Students head back to school

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By Tom Wilmoth

Students in Bedford County head back to school Monday ? some will be heading to the traditional classroom, some for a second year of Early College and some will be joining the school system online.

Fewer students than last year are expected to report ? but that number is yet to be determined. Last year enrollment predictions fell below expectations and that cost the county school budget state funding. With that in mind, officials expect enrollment to fall between 10,500 and 11,000, most likely around 10,800.

Last year's enrollment dipped about 100 students from the 2006-2007 school year, bucking a trend of growth prior to that. "It's anybody's guess what we're going to have this year," stated Ryan Edwards, public relations coordinator with the school system.

Last year 10,584 students showed up for opening day and by September enrollment had grown to 10,840. The school system had budgeted for 11,000 students.

"We prepared for growth again last year and that growth didn't happen," Edwards said. "We had prepared for those state funds which of course never came."

That led to lower expectations for this year's enrollment. But the school system also continues to diversify.

However many students show up, Edwards expects a good year. "I think this is going to be an exciting time," he said. "There are a lot of positive things that we are building upon from last year."

And there are new programs as well.

New this year will be a virtual school in which homeschooled students have been encouraged to join the school system through an online program. Enrollment in the program is between 30 and 40 students this year and Edwards said word-of-mouth advertising will likely help it to grow in the years to come.

The program allows the 700 county homeschoolers ? beginning this year at the elementary level ? to enroll as students for a free online program. The homeschoolers save money by not having to purchase curriculum while the school system gains the advantage of being able to count those students with its enrollment figures for additional state funding.

Edwards said the school system is offering the leading online curriculum in the United States and he expects the program to grow, noting that Nelson County's similar program easily filled up its 100 slots in its second year, turning people away.

As the online program gets set for its inaugural year, the Early College program begins its second edition, adding an additional 24 juniors to the program. Early College allows students from the three county high schools to attend Central Virginia Community College in Bedford, earning an associate's degree after completing the two-year program, along with their high school degree. That will be the end result for the rising seniors who entered the program last year as juniors.

"The program in its initial year was extremely successful," Edwards said. "We were very happy with our partnership with Central Virginia Community College."

He said the students involved last year adapted well to the college/high school collaborative effort. He attributed the success to the ability of CVCC to welcome the students and watch after their needs throughout last year.

Overall, the Early College students progressed well through the first year, earning a combined cumulative GPA of about 3.4. Of the 24 students from last year, only one withdrew from the program and that was in order to enroll in a more accelerated program. The remaining 23 return. Among the courses offered last year, pre-calculus was ranked by the students as the most challenging, followed by Spanish and English Composition.

Also new this year is that Bedford Science and Technology Center is expanding its dual-enrolled offerings to five programs. Four of those will be offered through CVCC ? electricity, masonry, collision repair and automotive technology ? and one through Lynchburg College, the Teachers for Tomorrow program.

Students at Jefferson Forest High School should see the full extent of what $38.5 million of taxpayer money can get them as they return to find all of the major renovations and construction at the school complete. Meanwhile it will be full steam ahead with the Staunton River High School project which includes construction of a new gymnasium and additional classroom space. That project is expected to be near completion by late fall.

Three schools will have new principals, although only one comes from outside the school system.

After three decades of service in education, Staunton River Middle School Principal Linwood Roberts and Staunton River High School Principal Michael Kelly retired from the Bedford County School System at the end of this past school year.

Robert Stump takes over the helm at SRHS. Stump had served at Narrows High School in Giles County as principal for the past six years. Narrows had about 350 students.

Moving up to SRMS is Patricia Johnson, who has been serving as principal at Stewartsville Elementary. Taking over for her at Stewartsville will be Kelly Graham-Thompson, moving over from her assistant principal's position at Bedford Elementary School.

Students scheduled to attend Bedford Elementary and Bedford Primary School will have the option this year to attend Big Island Elementary, as a result of the schools missing Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) benchmarks. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires schools to meet AYP goals each year in math and reading. Schools that do not meet those benchmarks for two or more consecutive years in the same subject area in all of the subgroups are identified as being in School Improvement, meaning that school choice must be offered. Two informational sessions have been scheduled for parents to further explain the school choice option. The sessions will be held on Thursday, Aug. 21, at 11 a.m. at Bedford Elementary and at 7 p.m. at Bedford Primary School.

"We hope to just continue making progress in every area we can to make sure our students receive the best education possible," Edwards said.