WISE — Chairman Larry Greear chuckled that the school board may have set a record short 27-minute meeting as it prepared to adjourn Tuesday night, but Superintendent Greg Mullins had covered a lot of ground in that time — from a very positive start to the new school year to the old Kelly high school building and its future use.
Mullins also briefed the board on higher-than-expected enrollment, just-in test score rankings and the recent denial of a parking lot proposal.
Principals across the division report that the return to school has gone extremely well, he told the board, adding that everyone was "engaged and going at it from day one."
Safety and comfort improvements completed over the summer have been well received, he said, and children are excited to be back in school.
Mullins reported attendance at 5,374 and well above the budgeted number of 5,350.
"We're pleased about that," he said, adding that they expect their numbers to continue to rise somewhat into September, as the division is picking up a child or two each day. They sometimes lose students at Christmas time and again in the spring, he noted.
STATE RANKINGS, ACCREDITATION
The Virginia Department of Education released state test score rankings and accreditation reports that morning. All Wise County schools are officially and fully accredited, he told the board, and Wise County's performance on state Standards of Learning tests ranks it fifth in the state.
Mullins advised last month the division ranked first among school divisions that comprise Region 7.
While they are very pleased and proud of students, faculty and staff, he acknowledged some disappointment.
"We actually thought we might be among the very top of the heap," Mullins said. "But being first in the region and fifth in the state is nothing to sneeze about."
Ranked fifth out of 132 divisions statewide, "we can say we're at the top of the heap," said District 2 board member Phillip Bates.
"We'll continue to push toward number one," Mullins said.
NO TO PARKING PLAN
Mullins reported disappointing news on the outcome of the division's parking lot idea at Wise Primary School.
They had hoped to create 24 parking spaces at the front of the school, adjacent to the bus circle. While they didn't think it would alleviate nagging congestion problems around the elementary and L.F. Addington Middle School, he said, they thought it might be a first step toward help, especially on exceptionally heavy traffic days when they have special events, like Grandparents Day or Christmas parties.
But when they made their pitch, he said, Wise Planning Commission thought the idea would do just the opposite, creating problems instead, and denied the request.
'We respect their concerns but we somewhat disagree with the commission on the project's positive impact," Mullins said.
The superintendent said they had explained to the commission that when those two schools were built across from each other, most students arrived on buses and could be dropped off together. Today, Mullins said, there's more vehicle traffic than there's ever been since he's been in education.
Now, parking is at a premium and there's serious congestion for a period of time, he said, although things run relatively smoothly after that, given the volume of traffic.
Some residents who live adjacent to the area were in attendance and spoke, he said, not against the parking lot but mostly against the congestion.
Mullins said the commission had questions about who would park in the new spaces. When he explained they would be reserved for faculty, freeing up spaces elsewhere, Mullins said questions then turned to how they would ensure that happens. They were asked what would keep others from taking those spots if staff left during the day.
While they felt as if they had answered the commission's questions, he said, concerns remained and "ultimately we were denied.
"It's kinda where we're at," he said, adding the the division would "continue to look at creative ways to eliminate congestion."
COUNTY MUNICIPAL BUILDING PROJECT
Wise County and engineers from Thompson & Little are in the preliminary stages of assessing the future use of the old J.J. Kelly High School for housing county municipal offices. The school division was part of a recent gathering, he told the board, noting they are "certainly open to being part of the discussion . . . to make better use of resources."
But Mullins said he told County Administrator Mike Hatfield that the division's involvement "would have to make sense from a logistical standpoint."
When you begin to hear from the various agencies and what would be required, he said, "it's a pretty big undertaking."
Among those represented in the discussion that day, he said, it would require 287 office spaces to house them.
Mullins said the division would continue to listen, talk and share.