‘We’re making it work’: Lunenburg County schools ask for help

Published 12:41 pm Wednesday, January 11, 2023

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VICTORIA – We’re making it work, but at some point, that’s not going to be doable unless empty positions are filled. That was the message delivered Monday to the school board by administrators and staff from Lunenburg County schools. During the year’s first public discussion on the upcoming budget, officials outlined needs in the district and were very realistic about the struggles they’ve faced. 

For years, the district has had two Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) teachers, Dr. Andrea Shell explained. She serves as Coordinator of Elementary Special Education for Lunenburg County Public Schools. ECSE classes are specially designed to meet the needs of preschool children with disabilities. This year, Lunenburg lost one of those teachers, as she moved to North Carolina. 

“We were unable to fill her position,” Shell said, adding that the district is still advertising the opening, trying to fill it. However, due to the teacher’s absence, they’ve faced some challenges. “We have had to find creative ways to serve the students with other personnel.” 

Lunenburg County schools face personnel problem

A lack of personnel is a problem for other parts of the district as well. Lunenburg Middle School had a special education teacher (SPED) position that was open at the beginning of the school year. They faced the same problem, unable to find someone to hire. In order to make sure students received the needed help, a Central High teacher was sent over. But that in turn puts strain on the high school staff. 

“Our people are doing what they can do to make it work,” Shell said. “(But) if we continue to just make it work, it will put a strain on our teachers (and staff).” 

Her point was to make sure board members understood that just because the positions are currently open, that doesn’t mean they’re not important to the district. They need to be kept in the upcoming year’s budget. 

“We’re making it work, but all of those positions are necessary,” Shell said. “We’ve just had to find ways to give the kids their services. It’s not that we can do without any of those positions. We still need them.” 

Central High considers changes

Central High Principal Michelle Howell told a similar story. Even though the school staff made it work, handling extra assignments after the special education teacher was moved to the middle school, that position is still needed at Central. 

As Howell pointed out, special education students often have an individualized education program (IEP), specific rules that have to be followed. 

“Things are getting very tight with us, trying to meet all of our IEP (requirements),” Howell told the board. “We’re making it work (but) moving forward a (SPED) position here would be very helpful.” 

She also explained that the extra SPED teacher could help in other ways, working with remedial English and Math classes. And remedial classes are something that’s needed at the high school right now. 

“Our students are not staying after school for remediation,” Howell told the board. “We have to find a way to meet them when they are in our buildings. And so (maybe) that’s creating what would have been a homeroom back in the day, where we have that SPED teacher, partnering with a Gen Ed teacher, meeting those needs to move them along.”  

Howell also asked for the board to fund a position for an attendance clerk at Central. 

“We don’t always realize sometimes the direct impact (attendance) has on student success,” Howell said. “Anything you read will tell you that attendance directly impacts student outcomes. I have some students that have missed 43 days, 50% of the semester. They did not pass a (Standards of Learning test). That’s not surprising.” 

Other requests from Lunenburg County schools

Beyond additional teaching positions, district staff requested the board consider funding assistants on school buses, as there have been issues with discipline throughout the semester. 

One issue raised is what would happen to assistants on the bus once the route is done? Since bus drivers typically take their buses home, they would either have to drive all the way back to school to drop the assistant off or drive the assistant to their home. EIther option would mean more driving and possibly increased costs

A question was also raised if the district could find alternatives to a paid position. Maybe instead of paid assistants, board members questioned if they could use high school students who need community service hours. 

What happens next? 

This was the first of five scheduled discussions on the upcoming budget. The next will be held at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at Lunenburg Middle School. More budget discussions will be held on February 22 and March 22, with another public hearing on March 29.

Connor Thompson contributed to this report.