School Board briefed on improved graduation rate, laptop program innovations

Skylour Stultz is this year’s Student Advisory Council co-chair. The SAC is made up of high school and middle school students from the county schools. Their purpose is to give a student perspective on issues at hand. Stultz attends Northside High School and is the daughter of Chasity Barbour, Events and Operations Manager at the Vinton War Memorial.

Dr. Rhonda Stegall, Director of Secondary Instruction, opened the Roanoke County School Board meeting on September 28 with remarks about the importance of preparing students for 21st Century Learning with an emphasis on developing the 5 C’s: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, cooperation, and communication. She thanked the board for continuing to support innovative programs in the county schools that foster those skills.

It was announced that the on-time graduation rate has increased again in Roanoke County Schools to an astounding 94.2 percent.

Several citizens addressed the board. Some spoke about the Poage Farm property off U.S. 221 near Bent Mountain, purchased by the School Board in 2007 for $2.5 million as a future school site. The economic recession struck soon after, however, and school enrollments declined so no school was built on the land.

The 54.7 acres have continued to be farmed by David Poage, whose family has owned and worked the land for generations and who sold the board the property under some duress. There are still no plans to develop the land.

Poage was granted the right to continue farming the land and has leased the property for $1 per year for 10 years. His lease was up on September 30. The School Board asked that he begin paying $7,000 per year to continue the arrangement, which they said would pay the real estate taxes on the land at its current assessed value.

Poage said that he could only afford to pay $3,000 per year (about $60 per acre) to continue to lease and work the farm. He did not speak at the meeting, but several others, including Galen Grubb, Heather Davis and RoxAnne Christley, asked the board to come up with the funds so that Poage could continue to farm there. They said that it would cost the board more for maintenance on property standing idle than the $3,000 Poage is willing to pay to continue to lease the land.

School Board Chairman Tim Greenway struck a conciliatory tone and said that the board is committed to continuing negotiations on a lease extension and he was sure the issue could be resolved.

Parent Rachel Woodson also addressed the board with concerns about diversity among the school personnel in Roanoke County Schools, especially at her child’s elementary school. Board member Jason Moretz thanked Woodson for her remarks and pointed out that the board is ever mindful of this issue and, in fact, principals at two of the county’s five high schools are African-American.

Skylour Stultz was introduced as the new co-chair of the Student Advisory Council, which works with the School Board to provide a student perspective on various issues. Each high school and middle school selects representatives to the SAC. Stultz is a senior at Northside High School and is the daughter of Chasity Barbour, Events and Operations Manager at the Vinton War Memorial.

Dr. Stegall and Jeff Terry, Chief Information Officer, presented an update on the laptop one-to-one program, which has been expanded to include grades 6-12 this school year.

The board enthusiastically endorsed adding sixth graders to the program when the budget was developed last spring. The 1:1 laptop program for sixth graders increased instructional time in that they no longer had to move to computer labs for instruction. It also freed up the computer lab space for other classes and innovative activities.

Terry told the board this is the 15th anniversary of the laptop program, begun in 2002, which “has become a pillar of the teaching program.” This school year around 8,000 mobile computers are in the hands of individual students on either a take-home or daily check-out/check-in basis.

This summer the IT and ITRT staff and teachers collaborated on how to make the program more efficient and effective, including the rolling out of the computers at the beginning of each school year. They focused on a uniform distribution of the laptops to students countywide. Computers were delivered to schools early in August with a four-day kick-off of the program anticipated once school opened. The laptop handout started on fourth day of the school year.

The technology staff instituted an InfoSnap online laptop orientation and introduced technology modules in school demonstrating the basic skills necessary for using the computer programs and Office 365.

Network security has been improved as well. There is a laptop depot at each school for the small percentage of students who do not take the computers home at night but instead check them in and out each day.

“I am extremely happy to be a part of this board bringing access to children with less opportunities to gain access,” said Greenway. “Hopefully, our children will be ahead or at least up to speed with all children learning in the technology age.  Our middle school principals voiced their approval of the idea and our board responded.”


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