Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Where eagles soar

GMS Principal Jennifer Rucker

For those of us educated in the last century, grades 6, 7, and 8—now called middle school—were probably not the best years of our lives. Things have changed for the better.
Principal Jennifer Rucker graciously took time from her busy schedule to give GOMM a peek at the workings of Goochland Middle School, whose mascot is the eagle, as part of American Education Week. Named a “2016 school to watch”, GMS is one of the top 144 middle schools in the country. That is the result of hard work by amazing teachers supported by administrators and our school board.

Each school day morning, Rucker greets the nearly 600 GMS students as they arrive for their daily dose of education. Her career path began in higher education. After working at the high school level to better prepare students for college, she moved to middle school, where, she believes, it all begins.

Students begin their school day by walking under their mascot, the eagle.

At GMS, the old basics of reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic are enhanced by robotics, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and more subtle skills including collaboration with other students.

Glimpses into classrooms revealed students—girls and boys— learning about foods rich in Vitamin A, part of a curriculum that includes conflict resolution and other domestic skills.

Students used their iPads—one is assigned to each student at GMS—for a myriad of learning related activities.

Multi charger keeps all the iPads humming.

In a STEM class, students created organisms and habitats that would support them, then presented their work to the class. In another class, Minecraft is used in collaborative “scrums” where complimentary skills combine craft solutions. In yet another, geography came to life on the small screens as young fingers deftly maneuvered images on a screen.

Devices are at the command of dexterous fingers and minds in pursuit of learning.

Gym class, which stretches both muscles and minds is more low tech. Students ran circuits around the gym collecting a clue to a Thanksgiving saying and a letter that is part of seasonal word that would be revealed at the end of the session. The kids were active, let off some excess energy, and had fun.

Tried and true educational traditions are also alive and well in the classroom of English teacher Ms. Ray. Her students diagram sentences on paper the old-fashioned way. They also collaborated on a collection of short stories featuring characters Gooch and Glenda. R them here https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-E15YKnk70sy9lioYU2RR_OgzCgojCHmNLc76gKFUGQ/edit.

You can almost hear the hum of young neurons firing as they seize knowledge from these experiences. Cross disciplinary instruction is in every classroom. The ruler straight rows of desks of yore have been replaced with groupings of students sharing skills and encouraging each other to the conclusion of a problem. Students were engaged as they sought the satisfaction of a task well done. Best of all, it seemed like pretty much everyone was having a good time.

But it’s not all tapping on computers. Robotics students learn to use the lathe by making beautiful wooden pens. Crafting paper airplanes with rubber band propellers teach aerodynamics. Band saws and power tools are used in many classes.
These pens are a part of the robotics curriculum.

Band saws and power tools are used in several disciplines. This is not your father's shop class.

Rucker acknowledges that middle school can be a difficult time for students, but the entire staff at GMS works hard to help every student thrive. Counseling and testing is used to identify students struggling in an area and provide appropriate remediation. Posters cautioning against the evils of drugs and alcohol are prominently displayed, hopefully planting the seeds of an important message in impressionable minds.

Academic excellence is only part of the GMS educational experience. Rucker said that GMS aims to create a supportive environment that does not tolerate bullying and encourages kindness.

The world is changing at a whipsaw pace. Learning to learn may be the most important skill our kids need to thrive in their future. Many will have careers that have not yet been invented. GMS is pointing our kids in the right direction.

Please visit the GMS website http://gms.goochlandschools.org/ to learn more.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Highlights of November Board of Supervisors' Meeting

Goochland’s Board of Supervisors began its November 1 meeting by formally voting to permit Ned Creasey, District 3, to participate electronically from his hospital bed. Creasey reportedly was responding well to treatment and sounded chipper over the speaker phone as he made comments and voted.

-During public comment period, two Hadensville residents who own homes on the Royal Virginia golf course raised concerns about the sale of the property to a Charlottesville company that plans to close the course and place a conservation easement on the property so that investors can take advantage of tax breaks. They contended that the previous owner of the course spent a lot of money to put it into pristine condition. Employees of Royal Virginia, they said, have been notified that the course is closing at the end of November.

Closure of the golf course, they contended, will reduce the assessed value of their homes, and in turn, county real estate tax revenues.

These gentlemen suggested that the county take over the course and run it as a revenue producing enterprise. Petersburg, they said, runs a golf course and is pursuing an ABC license to make it more profitable.

After the meeting, County Administrator John Budesky said that the county may have no say about the conservation easement. The supervisors, who learned about the sale of Royal Virginia from the media, may try to arrange a meeting with homeowners to discuss the matter.

It seems unlikely that the Board has any interest in owning or running a golf course.

-Budesky thanked all who made the county’s Fall Festival on October 28 a success. He commended Derek Stamey, Director of Parks, Recreation, and Facilities Management and his staff for a job well done. Deputies, fire-rescue and other volunteers also contributed to a great day that was well-attended.

-Marshall Wynn of VDOT reported that the speed study on Mill Trace did not recommend a 35 MPH limit. Manuel Alvarez, Jr. District 2, said he was disappointed in the result. River Road West through Courthouse Village has a 35 MPH limit. Mill Trace is a residential road, where people run, walk, and ride bikes. Deer are a hazard there too. Deputies recently issued 11 speeding tickets in a two-hour period on that road.

Wynn said that a traffic study for the Rt. 250/Fairground Road area recommended additional signage be deployed. Really? Signs imply that drivers zipping along way over the speed limit pay attention to signs and can read English. A more visceral indication of an impending hazard, like a very low profile rumble strip, would do a better job of getting drivers to pay attention. The eastbound approach to Fairground Road is a blind hill, by the time you get to the top and are able to see traffic turning into the eastbound lane, it could be too late to slow down. But signs are cheap and easy to deploy.

Alvarez requested a copy of the Fairground/250 study.

Wynn also reported that another VDOT study found that the River Road/Rt.6 interchange “is not close” to needing a traffic light at this time.

-County Assessor Mary Ann Davis declared the recertification of property in the land use program a success. She said that 94 percent of the required forms had been received and an additional 117 were expected before the end of the day, meeting the November 1 deadline. Her staff kept up with the influx of documentation, and were calling those who had not submitted recertification forms. Bills for the $25 late fee will be sent out for those who do not comply.

-Goochland received the Virginia Recycling Associations 2016 outstanding rural innovations award. This honor recognizes the many recycling invitations sponsored by the county, usually under the direction of Leigh Dunn, curbside recycling and GARC coordinator, including electronic and curbside recycling and community shredding and tire amnesty events. (The next of these is scheduled for November 19 on the corner of Sandy Hook and Fairground Road in Courthouse Village.)

- Goochland Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeremy Raley, presented an update on fiber optic cable being run along Rt. 6 from the county administration building to Byrd Elementary School.

Efforts to provide BES with high speed internet access have been disappointing and increasingly expensive. The fiber’s approximately $500,000 cost is funded mostly by a grant from USAC e-rate and $99,680 from the county. The fiber will also connect to the Company 4 fire-rescue station. Leasing cable from Comcast would cost more than $3 million over a twenty-year period. For an additional ten thousand dollars, the county will be able to run additional strands of fiber, which it will own, through the conduit. These strands would be available for lease by the county to service providers at a future time to recoup the cost and expand broadband west of Courthouse Village. Still in the planning stages, this fiber project holds great promise for extension of high speed internet into the communication desert of western Goochland.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Who ya gonna call?

The agenda of the Tuesday, November 1 meeting of the Goochland Board of Supervisors contained an item that will sadden the hearts of many. Goochland Fire-Rescue asked to accelerate hiring of two additional fire-rescue staff from July 1, to January 1, 2017.

The request was prompted by letters received earlier in the year from the volunteer District Chiefs of Manakin Company 1 and Centerville Company 3 that they can no longer supply core levels of staffing. They asked to have career providers deployed at their stations to supplement volunteers.

In 2013, the supervisors approved a ten-year staffing plan that would gradually add paid fire-rescue providers on a schedule predicated on volunteer participation levels remaining steady at 2013 levels. According to Goochland Fire-Rescue Chief Bill MacKay, volunteer participation has declined 38.35 per cent in the last three years.

MacKay said that in 2013, there were 412 volunteers on the books countywide, including auxiliary members and drivers. By 2015, the number had dwindled to 346, with only 55.96 percent of those in call responding positions.

Fire-Rescue volunteers are the embodiment of community self-reliance, a hallmark of rural character. Transitioning to career life safety service is a sign that things are changing.

Reasons for this decline are many. Fewer people have the time or inclination to commit to what is essentially a demanding second unpaid job. Newcomers to the county are less likely to volunteer for fire-rescue service, and most volunteers work elsewhere. It’s hard to be up half the night responding to 911 calls and be on your job bright and early the next morning. There are other reasons for the volunteer fall off. Visit your local fire-rescue station and talk to the incredible people who freely give of their time and talents to save lives and protect property in Goochland.

Before the discussion on staffing, the supervisors approved a fire-rescue request to use cost recovery funds to purchase video laryngoscopes for each of the county’s front line ambulances. These devices help advanced life support EMS providers quickly and safely intubate patients to establish an airway and keep them breathing during transport to a hospital, which can be a long trip from Goochland.

This illustrates that the pre-hospital emergency care delivered by our amazing EMS volunteers is increasingly complex, requiring many hours of training over and above on duty hours.

As MacKay told the supervisors, Goochland is not alone in its volunteer staffing predicament. Last year, Rockville’s volunteer fire company closed. Residents of northeastern Goochland/western Hanover have raised concerns about the dearth of available EMS units in this area.

MacKay said that filling career fire-rescue positions has been challenging as Goochland competes with Henrico and Chesterfield Counties, which have large departments and deeper pockets. The recruitment process includes written and agility testing and a stringent background investigation. MacKay said that there are often many “no shows” for the testing, but those that do participate have high pass rates; the background check, not so much.

Due to two existing vacancies, money is available to fund the additional positons with no extra funding needed from the county. Revenues generated by the cost recovery program, which charges insurance for EMS hospital transport based on distance and level of care, help fund career positions.

MacKay said that approval of additional providers will enable deployment of 24/7 EMS crews at four of the county’s six fire-rescue stations, to be augmented by volunteers when possible. He hopes to have all approved positions filled early in 2017. The Chef hopes that the current pool of 71 applicants will yield at least four well-qualified employees.

Supervisor Ned Creasey, District 3, hospitalized to attend to health matters attended the meeting electronically. Creasey, who is also a Fire-Rescue life member, offered to work with MacKay to expedite background checks.

A request for additional career fire-rescue providers in the budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins next July 1, seems likely.