Members of the Chesterfield County School Board met with local faith leaders last Wednesday morning to discuss with them possible after-school accommodations for the 58,000 plus students to be let out three hours early on the last Wednesday of every month starting next September.
Speaking to approximately two dozen leaders from around the county, Chesterfield County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marcus Newsome expressed that these additional three hours a month free of students in the schools will allow teachers an opportunity to combat stress stemming from pay cuts.
“We’ve had cuts in places we didn’t even know we had … The burden on teachers is so much …,” he said, and this change in the academic calendar allows them to “spend more time on professional development.”
Newsome, in a his FY 2012 Financial Proposal, which is posted on the Chesterfield County School Board website, stated that it could be years before our school division regains some of the nearly $80 million in operating funds and nearly 500 positions lost during FY 2010 and FY 2011.
With those figures still looming over the heads of county employees, as adequate funding remains an issue for Chesterfield schools, virtually every face in education is affected by these changes, wrote Dr. Newsome.
“These changes have had dramatic impacts — reduced student choices, fewer teachers and administrators in schools and fewer support services,” he wrote. “These changes have not only changed the face of public education in Chesterfield, but they have hurt employee morale.”
With the first of the three-hour early release days coming September 28, the School Board meeting Wednesday served only as an open forum, providing the local faith community an opportunity to discuss with board members suggestions and apprehensions regarding the issue.
Tim Bullis, director of community relations for Chesterfield County Public Schools, expressed to the faith leaders that board members approached the faith community in hopes that local churches might accommodate some of the students let out of school three hours early on the last Wednesday of every month.
“We’re reaching out for opportunities in the faith community, the safe havens for these kids.”
The meeting was only discussion-based, as no decisions were made regarding the issue. Nonetheless, faith leaders present were not hesitant in speaking their minds.
Andy Rist, pastor from Oak Grove Baptist Church in Beulah, was one of the faith leaders present at the meeting.
“Any way we can help and benefit the community, especially with the schools and the students, I’m all in favor of it,” he said a day later. “Well, understanding a lot of the restrictions they’ve faced here in years past, I think they’re looking at other community resources that maybe already in place that they can be an avenue to the schools. I don’t think it’s an easy way out, I think they’re looking at alternatives. And I’m thankful they’re looking to the faith-based community for an alternative.”
Funding the after-school programs was one of the concerns for Rist, stating that some churches could afford it, others would not, the size of both the congregation and the church playing a major role in accommodating students on those days.
“So, I think it could be a good resource but I think it’s limited from the standpoint that a larger church with greater resources may be in a better position to assist in those areas than maybe some of the smaller churches.”
Dr. George Lyons, preacher at Gillfield Baptist Church in Ettrick, was also present at the meeting Monday morning.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for the local faith-based community to think about how we can be more effective serving the means of the community,” said Dr. Lyons also a day later. “I think yesterday’s discussion was merely an FYI … I think just having the conversation and knowing that the door is open is a good thing.”