Students head back to school

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By Tom Wilmoth

Some 10,500 students will fill the halls of Bedford County’s 21 public schools on Monday as bells ring in the 2010-2011 school year.


    A division-wide open house at the schools will be held this Thursday from noon to 7 p.m., giving parents and students a chance to visit their schools and meet their teachers. 
    “It’s always better when they know who their teacher or teachers are,” stated School Superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch, in encouraging families to attend the open houses.
    He said there’s a buzz and excitement about the upcoming school year.
    While most students, especially the older ones, may not admit it, Dr. Schuch said the majority want to be back in school. “And we’re excited to have the students back.”
    The schools and central office staff are watching registrations and enrollment at each school carefully.
    “We’re really trying to encourage families who haven’t registered their students yet to come by this week and do it,” Dr. Schuch stated. “It’s much better for the family, the student  and  the  school  when (it’s done before school starts).”
    He said tough budget constraints led to the new staffing standards at the schools. “That’s been a challenge,” he said. “A number of schools lost staff.”
    As enrollments are finalized, transitions might have to be made to staffing, depending on whether a school comes in above or below the projected enrollments at the school.
    “We’re meeting daily, we’re looking at our numbers and we’re talking to our principals daily,” Dr. Schuch said. “The ideal situation is to have things as locked down as possible before students get there.”
    More than 60 positions were eliminated in this school year’s budget — about half as many as had first been anticipated. Dr. Schuch said just about all of those lost positions were handled through retirements or staff who voluntarily left the school division. Just about all of the school division’s staff who were initially laid off were given the opportunity to come back.
    The new staffing standards will mean changes.
    At some of the smaller elementary schools, some principals opted to meet the staffing standards by utilizing multi-grade level classes. “We do have a number of schools that are doing that,” Dr. Schuch stated.
    The smaller schools will also be sharing counselors and library-media personnel this year. Those schools include Big Island, Otter River, Thaxton, Huddleston, Moneta and Body Camp elementary schools.
    The goal, he said, is to not have any class sizes that are unusually large or small.
    The transportation department will put nine new buses on the road this year, half of what had originally been planned, but nine more than the budget originally called to provide.
New principals
    Five new principals will greet students this year.
    • Aprille Monroe takes over at Huddleston Elementary for Gus Exstrom, who has moved to the central office to become the supervisor of student services, overseeing alternative programs, including the Bridge School. Gary Lowry, who had been manager of the Bridge School last year, will now serve as the safety and security manager for the school system. Monroe, who holds a master’s in education leadership from Lynchburg College, comes to Bedford County from Pittsylvania County, where she served as an assistant principal at an elementary school.
    • Kim Halterman, who served as the acting principal at Goodview Elementary last year, takes over at Thaxton Elementary. She has served as assistant principal at Goodview since 2007.
    Prior to her experience at Goodview, Halterman worked as a classroom teacher at Botetourt County’s Greenfield Elementary School for five years. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from Roanoke College in 2001 and earned her master’s degree from Virginia Tech in 2006.
    She replaced Judy Reynolds who retired.
    • Susan Mele, who last year served as an assistant principal at Bonsack Elementary in Roanoke County, takes over at Stewartsville Elementary. A long-time resident of Bedford County, Mele began her career as an elementary teacher in 1978 and has also served as a computer coordinator, LEAD teacher and special education coordinator. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from Radford University in 1978 and earned a master’s degree in administration from Virginia Tech in 1992.
    • Staunton River High School will have its fifth principal in six years. Michelle Morgan, who had been principal at Forest Middle School,  replaced Edwin Zimmerman, who had been serving as the school’s interim principal since January. He had replaced Robert Stump. Zimmerman, the principal at Goodview Elementary, returns to that school this year.
    Morgan has been employed by Bedford County Public Schools since 2005 and has served as principal at FMS since 2006. Prior to coming here, she served as a teacher, reading specialist and assistant principal in Florida’s Miami-Dade County Public Schools. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and earned a master’s degree from Nova Southeastern University.
    • Scott Simmons, who last year served as an assistant principal at SRHS, replaced Morgan as the new principal at Forest Middle School.
    Simmons has been employed by BCPS since 2006. Prior to working at BCPS, Simmons served as a teacher, High Schools That Work site coordinator, and assistant varsity football coach in Roanoke County Public Schools. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in 1992 from Emory and Henry College and earned his master’s degree from Radford University in 2005.
What to expect
    Dr. Schuch said he doesn’t expect this year to be different from previous years, even with the new staffing standards in place. “At least I hope not. I’d like to think we will be able to deliver the same quality of service to the students and their families that we’ve always done,” he said.
    Dr. Schuch said the school system will be more challenged at doing that, because it’s doing it with fewer resources. “But that’s no excuse for not guaranteeing and ensuring that students get what they need in order to be successful in school,” he said.
    Now in his second full year at the helm of BCPS, Dr. Schuch said he and the staff can move from a year of transition to focusing more on developing a long range vision for BCPS.
    “We want students to come to school ready to learn, excited to learn,” he said. “We know that all of them won’t. For that we are looking for our parents, along with our staff and members of our community, to help those kids along. We want to offer them that encouragement and help them be successful when they’re at school.”
    Is there anything he doesn’t want to see?
    “We’re really hopeful that we don’t have as much snow this year. We’ll deal with it if we get it. That was a real challenge last year. I wouldn’t be upset if we didn’t see one snowflake this winter,” Dr. Schuch said.
    And he hopes to see the financial situation improve in the near future.
    “We would be naïve if we didn’t think that would continue to be a challenge as we come out of this recession,” he said. “Our students just want to come and learn and that’s what we’re going to deliver for them.”