By Joe Banish
The city’s school board has received a report on how it is doing thanks to the latest climate and culture survey.
Suffolk School Board discussed the report on Thursday July 14 at their meeting at Col. Fred Cherry Middle School.
One of the most important indicators of the district’s progress is this survey, an annual questionnaire that measures student, parent and employee satisfaction with the educational environment in schools across the city. Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III and Shawn Dickerson, Data and Research Supervisor, presented the survey results for the first board agenda item.
Although the survey indicated that administrators and educators are largely satisfied with professional learning outcomes, disciplinary policies and employee morale could be improved.
Based on Dr. Gordon and Dickerson’s presentation, only 50% of staff think disciplinary policies are effective, and 48% said morale is high.
Dr Gordon felt the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, saying it was playing a role in relatively low morale, and said ’employee benefits were strategically placed ahead of spring break’ in a bid to to boost morale.
After a long two-hour break and closed session, during which the board conducted a performance review of Dr Gordon and extended his contract, community engagement facilitator Melvin Bradshaw presented the “good report ” of the district.
This highlights distinguished educators and alumni, athletic achievements, as well as learning initiatives beyond the classroom.
One such extracurricular initiative is the Sentara Health Career Camp. The program, open to motivated college students, exposes them to the field of health.
Gaining experience with basic medical tasks such as CPR and blood sugar testing in a hospital setting, Bradshaw said Sentara is a pipeline in Lakeland High School’s biomedical science program.
In terms of athletic achievement, Deondre Hardy of Nansemond River High School was honored with 2021-22 Gatorade Virginia Boy Track and Field Player of the Year honors. A winner in the 110-meter hurdles and triple jump in Class 5 state championship competition, Hardy is a finalist for the national Male Track Player of the Year award.
Alana Glover has been recognized as a Distinguished Alumnus by the district. A graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law who passed the Virginia State Bar Examination in 2022, Glover was named one of the top 10 female law students in the nation by Ms. JD, an organization dedicated to promoting the interests of aspiring women lawyers.
Rainey Chapman, a special education instructor at Creekside Elementary, was named Special Education Paraprofessional of the Year. According to testimonials from her students and colleagues relayed by Bradshaw, Chapman is “…an advocate for all students, making them feel loved and supported.”
The board then voted on new business items. Chief among them was a proposal to add a data science course to the curriculum at Lakeland High School.
Dr Gordon hailed the program as an opportunity to learn valuable skills and expects 20-25 students to enroll in the pilot course. The board voted unanimously to approve the addition of the course.
During the public comment period, the council heard from a concerned parent, Karsheena Robertson, about the desire to enroll their children in virtual learning. Robertson, worried about contracting COVID-19 through her children attending in-person classes, was frustrated, citing unprofessionalism and indifference in response to her request.
Another speaker, Dr. Deborah Walstrom, raised concerns about the Suffolk School District Safety Audit Committee. Following the resignation of the president, the person feels that the coordination between the divisions of the committee is lacking, which compromises the safety of the school. They asked the board for a review of the operations of the committee.
Board members ended the meeting by sharing their vision for the upcoming school year, emphasizing the importance of summer reading and socializing for students. They expressed their optimism in a return to normalcy after the tumultuous times of the past two years and their confidence in the school district’s educational leadership.