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BVPS Pandemic Success

In July of 2020, when Bristol Virginia Public Schools announced that we would be offering in-person instruction four days per week for every family who chose to attend, many people suggested successful, safe, in-person learning would not be possible. However, our courageous staff, students, parents, and community came together to demonstrate that our School Board had made the right, albeit difficult, decision. Teachers heroically took on the monumental task of instructing students in-person and online simultaneously. To the credit of our amazing staff, the multitude of fears surrounding a full reopening failed to materialize, and our School Division was able to thrive and excel in the midst of a global pandemic.  

We began the 2020-21 school year as one of four divisions statewide that offered a fully in-person learning option to families in August 2020. Over 70% of our families chose that option and we ended the year with over 85% choosing in-person learning. During that time, we had only a couple of CDC defined outbreaks (2 or more cases in one unit), proactively shifting to virtual learning only once. Creatively, we found ways to safely host awards assemblies, prom, and athletic contests etc., giving our students as much normalcy as possible. We also planned and delivered one of the most robust summer programs our students have ever experienced. Even though our SOL (Standards of Learning) scores followed the statewide declining trend in 2020-21, our schools performed in the top 25% of all schools across the Commonwealth and were in the top 10 when overall poverty metrics were considered. This success was only made possible due to the heroic and collaborative effort of employees in every department of the Division.

During the 2021-22 school year we have hit our stride. We opened the year with 95% of our families attending school in-person. We helped create a Regional Virtual Academy that ensures an on-line learning option to families without overburdening our staff. We have seen only a few CDC defined outbreaks, without ever shifting to division-wide virtual learning. Despite the pandemic, our students have thrived like never before. To make a finer point in that regard, allow me to share some of our successes during this historically unprecedented period. 

The data that was shared in the recent VDOE (Virginia Department of Education) report is not what we experienced from 2017-2019, nor what we are experiencing currently in Bristol Virginia Public Schools. Although SOL testing is still winding down, early indications are that our students are performing significantly better than last year. Pass rates increased by as much as 46 percentage points (Math at HVES), and many students have experienced exponential growth. Over 25 students have earned perfect scores of 600! When all the results are calculated, we will share those with our community. 

It is evident that our student population is learning, thriving, and succeeding, despite the challenges presented by the pandemic. Here is a list of just a few of their collective accomplishments: 

  • A VHS student was the 1st Place Winner of the Congressional Art Competition in Virginia’s Ninth District.
  • Another VHS student was the 1st Place Winner of the Virginia School Boards Association 2022 Spring Regional Art Contest.
  • Even though VHS was the smallest school in the competition, our students earned 12 awards, including 6 1st 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 5 team district champions, 2 regional champions, a state runner-up, and 2 state semi-finalists.
  • 15 student-athletes signed letters of intent with colleges to continue their academic and athletic careers.
  • VMS had five students receive the honor of All-District band.
  • Over 85 VMS students participated in a successful production of “Shrek Jr. The Musical”.
  • VHS had 32 students receive recognition for All-District Band.
  • Our Concert Band received an overall excellent rating and our Marching Band brought home too many awards to mention, with multiple Superior ratings and championships.
  • Our Winter Guard dominated in their competitions.
  • Students from VHS won the Southwest VA Stock Market Challenge earning over $108,000 virtual dollars.
  • Personal Finance students had the 9th best performance on the Wi$e Financial Exam in the entire Nation. 
  • Four Nursing Students received job placements with Bristol Rehab and Memory Care as well as NHC Bristol.
  • All Nursing students passed their written state board exams on the first attempt.
  • Building Trades students constructed and sold storage buildings within the community.
  • 3 Automotive Technology students received full student ASE certification, while 7 others received partial certification.
  • Horticulture students held the biggest plant sale in VHS history.
  • The VHS Robotics team competed in the top 15 in state level competition.
  • 100% of Culinary Arts students tested passed certification.
  • 19 VHS Seniors received diplomas from VHCC before graduating from high school.
 

In addition to our students’ success, our teachers and staff were remarkably successful as well. Here is a small sample of the successes our staff has had during the pandemic: 

  • Despite being the highest poverty school in our division, Washington-Lee had back-to-back winners of the Bristol Rotary Teacher of the Year Award.  
  • 10 other teachers from BVPS were also recognized by Rotary for their amazing accomplishments in the classroom. 
  • 12 employees were recognized by their peers with the Bearcat Best Award for going above and beyond the call of duty. These employees work in our instructional, clerical, nursing, and custodial departments 
  • 9 of our staff have earned Master’s degrees. 
  • 4 of our staff have earned Doctorate degrees.
  • 1 teacher earned National Board Certification
  • A middle school administrator won a national essay contest in Writers Digest for his essay titled “Suspended” and also recently published a novella titled “Perennial Girl”.
 

As a division, our mid-pandemic successes are just as impressive. Here are some examples of how our division has continued to move forward:

  • Only one division in the Commonwealth has offered more in-person learning opportunities than BVPS.
  • BVPS has been recognized by the Virginia Board of Education as one of only 7 School Divisions of Innovation, statewide, for implementing Bearcat Bridge. 
  • Bearcat Bridge supports students as they prepare for life after high school.   Facets of the program go from elementary to high school and beyond.   The appendages of Bearcat Bridge include the following: Career Café,’ Bearcat Bridge Advisory, Work-based Learning Opportunities called Career Launch, Senior Mentorships, Workforce Ready Diploma Seal, and Cars for Careers.  
  • Transition services have increased, giving students with disabilities exposure and opportunities to work in different jobs in the community.
  • Special education instruction continued with no break of services and all federal guidelines were met within the timeline.
  • WLES, HVES, and VMS received 21st Century After School Grants in the amount of $1,427,000.
  • For the 9th consecutive year, BVPS has been recognized as a Top Community in the Nation for Music Education
  • BVPS has opened 2 new Virtual Reality Labs that can accommodate 24 students each. 
  • BVPS and the City of Bristol have approved building the first new school in our city in 50 years. 
  • Over $4 million dollars in capital improvements are currently under way in our other schools. These projects include auditorium renovations, outdoor classrooms, new roofs, lighting, HVAC systems, new scoreboards, and more.
  • Teacher and staff compensation have increased by 5.2% during the pandemic, with another 10% increase planned for 2022-23. 
  • A new School-based Program for Exceptional Learning position was created 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 throughout the pandemic. Many of those were delivered directly to students’ homes early in the pandemic.
  • Communities in Schools continued to provide their unique model of integrated student services through targeted, individualized supports to over 257 students, while providing over 23,500 supports through whole-school programming.
  • Our School Board approved a Child Care Course at VHS that will train students for Child Care certification while simultaneously offering Dual Enrollment Credit for future teachers. 
  • As a result, employees with young children and other parents in our community will be able to take advantage of affordable childcare while providing our students with valuable, real-life experiences. 
  • To enable parents to maintain consistent work schedules, we now offer childcare 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 that was also able to perform rapid testing during the pandemic. 
  • We have now expanded that partnership to VHS. 
  • BVPS received a $333,000 grant to improve classroom technology and to enable SVCHS to provide tele-health services to all schools.
  • Van Pelt Elementary received a $5,000 grant from Burlington of Bristol for teachers to purchase school supplies for their classroom.
  • BVPS teamed up with United Way of Southwest VA and is working to make every school part of a trauma responsive network of schools.
  • During the first year of the pandemic, our Transportation Department provided double runs to maintain seating distances and a safe environment for all students.
  • Our Maintenance Department provided oversight on new HVAC bi-polar ionizers, upgraded air filtration, and monitored 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 excellent work of our division has been featured in U.S. News and World Report, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and multiple times in the Bristol Herald Courier.
 

This is an extraordinary list of accolades, and considering the environment of a global pandemic, they are even more impressive. The Bristol community should be proud of their school division, but especially proud of our staff and students. Rest assured, we are ready to serve our community as we approach another historical period when new families move into our area to take advantage of the influx of jobs that are on the horizon. Clearly, Bristol is not only a “Good Place to Live” but an “Excellent Place to Learn and Thrive”.

Composed by BVPS School Administration