Problems at Bedford Middle School

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By Patricia Robertson


    So much has been said about the possible closing of Bedford Primary and/or Body Camp Schools this year. I’d like to draw parents’ attention to what the school administrator’s “strategic plan” has done and wants to do to Bedford Middle School.
    One example: My child was a rising 7th grader last year and signed up for chorus at Bedford Middle School. When school started, chorus was simply gone from her schedule. Later I discovered that chorus was eliminated due to budget problems. When I found out that the other two middle schools still have full chorus programs, I was told Bedford Middle School lost their chorus elective because there was little student interest.
     I disagree with this statement because I have seen firsthand how much the Primary School children and Bedford Elementary aged children absolutely love to sing and perform. So, I did a little more digging. I discovered that, not only does Forest Middle School have a full chorus program, but they also have multiple types of bands and several class offerings of those bands. Bedford Middle School has only one type of band and only one class for 6th, 7th and 8th grade band. However, Forest Middle has 8th grade bands that meets everyday. What’s worse, our band schedule allows band only every other day this year, rather than meeting everyday as it had last year. I hope you are wondering why this disparity in band and chorus between the schools. You have to really dig because forthcoming answers are not so common around school issues these days.
    Our Bedford Middle School students have fewer electives and fewer options because, as part of the larger plan to close Bedford Primary School, the 6th grade was moved to Bedford Middle School. This shift was to allow the future Primary students classroom space in Bedford Elementary. As a consequence, Bedford Middle gave the 6th graders five classrooms that 7th and 8th graders had been using, as well as half the band room. How would you like to be studying Spanish with a band class on the other side of the petition?
    Because the 6th graders have been squeezed into the middle school, their class sizes are much larger than the 7th and 8th grade classes. We are told that “staffing standards” for middle schools are 23 students to one teacher. But, of course, answers are not really answers in this arena. Most 6th grade classes have around 30 students. You simply must have class space to hold classes.
    But, there is another issue of having too many kids in one school building: Bedford Middle School lost its 7th period this year. So, now we know why Band was cut in half or any other electives your child chose. Forest Middle School kept their 7th period. I was told “yes, they have the staff for seven periods” HUH? Apparently staffing standards are based on the total number of students in a school. It still doesn’t make sense to me why BMS lost their 7th period. The real answer is that there are just not enough classrooms to hold that many classes. The kids have got to have space to learn!
    Are you wondering why all this chaos has taken place? I have been researching for months to find the answers. The immediate answer is that our school superintendent, is determined to get the population in our “smaller” schools up. He wants big schools with 800-1000 students in each.
    When Dr. Schuch asked why he thought there were fewer band students at BMS compared to Forest Middle, he didn’t really seem to know. He did say in a recent school board meeting that there was no financial cost to being a band student. He did not know whether the school helped students obtain instruments. Every band parents knows that it costs about $200 to rent a band instrument and that cost must be paid in one payment, up front. If Dr. Schuch doesn’t know this basic fact about a course in his schools, why is he in charge of these courses? Schuch says that the principals of the schools pick and choose how to use their staff and how to schedule classes. I also find this extremely hard to believe. I don’t think we can blame our school staff for any of the problems we are having now. Why would the principals do this to their schools and their teachers?
    Again, we must look deeper at the reasons behind decisions that are made. As far as I can tell, there are no legitimate reasons except that school administrators come up with trends in schools and our superintendent seems to think he should use a cookie-cutter to get on board with national trends. One trend is to close community schools and consolidate them or build new, mega-schools away from the center of towns.
    Dr. Schuch worked as the director of the strategic planning office in Stafford County immediately before coming to Bedford. He was hired for that job in 2007; apparently his first job in administration.
    I think we should look at what has happened in Stafford County. Based on their strategic planning, Stafford County’s school administrator’s office pushed a plan to close schools and cancelled plans to build scheduled new schools. After a lot of work by committees who studied the school closings, the committees all voted not to close any schools but to refurbish and improve all of them. After the committees made their recommendations,the school administration still insisted they were going to move ahead with the closing plans. The Stafford School Board was willing to go along with the plan, ignoring the results of the committees’ study, and issues raised by the public. There was a huge public outcry that the real affects on the students were not being taken into consideration. If one particular school had closed, those students would have ridden 1 1/2 hours to school one way. Citing the resistance to the plan, and the fact that no cuts were planned for the school central office staff, the Stafford County Board of Supervisors threatened to withhold funding from the school board. Does this sound familiar?
    After the Stafford County debacle, we hired the very person who was director of Stafford schools’ strategic planning. What is happening in Stafford since then? They are building schools that they could have been built a lot cheaper when construction rates were better. They refurbished their elementary schools and almost all their schools are operating at near capacity or over. In fact most of the schools in Stafford are full, which the parents who had lived in the area knew would happen, but the school administration did not seem to understand. Rather than building the schools they needed ahead of the overcrowding that came, they are now trying to build quickly to solve the problem.
    What does this mean for our little school? First of all, our Bedford Middle School kids have lost educational opportunities and it had nothing to do with budget cuts. Secondly, the school administration has in its plan to close Bedford Middle school and build a new school on US 460. This may sound good at first, but we better think about what kind of school we would get. I can only imagine, a big, ugly building that will probably be overcrowded when it opens.
    Our administrator is never going to understand that community schools are vital to their communities. The Bedford Middle School students can walk to the library, to the Bower Center, even walk home. The Virginia Statute even states that middle schools should be located where students can bike or walk to school, if possible. Its very possible here. Imagine Bedford City without the primary school and the middle school. I can imagine that library use will fall. The wonderful programs at the Bower Center will see less students. The parents and staff that drive through town won’t if they have to drive to 460 to school. The large number of “walkers” at BMS will be riding a bus to 460 and how is that saving money?
    What are we going to do about this?
    The first thing we need to fix is the seemingly poor understanding by the administrator. When asked about recruiting students into music and band, because it is proven that music helps students test scores in other subjects, especially math, our administrator just looks blank like he doesn’t see why we are so concerned. Other middle schools are having classes, talent shows and productions, and who knows what fun things our kids are missing! Jefferson Forest High School Band has been honored recently for their accomplishments, and I am very happy for those kids and their band directors. The same chance to reach their potential should be available to the Liberty district students.
    I hope that parents will come forward and ask about your child’s classes and opportunities. Find out whether your child was eliminated from a class he wanted because of overcrowding. Ask questions, get involved, write or call the Bedford County School board members and ask why decisions are made. Come to school board meetings and find out what really goes on there. Most importantly, vote this year for school board members who understand that our children are not just numbers on a spreadsheet. Vote for a school board that understands that schools are an integral part of their communities, not a place to try trendy, new policies for their resumes. We need to stand up and do something before Bedford Middle School is lost.