By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton eighth graders returned to school four days a week on Monday, April 26, leaving only three grade levels (ninth, 10th, and 11th) with hybrid students who spend just two days in the classroom every week.
“We’re doing what we can to get kids back in a responsible fashion,” Superintendent Eddie Lawrence said during the April 22 school board meeting.
That has included rearranging bus schedules and seating, reorganizing small or oddly shaped classrooms to socially distance students six feet or three feet according to changing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, using cafeterias as large classrooms, and purchasing 400 sneeze guards, he said.
“I would love to have pre-K through 12 back five days a week as normal, but we’re really trying not to overextend what we can do in a safe and organized manner,” Lawrence said.
Eleventh grade is the next grade the superintendent would consider bringing back for a four-day school week.
He noted it may not be possible to bring all students back four days a week by the school year’s end, since supplies such as the sneeze guards are limited.
Associate Superintendent Christine Hill said the deadline to apply for the Northampton schools’ summer recovery and remediation program is April 30.
Lawrence has described the upcoming summer classes not as a typical “summer school” but as an extension of the current school year, intended to help students recover from academic losses that resulted from COVID-19 school closures in 2020 and a lack of full-time, in-person learning opportunities throughout 2021.
Students whose applications are received after the April 30 deadline will be put on a waiting list.
Staffing for the summer program has not yet been finalized but the goal is “to accommodate as many families as possible,” Hill said.
School Board Vacancy
A Northampton school board seat was left vacant when Randy Parks resigned in late March. He served at-large, meaning any qualified voter who lives in the county is eligible for the position.
Three candidates met the April 22 deadline to express their interest in the position in writing: Liz Jones, Virginia Long, and Matthew Bernhardt.
Virginia code requires school board vacancies to be filled within 45 days after the vacancy occurred, which prompted the Northampton school board to set a timeline on April 22 for selecting a candidate.
Interviews were conducted April 28. The school board initially planned to hold a public hearing May 12, but a legal consultation revealed that a public hearing was not necessary because the school board members are elected.
The school board opted to forgo a public hearing and planned to inform candidates of its decision April 29, with a public announcement to follow April 30.
The candidate selected will complete Parks’ term, which ends Dec. 31.
The decision not to hold a public hearing was made, in part, to give the selected candidate more time to collect the 125 signatures required to get on the ballot for the November general election to run for another term if the candidate so desired.
The school board reviewed a proposal from ABM Facility Support Services to replace outdated, failing equipment at Occohannock and Kiptopeke elementary schools at a cost of about $10.8 million.
Work to be performed includes the design and installation of a geothermal HVAC system at Kiptopeke, and interior and exterior lighting upgrades, addition of insulation, and replacement of transformers at both schools.
The upgrades will save energy and electricity costs over time, and ABM will guarantee the cost savings to the school district, nearly $70,000 in the first year alone.
The school board unanimously approved ABM’s proposal, contingent upon a legal review and the approval of the Northampton board of supervisors.