Page County Schools ready to start new year

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Bus at LES 1st day 09-10-20
A bus drops off students at Luray Elementary.

By Randy Arrington

LURAY, Aug. 18 — Parents and students flooded into local schools for orientation on Thursday, just four days before the official start of the 2022-23 school year.

Page County Public Schools welcomed 48 new teachers last week and will welcome an estimated 3,080 students on Monday. Enrollment figures were presented during the Aug. 11 school board meeting and will continue to change through the first week of school (and little beyond beyond).

Page County Public Schools begins its 2022-23 school year at 8:15 a.m on Monday, Aug. 22. Students will be released at 12:30 p.m. each day for the first week — Monday, Aug. 22 through Friday, Aug. 26 — for participation and attendance at the Page Valley Agricultural and Industrial Fair, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary next week.

As of last Thursday, Dr. Paul Johnson, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Business Operations, reported that there were still three vacancies within the school division — a math teacher, a special education teacher, and a school counselor. While other positions also remain open, these three key positions seem to be minor compared to the regional, statewide and national problem of teaching vacancies. By comparison, at the end of July, the Fairfax Education Association was reporting 600 vacancies in its school system, which also starts on Monday.

“Our administrators have worked very hard, and continue to work very hard, to fill these positions,” Dr. Johnson said.

Among the 48 new teachers are some who signed on as long-term substitutes. The pool of substitute teachers has grown to 70 this year, with a number of professionals coming to share their skills, according to Dr. Johnson.

“This is the most I’ve ever seen,” Dr. Johnson said of the then-44 new teachers the school division had signed on as of the July 28 school board meeting.

“Every school division will say it’s the highest it’s ever been,” Dr. Antonia Fox, superintendent of local schools, told the school board last month as she emphasized the widespread teacher shortage.

The school division has been pushing notifications for parents to get on PowerSchool to set up their Parent Portal. The online system allows parents to keep track of their student’s progress, as well as have access to important documents, grades, announcements, etc. Many parents completed the task during Thursday’s orientation sessions. (If you still need to sign up, click the link above.)

“This is a partnership…we need parents to be on this system,” Dr. Fox said at the July 28 meeting. “It is going to help us expedite some of our functions and cut back on paper.”

The Parent Portal can also be used to sign all of the “beginning of the year paperwork” that needs to be addressed for your student. If parents were unable to attend orientation and are having trouble signing up on the Parent Portal, then contact your child’s school.

The Page County School Board adopted a string of policies at its Aug. 11 meeting to prep for the upcoming school year, with mostly minor changes made to the student handbook and several other policy guidelines. One big change is the invitation extended to a student to sit among school board members. While not an elected official with an official vote on the board, a program has been created to find a student representative to help guide decisions made by the school board. Applications are being taken for the position.

There will be no mask mandates when schools open on Monday, but administrators are monitoring the rising COVID-19 cases across the state and in our region and taking some precautions to help mitigate the spread in schools.

Local schools are also applying for a grant to potentially add electric buses to their fleet. If successful, the grant could add two 71-passenger electric buses capable of traveling 100 miles per charge. The annual cost to charge a bus is about $1,000 — versus about $10,000 in annual fuel costs. In addition to saving on fuel and eliminating oil changes, the grant would allow the county to receive two new buses for a combined cost of only $25,000.

“We could probably never have a fleet [of electric buses] because of the terrain we cover…and we still need to study battery life,” Dr. Johnson reported to the school board last week. “Initially, if we are successful in getting the buses, we would just use them in the Town of Luray, or from LHS [where there is a charging station] to the Tech Center…we can withdraw anytime up to the award, but the $25,000 cost would be recovered within two years simply in fuel savings.”

Dr. Johnson said he would start the paperwork on the grant application this week. If local schools are successful and accept the electric buses, the county would be committed to keep the buses for five years. In addition, the program requires that two diesel buses be eliminated from the fleet.

Drivers in Page County should be aware that school buses will begin hitting the roads early Monday morning. State law requires oncoming traffic to stop when the bus is stopped and has its flashing lights activated. Allow plenty of space for students to load or unload, and keep a safe distance when following a school bus.

Keep up with announcements and events involving Page County Public Schools through their website, https://www.pagecounty.k12.va.us/

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