By Callie Hietala
The majority of students in county schools are white and economically disadvantaged, according to the educational equity report delivered to the Henry County School Board on Nov. 4.
Monica Hatchett, director of public relations, told the board that of the 7,130 students enrolled in the 2020-2021 school year, 60 percent were classified as economically disadvantaged. More than 54 percent were white, 22.1 percent were Black, and 15.3 percent were identified as Hispanic. According to the report, 16.3 percent of the student body are students with disabilities.
Among student groups, when compared to the general student population, enrollment in advanced coursework is slightly lower among Black and Hispanic students, and slightly higher among white students, however, “our economically disadvantaged students are almost equally represented,” Hatchett said.
The report indicated that 60.7 percent of students enrolled in advanced coursework are white, 19.6 percent are Black, and 12.6 percent are Hispanic. More than 40 percent taking advanced coursework are economically disadvantaged.
“Students identified as gifted also fall into those same categories,” Hatchett said, “slightly lower percentages in the area of Hispanic and African American students, slightly higher in the area of white students, but equal in our area of economic disadvantage.”
Hatchett also noted that the division’s on-time graduation rate is slightly above the state minimum and the largest dropout category are white students.
Among students earning industry credentials, which students are eligible to do in grades 9-12, “our Hispanic students have slightly higher representation in their population, as do our white students, and our representation of African American students is slightly lower than the overall population of African American students,” Hatchett said, and added that economically disadvantaged students were again equally represented.
She told the board that the schools’ equity teams are examining the data to determine what steps need to be taken to provide additional support to students, so the populations are more equitably represented in the various areas of achievement.
The entire equity report is available to view online via the school board meetings, minutes, and agendas section under the school board tab on Henry County Public Schools website.
In other matters, the board:
*Heard public comment. Several people spoke out against the mask mandate. Jennifer Jones of the Blackberry District said a poem at Campbell Court Elementary encouraging students to wear a mask was the equivalent of emotional abuse. Brandon Cline, also of the Blackberry District, said if board members did not act on the mandate, he would send his daughter to school without a mask every day and encourage other parents to do the same.
Ron James of the Ridgeway District said that, with reversion coming, it is time for a new direction. He told the board it was time to start looking for a new superintendent who would bring a sense of family back to the school system.
The Rev. Tyler Millner said that it is unfortunate a solution to school consolidation was not worked out before reversion, but this is an opportune time to be creative and transformative to provide the best education for the entire community.
*Recognized Rich Acres Elementary, which was recently named among the best elementary schools in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. According to Hatchett, “the U.S. News and World Report K-12 directory encompasses 102,610 preschools, elementary, middle, and high schools that are ranked based on achievement in their school based on data submitted by each state.” Rich Acres Elementary was in the top 30 percent of schools in the nation.
*Discussed Take Your Legislator to School Month. Due to ongoing pandemic-related visitation restrictions, this year, schools will record a video.
*Distributed Virginia School Board Association (VSBA) Academy Awards to chairman Thomas Auker, Benjamin Gravely, Merris Stambaugh, and Terri Flanagan. Francis Zehr received an award of achievement, Superintendent Sandy Strayer received an award of honor, and Teddy Martin received an award of distinction.
*Heard an update from Assistant Superintendent Dr. David Scott on renovations to the G.W. Carver cafeteria. A meeting is scheduled on Nov. 18 for stakeholders, architects, and consultants.
*Heard from Lisa Millner, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, that a position for a traditional school psychologist has been posted without any applicants. The board voted to approve multiple vendors for a variety of educational and related services positions that may become available.
*Approved editorial policy revisions.
*Awarded $318,000 to RRMM Architects for professional A&E services to design and provide construction documents for the replacement of Magna Vista’s domestic hot water system and to finish replacing the HVAC system at Bassett High School. $228,000 would come from American Rescue Plan (ESSER II) funds and $90,000 from FY2022 Professional Services budget.
*Awarded $184,995 in American Rescue Plan (ESSERII) funds to Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates to provide design and construction documents to replace the HVAC system serving the gyms and locker rooms at Fieldale-Collinsville and Laurel Park Middle School, which also will add air conditioning to the facilities. The firm will also provide documents for the addition of air conditioning in the kitchen areas at the Center for Community Learning and Fieldale-Collinsville Middle Schools.
*Revised the current school year calendar to include an additional 12-month holiday on Dec. 23 and remote learning days on Nov. 22 and 23.
*Heard the superintendent’s monthly highlights report.
*Toured the new bus garage located in the former Millard’s Machinery factory. It is anticipated that the transportation team will be relocating to the new facility during winter break.