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School Board Recap: Oct. 10, 2023

The number of late buses in Roanoke City Public Schools (RCPS) has decreased over the past several weeks with optimizations to routes and other adjustments, Chief Operations Officer Chris Perkins told the School Board during the Oct. 10, 2023, School Board Meeting. Mr. Perkins also provided other updates about transportation, including the ongoing request for proposals (RFP) process for a new transportation vendor.

In addition, Human Resources provided an update about retention and turnover rates for staff, the Board approved RCPS’ legislative priorities, and Grandin Court Elementary School was the featured school of the month.

Transportation Update

As of Oct. 10, 29 routes have been adjusted and optimized based on recommendations from a consultant, Mr. Perkins said. In addition, as previously shared, EverDriven is being utilized to assist with specialty routes.

Graph showing the number of late buses between the start of the school year and beginning of October. Use the link at the end of this section to download the full presentation and graph.As a result, the number of students being impacted by late buses has decreased. Based on bus rider data from mid-September, 173 students from 14 buses are consistently late by at least 15 minutes. The schools with later start and dismissal times — Tiers 3 and 4 — are most impacted since those routes are impacted by any delays that occur earlier in the day.

School Board Member Diane Casola emphasized that “late” refers to arriving past a school’s start time.

Durham School Services is working to decrease the number of driver vacancies. On average, 15.3 morning routes and 15.1 afternoon routes are without drivers due to driver callouts, planned days off, drivers out for medical reasons, and a lack of substitute drivers. This is impeding RCPS’ ability to know the true improvement in route timing, Mr. Perkins said.

Already, driver pay has increased to $21/hour, with a minimum of six hours guaranteed each day. Durham is improving communication with drivers so they are aware of days when schools are closed and can plan their time off around those existing days. The company is also implementing a more rigorous system to track driver attendance and address chronic absenteeism, and working to increase the number of drivers and establish a pool of substitutes.

Durham School Services’ contract ends in the summer of 2024, so the RFP process is currently underway, which allows vendors to submit proposals to bid for the contract. The transportation RFP was released in September, with six vendors participating in the pre-proposal conference. Five vendors have indicated they plan to submit a proposal, and one vendor is exploring alternative transportation support. Parents/guardians and staff will participate in the committee review of proposals, with a presentation in December and School Board approval in January, Mr. Perkins said. He previously stated that RCPS is exploring all options, including self-operation.

Mr. Perkins noted that in the afternoon, RCPS transports students to more than 30 afterschool providers, which results in long routes that cross attendance zones. This can then cause a domino effect that results in delays to secondary routes. Specialized programs such as STEAM, PLATO, English Learners, preschool, and private day schools can result in students attending a school outside their attendance zone, which also causes longer routes that are more susceptible to traffic.

School Board member Franny Apel asked whether the RFP included those specialized routes. Mr. Perkins said he has explained to the interested vendors that routing is a fluid process and that routes must be flexible.

Mr. Perkins noted that RCPS has not cancelled any routes, whereas other school divisions in Virginia have canceled routes and forced families to find alternate transportation.

He pledged that RCPS will keep working to minimize delays.

“While there has been some positive improvement, we know that we're not there yet,” he said. “I speak to parents every day, apologize to parents every day, for the frustration. I join them in that frustration. … But we are working every day to address this to the best of our abilities.”

School Board members thanked Mr. Perkins and other staff for their work. Superintendent Dr. White thanked teachers, staff, families, and students for their flexibility, saying that every minute matters. She also thanked the Transportation Work Group for their recommendations, which is made up of parents, school and transportation staff, Durham staff, and others.

Download the full transportation presentation.

Staff Retention and Turnover Update

Chief Human Resources Officer Dominick McKee shared information about retention and turnover, explaining that all staff members play a role in student achievement.

Data from the past five years indicates the retention rate has increased across all staff classifications, from classified staff to teachers and administrators. Mr. McKee said this is a testament to the structure and supports that RCPS has implemented.

On the first day of school, RCPS had only nine teacher vacancies, compared to between 38-42 in the previous three years. This comprised .2% of all teacher vacancies in Virginia. In addition, RCPS was fully staffed for teachers in special education. Mr. McKee said that as of Oct. 10, there were 14 teacher vacancies, and noted this tends to fluctuate throughout the school year.

The national turnover rate has increased sharply, while RCPS’ turnover rate has decreased. Administrator turnover rate has also trended downward, decreasing to 7% for the 2022-2023 school year, compared to the national turnover rate in urban school divisions of 15 to 23%

The classified turnover rate, which has the highest turnover rate on average of all types of position, has also decreased.

A full staffing report will be provided in December, Mr. McKee said.

Mrs. Apel noted the importance of a positive culture shift as well as increasing the number of support staff and additional supports, such as adding assistant principals in all elementary schools, hiring additional student support specialists, and being fully staffed with SROs.

Dr. White emphasized the importance of hearing from teachers and employees and implementing new strategies based on their feedback. Dr. White also thanked the Board for their investment over the past several years.

“That pay recognition matters, and our staff is so very deserving,” she said.

Adoption of Legislative Priorities Update

Constituent Services & Governmental Relations Officer Dr. Alan Seibert presented the final draft of RCPS’ legislative priorities for the upcoming General Assembly session, which includes school safety and security, a commitment to serving all students, statewide improvements to employee compensation, and modernizing assessment and accountability measures.

The Board voted unanimously to adopt the priorities. More information is available by visiting the Government Relations webpage.

Featured School: Grandin Court Elementary School

As the featured school of the month, Grandin Court Elementary School Principal Will Krause and Assistant Principal ­­Stephanie Davis presented information about the school. In addition, 5th graders performed a special song and presented the Board with a gift.

Mr. Krause shared that Grandin Court students scored very well on the spring 2023 SOL tests, ranging from an average of 88% to 99% pass rate. In particular, there were very few disparities between subgroups for the math SOL. There was a 100% pass rate on the math SOL for students who are Black, of multiple races, or who live in economically disadvantaged households. There was a 99% pass rate for white students, and an 89% pass rate for students with disabilities.

Mr. Krause said this is a testament to Grandin Court’s teachers and staff and their innovative teaching methods. This includes utilizing high intensity academic tutoring, small group interventions, and reading supports such as Heggerty and Really Great Reading.

Grandin Court’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports framework is anchored by their Eagle Expectations, a culture that fosters a positive and inclusive learning environment.

Mrs. Davis shared examples of some of the school’s clubs, such as SCA, Girls on the Run, school newspaper, gardening, chess club, safety patrol, and more. Soon, Grandin Court will begin Guys with Ties, a leadership group for young men.

Community support is also vital to Grandin Court’s success, with a strong PTA membership and an engaged neighborhood.

Several students shared why they love Grandin Court, which included appreciation of their teachers and feeling included by their classmates.

Superintendent’s Updates

Dr. White also shared several updates on student and staff achievements and other important news around the division, including:

  • October is National Principals’ Month, and Dr. White took a moment to recognize and thank RCPS’ principals for all they do. “Being a principal is not easy,” she said. “We see the long hours that each of our principals put in. We know that they work incredibly hard to make sure they know each student by name, by need, and also by strength. And so today, and every day we want to make sure they know how much we appreciate them.”
  • Staff participated in a division-wide Professional Learning Day on Monday, Oct. 9. Dr. White thanked Executive Director of Professional Learning Cari Gates and the entire Professional Learning team for hosting an event with nearly 150 sessions that staff could choose to attend throughout the day.
  • October is also Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and Dr. White encouraged families to follow RCPS on Facebook and social media, where tips from the Technology Team will be shared about best practices for staying safe online.
  • The Association of School Business Officials International has once again recognized Roanoke City Public Schools with the Meritorious Budget Award for the fiscal year 2023-2024 School Year. This is the sixth consecutive year that RCPS has received this award.

Public Gifts

The School Board accepted and recognized the following gifts:

  • Second Presbyterian Church provided a donation of $8,307.14 to Morningside Elementary School. The school plans to use the funds for classroom and student needs.
  • Southern Refrigeration Corporation donated HVAC equipment, including a 3.5 ton heat pump and a 4 ton air handler, that will be used as teaching tools at the Charles W. Day Technical Education Center. The approximated value of the donation is $3,058.
  • The Dwelling Place Christian Fellowship provided a donation of $3,600 to Breckinridge Middle School. The school will use the funds to stock their food pantry and clothing closet for students in need.

To replay the October 10th School Board meeting, click here. Visit BoardDocs to view the meeting agenda. The next School Board workshop will be held at 5:30 p.m. on October 24th at the Central Administration Building on Douglass Avenue.