Coronavirus, budget among hot topics in Roanoke County ‘State of Schools’ address

School leaders discussed virtual learning, renovations, mental health and more

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – The current state of Roanoke County Public Schools is anything but normal in 2020. School leadership will admit that. However, they have done an extensive amount of work to accommodate the needs of everyone in the community through a number of things highlighted in their 2020 State of the Schools address.

Michael Wray, school board chairman, led the conversation that ranged from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the classroom, to technology expansion, online diploma programs, initiatives to combat mental health challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, and school renovations.

“The best way we’re going to beat this pandemic and keep the coronavirus out of our schools is if we all work together as a team,” said Wray.

Roanoke County schools began the year with a hybrid plan of having some students in the building and other working remotely. Each day extensive cleaning is done at school and on the buses.

Recently, more students were welcomed on campus as their hybrid plan expands.

“While I, and every other school board member, along with the school administration, fully support having all students in school full time, we can only do so following public health guidance,” said Wray.

“If you’re fearful about sending your child to in-person instruction, then you have the option of virtual learning. If you’re a teacher and you’re afraid to be there five days a week with students, then you have the option of either teaching virtual or moving on to another career,” said Debi Firebaugh. She has two eleventh grade daughters.

Firebaugh also worries about the mental health effects the major changes will have on students.

Wray explained a number of initiatives in place to aid in those challenges.

“We are also working to develop and promote a culture of kindness, respect and responsibility in our schools,” said Wray. “Roanoke County Public Schools is implementing a nationwide program called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS. This is an evidence-based prevention and intervention program that supports the academic, social, emotional and behavioral competence of all students. There are three main tenants of the PBIS program at Roanoke County Public Schools – Be Safe, Be Respectful and Be Responsible.”

Licensed mental health professionals, known as “life coaches” on campus, are positioned at schools across the system and readily available.

Building maintenance was also a major topic discussed.

The audience was given an exclusive inside look of the new Cave Spring High School.

Wray said there are nine schools that need significant renovation. About half of the schools were constructed or last renovated more than 20 years ago. Six schools have not seen any significant improvements since the late 1960s or early 1970s.

“State funding has not kept up with inflation, especially construction costs. We are operating, essentially, at the same level of funding from a decade ago, when accounting for inflation,” said Wray.

At current levels, it will take decades to come up with funding.

Click here to view the full presentation.

About the Author:

McKinley Strother joined the WSLS 10 News team in June 2020. He anchors 10 News at 6 and 11 on Saturdays and Sundays and you'll also catch him reporting during the week.