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2017-09-27 / Front Page

School Board reviews changes to media policy, capacity determination methods

Editor’s note: This story has been updated. Tim Bullis, executive director of community relations for the school system, says the Observer misinterpreted the proposed language regarding media inquiries in the School Board’s governance handbook. 

At its quarterly work session on Tuesday, the Chesterfield County School Board discussed standardizing its methodology for determining school capacity, heard updates on construction projects, and considered changes to its board governance handbook, including to the section on media inquiries to School Board members.

Capacity

Nita Mensia-Joseph, the school system’s chief operating officer, gave a presentation about school capacity, explaining that the methodology used to determine how many students a school can accommodate needed to be standardized.

Historically, the school system has used different methods to determine capacity for different schools. One method bases calculations on building capacity, determining the number of classrooms that can accommodate 25 students. Another method bases calculations on functional capacity, by looking at actual utilization of the building.

Mensia-Joseph contends that both methods are problematic, that using building capacity – also called design capacity – artificially inflates the count of students who receive instruction in a building, while functional capacity doesn’t reflect a building’s capacity for students.

She said that going forward, the Virginia Department of Education’s capacity worksheet would be the basis for all capacity determinations.

“If you do not have good planning, construction can’t deliver what you need,” she said. “We can’t plan, we can’t redistrict, we can’t get rid of trailers, because we won’t have the right numbers.”

Construction

Mensia-Joseph also gave an update regarding the school system’s ongoing construction projects. She said that the Monacan High renovation had been completed, that the final phase of the Providence Middle renovation should be completed by the end of the calendar year, and that construction of a replacement for Beulah Elementary was underway.

All demolition work for Enon Elementary has been completed and the laying of the foundation is underway. A site has been identified and purchased for Old Hundred Elementary.

Substantial accord applications have been submitted to build the new Matoaca Elementary School on the site of the Matoaca Middle School West campus. Once that school is finished – projected to open in September 2020 – Matoaca Middle West will be demolished for the elementary school’s playground and athletic fields. A wing will be added to the Matoaca East campus, consolidating the middle school at one site.

Media inquiries

The School Board is reviewing changes to its board governance handbook, including changes to its section on media inquiries to school board members.

The handbook’s language already reads that all media inquiries should be first directed to community relations in order to ensure “that everyone has the most updated information.” The proposed new language reads, “Community Relations shall, in a timely manner, provide all Board Members with media responses from the school division.”

Some, including the Observer, interpreted this language to mean that, if the change is approved, all media inquiries to School Board members would be answered by the school system’s community relations department.

Tim Bullis, executive director of community relations for the school system, says this interpretation is incorrect. 

“[The language] means that my team is charged with alerting the Board any time we respond to the media and providing what information was shared with the media representative," Bullis stated in an email to the Observer. “The handbook says nothing about our team providing the media with responses on behalf of the board.”

Bullis also wrote, “The updates made to the School Board's governance manual were made to reflect current practice. There is no prohibition from anyone contacting a School Board member. Media representatives, specifically, have always been asked to contact my team to make sure they understand the topic about which they are writing and so that we can provide any context that may be missing.”

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