For the first time since September, secondary students in Waynesboro Public Schools returned to the classroom this week.
Tim Teachey, Waynesboro Public Schools executive director of instruction, discussed what those students’ schedules looked like during Tuesday night’s regularly scheduled school board meeting.
“Our teachers have become pros at adjusting and figuring things out and problem-solving and collaborating and sharing resources to make the educational experience the best it can be for our kids,” Teachey said.
The school division was able to identify fully-virtual teachers for elementary students, but that’s not the case for middle and high school students, Teachey said.
Together, Kate Collins Middle principal Marcia Nester and Waynesboro High principal Bryan Stamm created a working schedule that ensures teachers aren’t trying to do both in-person and virtual instruction at the same time.
Hybrid students at Kate Collins Middle arrive at school for an in-person morning session at 8 a.m. before dismissing around noon. During that time, in-person students receive guided practice, and remote learners receive asynchronous instruction. In the afternoon, both remote and hybrid students meet via Zoom for direct instruction during the afternoon session from 1:15 to 3:15 p.m.
At Waynesboro High, the schedule is reversed because there are not enough resources for internet capability, Teachey said. In the morning session, all students meet via Zoom for instruction. In the afternoon, students gather for in-person instruction.
As it’s been since September, students with last names beginning with A-L attend school on Tuesday and Thursday, and students with last names M-Z attend school on Wednesday and Friday.
Still, not all teachers are comfortable with staff and students returning to in-person learning because of the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the area.
Some teachers oppose in-person instruction
Rosemary Wagoner, Waynesboro Education Association president and Westwood Hills Elementary teacher, once again urged board members to consider virtual instruction until all staff members have the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine during Tuesday night’s meeting.
“You may know that last week VEA president Dr. James Fedderman called for all schools in Virginia to move to a virtual model until those who work with the students can be vaccinated,” Wagoner said. “I want to echo that statement for Waynesboro. We’re concerned about our students’ academic process, but we also have to consider the health of everyone. While we don’t have major outbreaks, we do have cases that continue to rise in our schools.”
Wagoner said educators would like to have a timeline on when the locality can expect to receive the vaccine as soon as that information can possibly be shared.
She also spoke during Tuesday night’s public hearing regarding the school’s upcoming budget.
“Of course, our main goal for this budget season is to include compensation for employees, which I’m glad to say that from your previous meetings we share that goal,” Wagoner said. “You’re going to see from the data this evening that we’ve got a lot of work to do to become competitive, which we all want for Waynesboro schools.”
According to data shared by Wagoner during the budget meeting, Waynesboro is on par for minimum employee pay across the state, but loses ground quickly as they go up the scale, she said.
“At 30 years, somebody in Waynesboro is 110th in the state. Out of 130 school divisions, that’s not good,” Wagoner said.
Vonda Hutchinson, executive director of finance, gave an update on the 2020 fiscal year’s fund balance. The balance was $1.6 million, she said.
“When you shut schools down for a quarter, you have significant savings in some areas,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson highlighted some of the areas that made up the balance, including an audit adjustment from the city, additional revenue in technology from Shentel and savings on expenditures from salaries.
Upcoming budget decisions are still in the works. However, Superintendent Jeffrey Cassell said Waynesboro Public Schools would receive $3,250,000 from the Education Stabilization Fund for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund allotted from the CARES Act.
The school division will have until September 2023 to use the federal funds, but it cannot go towards personnel costs, salaries or benefits unless you can tie that cost directly to the pandemic response, Cassell said.
“That’s problematic for all school divisions because personnel costs run 80 to 85 percent, ours usually runs 82 to 83 percent, so trying to spend that money efficiently and wisely on the other 15 percent under the federal guidelines becomes a little challenging,” Cassell said.
Renovation almost complete
Cassell also gave an update on the Waynesboro High renovation project. He met with the project manager and lead architect on the project for a close-out meeting Tuesday afternoon and said all as-built drawings were completed.
The contractor reached substantiation complete on Dec. 9, Cassell said. There are a few punch-list items left, including replacing a few doors and touching up paint, but the majority of the renovation is complete. Cassell thinks the school will be at final completion for the project by the end of January.
“I will plan to report next month on the Waynesboro High School renovation project and then if plans go accordingly, that won’t be on the March agenda for the first time in about three and a half years or something, so I’m looking forward to that,” Cassell said.
Cassell said that at some point in the future there would be an open house to tour the school before school begins next fall.
“I have not walked through with anyone at this point who has not been really pleased and even impressed with the work, particularly with the third floor and second floor,” he said. “I think it’s pretty amazing.”