In July of 2020, when Bristol Virginia Public Schools announced that we would be offering individual instruction four days per week for each family who chose to participate, many suggested that successful, safe, individualized learning may not be possible. Will happen. However, our courageous staff, students, parents and community came together to demonstrate that our school board made the right decision, albeit a difficult one.
The teachers heroically did the important task of instructing the students in person and online simultaneously. To the credit of our wonderful staff, the fears surrounding a complete reopening failed to satisfy, and our school division was able to thrive and excel in the midst of a global pandemic.
We started the 2020-21 school year as one of four divisions across the state to offer families the option of fully individualized learning in August 2020. Over 70% of our households chose that option and we ended the year with over 85% choosing. learning individually. During that time, we only had a few CDC defined outbreaks (two or more cases in a unit), only once actively moving to virtual learning.
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Creatively, we found ways to safely host award gatherings, proms and athletic competitions, etc., while providing as normal a situation as possible to our students. We have planned and delivered one of the most robust summer programs experienced by our students. Even though our SOL (Standards of Learning) scores followed a declining trend statewide in 2020-21, our schools performed in the top 25% of all schools in the Commonwealth and were in the top 10 when overall poverty metrics were considered Was. This success has been possible only due to the valiant and cooperative efforts of the employees of each department of the division.
We have hit our stride during the 2021-22 school year. We started the year with 95% of our families attending the school individually. We helped create a regional virtual academy that ensures an online learning option for families without overburdening our staff. We’ve only seen a few CDC defined outbreaks without ever transitioning to division-wide virtual learning. Despite the pandemic, our students have prospered like never before. To make a better point in this regard, allow me to share some of my successes during this historically unprecedented period.
The data that was shared in a recent VDOE (Virginia Department of Education) report is not something we experienced from 2017-2019, nor are we currently experiencing at Bristol Virginia public schools. Although the SOL test is still taking off, there are early indications that our students are doing much better than they were last year. Pass rates have increased by up to 46 percentage points (math in HVES), and many students have experienced exponential growth. More than 25 students have scored full marks of 600. When all the results are calculated, we will share them with our community.
It is clear that our student population is learning, thriving and succeeding despite the challenges presented by the pandemic.
Here is a list of some of their collective achievements:
- A VHS student was the first-place winner of the Congressional Arts Contest in Virginia’s 9th District.
- Another VHS student was the first place winner of the Virginia School Board Association 2022 Spring Regional Art Contest.
- Even though VHS was the smallest school in the competition, our students earned 12 awards, including six first places in the Northeast TN/Southwest VA Artistic Excellence Award.
- The first female graduate from our auto mechanics class (2021) won the Tennessee Collegiate State Championship in auto mechanics as a student at Northeast State (2022).
- Our Seniors Have Earned Over $1,600,000 in Scholarships
- In athletics, we had five team district champions, two regional champions, one state runner-up and two state semifinalists.
- Fifteen student-athletes signed letters of intent with the colleges to continue their academic and athletic careers.
- VMS gave the honor of All District Band to five students.
- Over 85 VMS students participated in the successful production of “Shrek Jr. the Musical”.
- VHS had recognized 32 students for All District Band.
- Our concert band received an overall excellent rating and our marching band brought in too many awards not to mention with many better ratings and championships.
- Our Winter Guard dominated their competitions.
- VHS students raised more than $108,000 in virtual dollars in the Southwest Virginia Stock Market Challenge.
- Personal finance students scored the ninth best on the Y$E financial test nationwide.
- Four nursing students found jobs at Bristol Rehab and Memory Care as well as at NHC Bristol.
- All Nursing students qualified their written state board exam in first attempt.
- Building Trades students build and sell storage buildings within the community.
- Three automotive technology students received full student ASE certification, while seven others received partial certification.
- Horticulture students held the largest plant sale in VHS history.
- VHS Robotics team competed in top 15 in state level competition.
- All Culinary Arts students tested passed certification.
- Nineteen VHS seniors received diplomas from VHCC before graduating from high school.
In addition to the success of our students, our teachers and staff were also remarkably successful. Here is a small sampling of the successes our staff has had during the pandemic:
- Despite being the highest poverty school in our division, Washington-Lee received back-to-back winners of the Bristol Rotary Teacher of the Year Award.
- Ten other teachers of BVPS were also honored by Rotary for their amazing achievements in the classroom.
- Twelve crews were awarded the Bearcat Best Award by their peers for going above and beyond the call of duty. These employees work in our teaching, clerical, nursing and custody departments
- Nine of our employees have earned master’s degrees.
- Four of our employees have earned doctorates.
- One teacher earned National Board Certification
- A middle school administrator won a national essay contest in Writers Digest for her essay titled “Suspended” and also recently published a novel called “Perennial Girl.”
As a division, our mid-pandemic successes are just as impressive. Here are some examples of how our division has progressed:
- Only one division in the Commonwealth offers more individual learning opportunities than BVPS.
- BVPS has been recognized by the Virginia Board of Education as one of only seven school divisions of Innovation Statewide to implement Bearcat Bridge.
- Bearcat Bridge Supports students while preparing for life after high school. Aspects of the program run from elementary to high school and beyond. Appendages to Bearcat Bridge include the following: Career Cafe, Bearcat Bridge Advisory, task-based learning opportunities called Career Launch, Senior Mentorship, Workforce Ready Diploma SEALs and Cars for Careers.
- Transition services have increased, giving students with disabilities the opportunity to work in a variety of jobs in the community.
- Special education instruction continued without interruption and all federal guidelines were completed within the time limit.
- WLES, HVES, and VMS received 21scheduled tribe Century After School Grant in the amount of $1,427,000.
- For the ninth year in a row, BVPS has been recognized as one of the top communities in the country for music education
- BVPS has opened two new Virtual Reality Labs which can accommodate 24 students each.
- BVPS and the City of Bristol have approved the construction of the first new school in our city in 50 years.
- Capital improvements of over $4 million dollars are currently underway at our other schools. These projects include auditorium renovations, outdoor classrooms, new roofs, lighting, HVAC systems, new scoreboards, and more.
- Teacher and staff compensation has increased by 5.2% during the pandemic, with a 10% increase planned for 2022-23.
- A new school-based program designed for exceptional learning conditions and hired to support student learning.
- BVPS is now a one-to-one division, PK-12.
- We have provided over 1,115,000 meals to families during the pandemic. Many of them were delivered directly to the homes of students at the start of the pandemic.
- Communities at Schools continues to provide its unique model of integrated student services through targeted, individualized support to over 257 students, while providing support to over 23,500 through whole-school programming.
- Our school board has approved a child care course at VHS that will train students for child care certification as well as offer double enrollment credits for future teachers.
- As a result, staff with young children and other parents in our community will be able to take advantage of affordable child care while providing our students with valuable, real-life experiences.
- To enable parents to maintain a consistent work schedule, we now offer babysitting on snow days and when we have weather delays.
- We partnered with Southwest Virginia Community Health Systems (SVCHS) to provide an in-house “urgent care” at Van Pelt for all BVPS students and staff who were able to test rapidly during the pandemic.
- We have now extended that partnership to VHS.
- BVPS received a $333,000 grant to improve classroom technology and enable SVCHS to provide tele-health services to all schools.
- Van Pelt Elementary received a $5,000 grant from Burlington, Bristol, for teachers to purchase school supplies for their classroom.
- BVPS has partnered with the United Way of Southwest Virginia to make every school part of the Trauma Responsive Network of Schools.
- During the first year of the pandemic, our Department of Transportation provided double runs to maintain seating distance and a safe environment for all students.
- Our maintenance department provided new HVAC bi-polar ionizers, advanced air filtration, and monitoring air quality in all buildings.
- Van Pelt’s Treatment Team, a multi-disciplinary team approach to helping at-risk students, was featured in the 2022 Spring VSBA newsletter.
- The outstanding work of our division has been featured numerous times in US News & World Report, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Bristol Herald Courier.
This is an extraordinary list of accolades, and given the global pandemic environment, they are even more impressive.
The Bristol community should be proud of their school division, but especially of our staff and students. Rest assured, we are ready to serve our community as we move towards another historic period when new families arrive in our area to take advantage of the influx of jobs that are on the horizon.
Clearly, Bristol is not only a “nice place to live” but an “excellent place to learn and grow”.