Magna Vista High School student Kennedy Coleman is pictured with brothers G. Rodney Young and Terry Young, whose family sponsored a scholarship for Coleman to attend a three-week American Shakespeare Center theater workshop in Staunton this summer. Coleman and the Youngs were recognized by the Henry County School Board at their regular Oct. 3 meeting.

By Kim Barto Meeks

Staff Writer

The Henry County School Board on Oct. 3 approved awarding a $309,000 contract to Frith Construction of Ridgeway to install an elevator at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School. Frith was one of two vendors submitting a proposal.

The elevator is needed to help students and visitors with disabilities access the second floor of the school. Without the elevator, someone who cannot climb the stairs “would have to go all the way around to the back of the building just to get upstairs,” said school division spokesperson Monica Hatchett. This is a particular problem in extreme weather, such as rain or cold, she said.

Because the school building was built in 1965, it is “grandfathered in” on certain requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Hatchett said. However, the school system identified the elevator as a need to make the building more accessible to those with wheelchairs and limited mobility.

“Equity is one of our focal points, and we want to make sure everyone has the same opportunities,” Hatchett said. Along those lines, she added, “We installed handicapped ramps at front of building this summer so that anyone can enter the front doors of the school instead of going around the side.”

It will be summer 2020 before the elevator is operational.

Facilities and Maintenance Director Keith Scott told the board that “elevator companies have about a 20-week lead time,” which is standard for the industry. He also noted that the project is “well below budget.”

Also at the regular Oct. 3 meeting, the school board heard a report on school accreditation from Michael Minter, Director of Assessment and Accountability. Minter said all 14 schools in Henry County are accredited and experienced growth in student scores. This is even though the Virginia Department of Education made changes to the accreditation standards that schools must meet in 2017-18.

In order to be accredited, schools at all grade levels must show overall proficiency in English, math, and science. Achievement gaps between different groups of students in English and math, and rates of chronic absenteeism are also taken into account. Elementary and middle schools must show growth in student proficiency rates in reading/writing and math. High schools are graded on their on-time graduation, completion, and dropout rates. New for the class of 2022, 85 percent of graduates must show “college, career and civic readiness.”

Minter noted that Henry County’s on-time graduation rates have risen from 87 percent in 2016-17 to 90 percent last year (in 2018-19), slightly below state average of 91 percent.

A graph of overall pass rates in different subjects in Henry County Schools showed English, math, and science have mostly held steady from 2016-17 to 2018-19. However, pass rates in social studies have declined from the mid-80s to the mid-70s during that time and are several percentage points below the state average. In response to a board member’s question about the figures, Minter said, “We’ve had a lot of teacher turnover in that area over the past five years.” The school system is working on professional development and other strategies with the teachers to improve the scores.

In addition, the school board recognized student Kennedy Coleman, who received the Young Family Scholarship to attend a three-week theater workshop with the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton this summer. Kennedy, a sophomore at Magna Vista High School, thanked the Young family for the scholarship.

“This experience has helped me become a more confident actor and a more outgoing person,” she said. “A lot of the exercises and skills that I gained from this camp I’m able to use today in my drama classes.” Kennedy said that while she does not plan to pursue acting as a career, the workshop helped her become more confident interacting with people and making eye contact.

Also during the Oct. 3 meeting, the school board:

  • Recognized October as is Bullying Prevention Month and Disability Awareness Month. Schools will have related activities to raise awareness throughout the month, Hatchett said.
  • During the public comment period, heard from Dorothy Carter, who spoke on behalf of the Henry County Education Association about addressing school employee salaries.
  • Approved the consent agenda, which included the minutes of the Sept. 5 school board meeting; bills for payment from Sept. 13 and 30; overnight and out-of-state field trip requests; and setting of the support group audit fees.
  • Approved an estimated $26,000 from fiscal year 2020 local instructional funds for the annual purchase of student planners. Henry County Schools annually provides a student planner for students in grades K-12 to assist students with organization skills in addition to providing supplemental instructional resources. The planners will be purchased for the 2020-2021 school year. Vendors are Global Datebooks and Premier – School Specialty.
  • Approved employee computer purchases through payroll deductions. The school division allows employees to purchase iPads, laptop computers, and Apple watches at the negotiated rates from vendors currently under contract with the school division. Employees who choose to participate will have monthly payments deducted from their paychecks for six months, beginning January 2020. The same program is also being offered to city and city school employees. There is no financial impact to the school division other than staff time to process the payments.
  • Heard reports from the superintendent, including a slideshow of instructional highlights; the monthly financial statement from Aug. 31; the energy and facilities report; the discipline summary report; membership report; and fundraisers approved by the superintendent.