to wash their hands frequently. All students and staff are temperature-screened every morning and anyone showing symptoms is sent home. We developed a daily health screening checklist and I’d like to remind parents and staff to please review this checklist every day. Anyone showing any symptoms needs to stay home.
What many parents don’t see is all the cleaning that takes place after school hours. Our building managers and custodians work every day to make sure classrooms, hallways and other spaces are cleaned and disinfected. We’re following standard practices, including daily use of an anti-viral solution called Virex, to keep our schools clean.
Every week, our teams give our schools a deep cleaning by spraying classrooms with Virex using a hydrostatic sprayer that helps it bond with surfaces–even in places that are harder to reach. I want to thank all the cleaning crews for all their hard work–they are on the front lines in the battle against this virus and we all appreciate their efforts.
The same cleaning process happens multiple times a day on our school buses. After each run, drivers stop and wipe down surfaces with Virex before beginning the next route. At the end of the day, each bus is hydrostatically sprayed.
Throughout our schools we have posters reminding everyone to “Check your 6,” to make sure you’re maintaining at least a six-foot distance from other people. We’re asking everyone in our community to do the same whenever you’re outside your home.
The best way we’re going to beat this pandemic and keep the coronavirus out of our schools is if we all work together as a team.
The view from Hidden Valley Middle School: Education is at the heart of what we do. We’re here to make sure every student in every classroom and in every school is Opportunity Ready.
What does opportunity ready mean? It means we’re working to prepare our students to take advantage of whatever opportunities may come in the future. Many of the jobs our students will perform in the future don’t exist today. Our mission, then, is to equip students with the skills and knowledge to be ready for these opportunities when they arise. Even during this pandemic, we remain focused on being opportunity ready. We began this unique school year on a hybrid plan, which is a combination of in-person and online learning.
This presented us with a big challenge at each of our 27 schools. How do we fit students into the classroom and maintain six-foot separation? The only viable solution was to stagger when students were in school and that’s the hybrid plan–which is an expandable plan.
When we began the school year, students in preschool through second grade were attending school full time, five days a week. Students in third through 12th grade were attending school in person two days a week and learned online the other three days.
The hybrid plan is expandable, and we expanded the plan at the start of the second grading period when we brought third grade students back to school full-time, five days a week.
We are already looking at options for how we could expand our plan even further and bring back additional grades full time. While I, and every other School Board member, along with the school administration, fully support having all students in school full time, we can only do so following public health guidance.
I wanted to take a moment and talk about in-person education. While it does look different than previous years, our teachers continue to provide excellent instruction for our students and our students have many of the same opportunities for hands-on instruction.
This year, we have many students who have chosen to learn completely online. We greatly expanded our online program called RCPSOnline. We have several teachers at the elementary school level who are now dedicated to only online instruction. These teachers collaborate with classroom teachers to make sure all students in the same grade at the same school are following the same instruction schedule.
At the secondary level, we’ve created an entirely new academy. A high school student can now receive 100 percent online instruction and graduate with a diploma from one of our high schools. Best of all, these students are eligible to participate in high school sports, activities and events – and, for Roanoke County residents, this all comes at no cost to the student– and we provide the laptop.
We encourage parents who currently are homeschooling to consider the RCPSOnline Academy.
Speaking of technology, our staff has done an incredible job creating all this additional online content and supporting the immense technology needs of our students and teachers. We’re very fortunate to have such a robust technology program at Roanoke County Public Schools.
The view from Burlington Elementary: When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last spring, the nutrition staff at Burlington Elementary School and at schools all across Roanoke County jumped into action. Right away, we provided free meals for children delivered by school buses or available for pickup. This was an all-hands-on-deck operation with bus drivers, instructional assistants, teachers, administrators, and central office staff helping make sure our children had access to nutritious meals. This was a huge undertaking; far larger than any free meals program we’ve done before and our nutrition staff rose to the occasion.
I want to express our thanks and appreciation to our school nutrition team and again, congratulations to our own nutrition supervisor, Rhonda Huffman, who was named Nutrition Manager of the Year for the National Southeast Region.
We continued to prepare free meals throughout the summer and, in the end, provided almost 249,000 meals to children. Shortly after the start of school, we were able to once again provide free meals to children 18 and under.
So far, we’ve provided over 200,000 additional meals to children, whether they’re learning in school or learning at home. We will continue to provide free meals to anyone 18 and under for the rest of the school year.
While we’re talking about our nutrition team, we’re looking for more people to join that team. If you’re interested, please see our online employment page to submit an application. Our nutrition associates are amazing people who truly care about making sure children have good food and we hope you’ll consider joining this team.
The view from Cave Spring High School: As the Cave Spring District representative and alumni, it’s my pleasure to welcome you to the newly renovated and expanded Cave Spring High School. Eighteen months and lots of hard work and perseverance have paid off. Despite the pandemic, we were able to complete this long-awaited complete renovation and expansion of the home of the Knights.
Gone is the old hexagon. Gone is the sunken library. Gone is the old dark downstairs area. When crews finished demolition, all that was left was the concrete slab and the steel supports. This school was completely gutted. Our students dealt with modular classrooms (better known as trailers) and outdoor living, while this more than 50-year-old school was given new life.
I want to once again thank the Class of 2020 who were never able to experience a senior year in their high school. When the time comes, we will hold an open house for parents, students and alumni to tour the new school.
The foyer is the only part of the original school that retained its look. We expanded the front of the building to create all new administration and counseling areas and enhanced the security at the entrance. From the front of the school, you can look all the way back to the cafeteria, which has all-new kitchen equipment and more efficient service lines.
The entire school was redesigned to improve traffic flow and to maximize space with larger classrooms like this one. Now, teachers and students have space to move around and collaborate. Every classroom has an active board for learning and content sharing.
We added an expansion on the Chapparal Drive side of the school to create all new science classrooms so students can conduct experiments and participate in labs.
Downstairs, the locker rooms, weight room and other athletic spaces have been completely remodeled to provide our student athletes with the proper space they need for training and competition.
The gym floor has been completely replaced and we’ve added all-new bleachers. Also, the auditorium has been renovated with all new seats and new sound equipment.
While this renovation and expansion project is coming to an end, we’re ramping up for our next major project.
The view from William Byrd High School: We’re getting ready for our next major renovation and expansion project, which will be at William Byrd High School. We recently approved the construction contract, and we plan to start initial construction work next summer with an estimated completion by the middle of the 2022-2023 school year. We’ll have more information on this project in the coming weeks on the William Byrd High School project website.
Roanoke County Public Schools continues to be a state and national leader in education. Earlier I mentioned our commitment to preparing our students to be opportunity ready. At the heart of this commitment is deeper learning. This instruction is engaging and purposeful. Our work to promote and provide deeper learning experience is garnering statewide attention.
Earlier this year, the Virginia Board of Education recognized Roanoke County Public Schools as one of the state’s first “School Divisions of Innovation” for designing and implementing multiple approaches and opportunities supporting deeper learning for all students.
We’re committed to spreading the promise of deeper learning to every student, in every school and in every classroom. In order to make that happen, we are in the process of embedding existing curriculum with innovative and effective deeper learning experiences that are mapped to key success skills.
You’ve heard of these skills before–citizenship, collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. By the time our students complete their public school education, they will experience engaging lessons designed to encourage creativity and critical thinking. By graduation, our students will have a portfolio of their work which will demonstrate that they truly are Opportunity Ready.
We are also working to develop and promote a culture of kindness, respect and responsibility in our schools. RCPS is implementing a nationwide program called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS. This is an evidence-based prevention and intervention program that supports the academic, social, emotional and behavioral competence of all students.
There are three main tenants of the PBIS program at Roanoke County Public Schools–Be Safe, Be Respectful, and Be Responsible.
With these three goals in mind, we are using the PBIS program to focus on social and emotional learning, school safety, trauma, school equity, substance abuse prevention, bullying prevention and suicide prevention.
One way we are using the PBIS program is to combat bullying. Together with our community partners, we are expanding our bullying prevention efforts with a program called Expect Respect. Through the Expect Respect program we’re helping students understand the basic tenants of being respectful: appropriate behavior, language, personal space, making people feel safe and comfortable. It’s all about creating a great environment for learning – and that leads to academic success.
Earlier this year, we recognized Hidden Valley High School as one of the nation’s Blue Ribbon Schools. This is like the Oscars for public schools – the most prestigious award any school can receive, and Hidden Valley is one of eight schools in the state and the only high school in Virginia to receive this award this year.
Even with some of the current challenges created by this pandemic, our teachers and our entire staff are working hard every day to provide excellent instruction for all our students and it’s one more reason why Roanoke County Public Schools has an excellent reputation for instruction.
Throughout this presentation, we’ve seen the great work of our staff to provide instruction for all our students despite many challenges. We don’t know when our schools may be able to return to normal, but that is our ultimate goal.
Even though we are operating in pandemic mode for the time being, we must still prepare for the time when all students return to the classroom. We still have many issues we need to address, one of which, is the aging conditions of several schools.
The view from Northside Middle School: Nine of our schools are in need of significant renovation, including Northside Middle School. We have an obligation to provide our students with updated schools that give students the best instructional experience.
About half our schools were constructed or last renovated more than 20 years ago. Six schools have not seen any significant improvements since the late 1960s or early 1970s.
The Burton Center for Arts and Technology (BCAT), which provides amazing opportunities for students and is a key factor in workforce development for Roanoke County, must be replaced with a larger facility that meets current industry standards to provide greater learning experiences for our students.
State funding has not kept up with inflation, especially construction costs. We are operating, essentially, at the same level of funding from a decade ago, when accounting for inflation. That places the burden for funding on the localities to cover the gap.
At the current funding levels, it will take decades to update the nine schools that are most in need of renovations. By that time, many of our other schools will start to need significant updates.
We continue to work with the Board of Supervisors to find ways to speed up these renovations and we thank the Board of Supervisors for all their support–especially during this pandemic.
Some will say 2020 was not the best of years. That may be true in some respects, but in 2020, we saw teachers, parents and students come together in ways we couldn’t have imagined, to overcome challenges and find opportunities.
We celebrated the Class of 2020 in multiple creative ways despite the pandemic. We found ways to provide meals for kids who needed them. We made sure learning kept moving forward, no matter the method.
In 2020, we found more in ourselves. We discovered our ability to be resilient and to adapt to a changing world. If we did all this in 2020, just imagine what we can accomplish in 2021.