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School board forgoes figures, points to the positives

Halifax County School Board members decided to present a different perspective to Halifax County Supervisors during their annual strategic planning session Thursday.

Instead of talking budget, school board members chose to present the many positive things they’ve accomplished with their funds and support during the past year.

School Board Chairman trustee Karen Hopkins thanked the board of supervisors for the invitation to meet with them and then turned over to other school board members.

“We are all aware of the economic times…that is why we decided to give a presentation on the good things we’ve done with the funds and support from you all. We all know that if we have a strong school system, we will also have a strong community and strong economic development,” said Hopkins.

ED-7 trustee R. K. “Dick” Stoneman told supervisors of his concern of vocational training.

“If we train a welder, masonry, farmer, they will stay in the county,” said Stoneman.

ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman questioned board members about the Advance Placement/Dual Enrollment program at the high school.

“Can we do both?” said Bowman. “I feel like they’re (students are) not quite prepared,” he added.

“If there’s a problem we hope to address it,” said Stoneman, before pointing out ED-4 trustee Cheryl Terry was the more knowledgeable person on the situation.

“Can we let Stapleton address that?” asked ED-8 trustee Walter Potts.

Superintendent Paul Stapleton told supervisors Governor Bob McDonnell has recently directed all Virginia high schools and Virginia community colleges to pursue the Halifax dual enrollment model providing attainment of the associate degree or first year studies certificate.

He said the difference and often the confusion lies in the fact dual enrollment is a college class, but students do not have to take the test to get credit. AP allows students to gain credit for that class, and the students do not have to take the test.

“We are not happy with (AP) scores from last year, but there’s not that much difference from other schools,” Stapleton said.

Eight years ago the high school offered two classes to 40 students. Today the school offers seven classes with between 350-375.

Last year 70 students earned an associate’s degree and 93 last year earned a first year certificate, Stapleton added.

“I think we’ve come a long way,” said Stapleton.

“I’m proud the state’s giving Halifax the nod, and they’re not using our name, and we don’t want them to. We’re just trying to do what’s right for the children,” he added.

Stapleton said after his years of being a superintendent in Halifax County, he feels very strongly about the program saying it helps primarily the “poor kids and minority students.”

According to Stapleton, with the program children are receiving over a million and a half dollars worth of college credits that neither the children nor parents are paying for, but rather it’s a “trade.”

“How is it performing?” asked ED-1 Supervisor J.T. Davis

Davis voiced his concern for strengthening the program, saying, “This tells me one thing, we need to do better.”

ED-5 trustee Roger Long replied, “I appreciate what you’re saying…the reason why our (test) scores are so low, some of our best students don’t even take the test.”

Davis questioned if board member Terry would elaborate on the advance placement/dual enrollment program.

Terry, who believes as her obligation not only as a school board member but also as a college employee, the program must be done correctly. She listed a number of concerns brought to her attention as she ran for school board.

“Many students don’t have time to practice for the test. We have to give them the best opportunity to pass. Students should research what colleges require. I’ve heard that the curriculum has been watered down for students; it shouldn’t be…we want students to be proud. We have to make sure we’re doing our part,” said Terry.

ED-6 trustee Fay Satterfield added, “I came in here today with the idea of keeping my mouth shut. Parents need to contact the college and know what they require.”

She then shared a personal experience from when her daughter went to college and the AP credits were not accepted.

Later in the meeting, ED-5 Supervisor Barry Bank asked school board members about the $57.21 hourly rate they approved for substitute Administrator Larry Clark to receive while assisting Executive Director for Administration Valdivia Marshall with retirement applications.

According to Stapleton at this point Clark is expected to only be on the job for three days, four at the most and will only be paid for the hours he works.

Bank also asked Stapleton the status of the school audit and had he been receiving bi-weekly updates of the efficiency review.

“The efficiency review will be delivered to board members the last week in March, and the audit will be delivered the first week in April. I have been receiving a bi-weekly update, but it has nothing to do with the report…just basically saying they are on track,” said Stapleton.

Stoneman mentioned to supervisors he wouldn’t mind meeting with them more often to discuss items, after Davis mentioned helping each other.

“We are supposed to meet four times a year quarterly. The biggest problem is communication,” said Bank.

“I agree, you have a hard time working with someone you don’t trust,” said Long who represents the same constituents who Bank represents.

Several supervisors expressed their appreciation to Superintendent Stapleton for all he’s done for the school system and all the positive changes he’s made during his tenure.

Stapleton, who is retiring effective the end of June, responded, “I take a lot of pride in our system.”