Technical ed scores higher, board hears

The continual process of raising educational standards in Rappahannock was on display at the Rappahannock County School Board’s meeting last Tuesday night (April 8).

Tuesday, the school system’s Career Technical Education (CTE) program was spotlighted, as high school principal Michael Tupper and director of academic services Shannon Grimsley reviewed the program’s annual performance.

CTE is designed to give high school students a head start on a career that interests them before they get to college. CTE teaches practical applications for core high school subjects like math, science and writing, and allows students some hands-on training in a number of fields.

Notably, of the 21 Virginia Department of Education performance indicators the CTE program is supposed to meet, Rappahannock County Public Schools hit 20 — up from 16 in 2012-13. The only indicator CTE failed to meet, Grimsley said, was the special population test-taker pass rate (i.e. foreign exchange students, students with disabilities, etc.) which the school missed by only 5 percent — or three students.

In all other areas, Rappahannock excelled, Grimsley said, as 90 (and in some cases 100) percent of students passed their CTE curricula. The state standard is 80 percent. “We blew that out of the water,” Grimsley said proudly.

Other areas Rappahannock excelled in included its completion and graduation rates. Though the state demands 88 percent of students pass a CTE sequence of classes, Rappahannock maintained its 100-percent pass rate for the third straight year. Similarly, RCPS eclipsed the state standard for graduation (83 percent); 92.86 percent of students graduated from the courses (26 out of 28).

Furthermore, Tupper said the state was very impressed with the diversity of Rappahannock’s CTE offerings, which include welding, business, manufacturing, ROTC and more.

The one area Rappahannock can still improve on for next year, Tupper said, is in its diversity within certain CTE classes. For example, Tupper said the state saw girls underrepresented in its welding class, while boys were underrepresented in cooking.

Fixes to that problem, Tupper said, are complicated by Rappahannock’s small population. “We’re adding pink welding masks,” he joked.

‘Enrichment’ funds redefined?

Attention then turned to addressing a budget-related matter, as superintendent Dr. Donna Matthews — who earned her doctorate earlier in the day — presented her findings on why RCPS teachers don’t seem to be using the budgeted Curriculum Enrichment Program (CEP) fund.

Matthews said she surveyed the school systems teachers and found that the majority of them didn’t seem to know exactly what the CEP fund could be used for; “textbooks” was the common response, but that is covered under a separate part of the school system’s budget.

CEP funds can be used for any number of things, Matthews said; some of them were just used to procure new instruments for the high school band. Other uses include supplies or materials, board games or anything else the faculty feel might help improve a class.

In a slight change to how it’s worked in the budget process before, Matthews’ current proposed budget removed $14,000 from the CEP line item, leaving $1,000 and transferring the rest to the activities fund utilized by both the elementary and high schools (and causing some worry among the public that the fund had been terminated).

Streamlining the process by which teachers procure CEP funds — which is currently a rather arduous, multiple-step process, Matthews said — would likely help teachers utilize more of it, and more often.

Matthews suggested doing away with the CEP line item completely; instead, that $14,000 (and future funds) could be split evenly between the two schools, and that Tupper and elementary school principal Cathy Jones be placed in charge of it.

This would, in theory, encourage teachers to use the funds more, Matthews said; instead of filling out a request that gets reviewed by state-level administrators, this new system would allow the teachers to approach Tupper and Jones — ostensibly people they already know — and make a case directly to them about any additional materials.

Some board members expressed some reservation about splitting the funds that evenly, as they felt the elementary school would be more likely to use the funds (and thus a bigger portion of them) and that setting an arbitrary limit might further reduce teachers’ willingness to ask.

Nonetheless, the option of improving the CEP procurement system was placed under further review. No final decision was made at last week’s meeting.