School board reviews district progress survey

Published 9:09 pm Monday, July 18, 2022

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Editor’s note: This article was updated at 2:46 p.m. on July 19 to correct an action by the school board following a performance review held in closed session. The story was corrected to state that the board approved an addendum to Dr. Gordon’s compensation package.

By Joe Banish

Contributing Writer

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The city’s school board got a report on how it is doing through the latest Climate and Culture Survey.

The Suffolk School Board discussed the report Thursday, July 14 during its 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 towards the educational environment at the city’s schools. Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III, and Shawn Dickerson, supervisor of data and research, presented the survey’s findings for the board’s first agenda item.

While the survey indicated that administrators and educators are largely satisfied with professional learning outcomes, disciplinary policies and employee morale could use improvement.

According to Dr. Gordon’s and Dickerson’s presentation, only 50 percent of staff believe disciplinary policies are effective, and 48 percent said morale was high.

Dr. Gordon opined that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, saying it plays a role in relatively low morale, and stated that “employee benefits were strategically placed prior to the spring break holiday” in an effort to boost morale.

Good news report

Following a two-hour long recess and closed session, where the board conducted a performance review of Dr. Gordon and approved an addendum to his overall compensation package, community engagement facilitator Melvin Bradshaw presented the district’s “good news report.”

This highlights distinguished educators and alumni, athletic achievements, along with learning initiatives beyond the classroom.

One such extracurricular initiative is the Sentara Health Career Camp. The program, open to motivated middle school students, exposes them to the healthcare field.

By gaining experience with basic medical tasks such as CPR and blood sugar testing in a hospital setting, Bradshaw said Sentara is a pipeline into Lakeland High School’s biomedical science program.

On the athletic achievement front, Deondre Hardy of Nansemond River High School, received 2021-22 Gatorade Virginia Boy’s Track and Field player of the year honors. Winner of the 110-meter high hurdles and the triple jump at the Class 5 state championship meet, Hardy is a finalist for the national boy’s track and field player of the year award.

Alana Glover was recognized as a distinguished alumni by the district. A graduate of the University of Baltimore College of Law who passed the Virginia State Bar exam in 2022, Glover was named a top 10 female law student in the nation by Ms. J.D., an organization dedicated to advancing the interests of aspiring female attorneys.

Rainey Chapman, a special education instructor at Creekside Elementary was named Special Education Paraprofessional of the year. According to testimony from her students and colleagues relayed by Bradshaw, Chapman is “…an advocate for all students, who makes 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 Lakeland High School’s curriculum.

Dr. Gordon praised the program as an opportunity to learn valuable skills, and is expecting 20-25 students to enroll in the pilot course. The board voted unanimously to approve the course’s addition.

Public comment

During the public comment period, the board heard from a concerned parent, Karsheena Robertson, regarding the desire to enroll their children in virtual learning. Robertson, concerned 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 over the Suffolk School District’s safety audit committee. Following the chair’s resignation, the person believes coordination between the committee’s divisions is lacking, compromising school security. They requested the board a review of the committee’s operations.

Board members ended the meeting by sharing their vision for the upcoming school year, stressing the importance of summer reading and socialization for students. They expressed optimism in a return to normalcy following the tumultuous times of the last two years, and confidence in the school district’s educational direction.