School Board hears from B.E.S.T.; discusses classes in smaller schools

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By Tom Wilmoth

    Sara Holdren took an opportunity Thursday to introduce the Bedford County School Board to the newly organized Bedford Educational Support Team.

     B.E.S.T. is a 501(c) 4  organization created out of a desire for Bedford citizens to assist in maintaining and improving the current structure of smaller community-based schools throughout Bedford City and County, Holdren told the board.
    The goal, she said, is “to ensure and enhance educational opportunities for all students” in the county. That includes encouraging parental awareness of school issues and policies, and promoting citizen involvement in school policy decisions.
    The organization plans to promote, as well as expect, openness, transparency and equality of treatment in school board and administration decisions and policies. The expectation of the group is to have responsiveness to the concerns of parents and students.
    Public participation in government will be encouraged. B.E.S.T., Holdren stated, will initially focus on issues in the Liberty Attendance Zone, with an ultimate goal of working with other organizations to promote educational opportunities for all county students.
    During Thursday’s meeting the School Board looked at a number of issues, including a discussion on student/athlete concussions that occur during school activities as well as receiving an update on the first few days of school.
    The board will discuss the concussion issue and the school system’s plan with athletic directors at a future meeting. Board Chairman Debbie Hoback said the issue is important and the board wants to know that “we’re keeping the kids safe.”
    School Superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch reported that four days into the school year, total membership for the year had reached 10,267, slightly higher than had been projected. That number was expected to rise by the end of this week when the 10-day membership figure is set.
    Dr. Schuch said, as in any change, the school system was still working out the kinks of the new staggered start times for the schools, which has the elementary students beginning their day about 30 minutes prior to last year’s starting time and the middle and high school students 30 minutes later than last year.
    Adjustments to bus routes were being made as bus drivers came back with recommendations and issues.
    One of the unintended consequences of the change, he said, was that more students at the elementary level were being dropped off by parents, rather than taking the bus, causing some adjustments at the schools.
    Registrations at some schools had also grown more than anticipated, Dr. Schuch reported and he said there had been some questions about class sizes at some of the smaller schools. That led to a discussion by the board about considering asking the board of supervisors to approve a transfer of maintenance funds to the general fund to allow for hiring additional teachers at several smaller elementary schools. In the original budget for this school year, there had been a line item to pay for that, but that was eliminated as part of the budget process.
    Hoback suggested using some maintenance project funds to hire additional teachers or aides to help with the large classroom sizes in the smaller schools.
    “They could use the extra help,” District 6 board member Shirley McCabe said of the smaller schools, many which failed to make adequate yearly progress this past year.
    District 4 board member Gary Hostutler suggested the board look at all of the classroom information before making any decisions and Hoback suggested going ahead and asking the supervisors if the transfer of funds would be supported, should it be needed. A letter to the supervisors from the school board was going to address that question.
    Dr. Schuch also reported that the earthquake last Tuesday caught the school system off guard—it doesn’t have any earthquake response actions in its emergency response plan. He suggested going back and addressing that.
    He added, however, that earthquake response guidelines suggest not evacuating the buildings, though some classes did do that. “If you read the guidelines, that’s the last thing you’re supposed to do,” he said.
    He said the school system’s buildings were checked for damage, but none was found.
    “I feel like we managed the best we could,” he said.