PORTSMOUTH, Va. — It’s the first day of school for public school students in Chesapeake, Suffolk and Portsmouth.
Over in Portsmouth, Superintendent Dr. Elie Bracy said school administrators have a lot of priorities for the upcoming school year, among them student achievement, school safety, and ensuring there are enough bus drivers.
Dr. Bracy said learning loss after the summer is always a concern and it’s a challenge that teachers are prepared to handle.
“They anticipate it so it’s just a matter of getting back into the flow of being back in school,” Bracy said. “I noticed when some of the students were getting off the bus they had that sleep look still on their faces. But they’ll get in and get motivated and get excited and they’ll be ready to go.”
He explained that teachers will assess where students are in key subjects so they can make sure children are where they need to be.
“We want to make sure — number one — we get our kids acclimated to being back in school,” Bracy said. “Probably some of them have just taken it easy for the past couple of months so we expect that. We want to get them back in, do an assessment, just to see where they are and move things forward.”
Another priority is school safety.
In light of the Richneck Elementary School shooting in Newport News, Portsmouth Public School administrators want to put weapons detection systems in elementary schools. Last year, school leaders voted to install the systems in middle and high schools.
“We already have the weapons detection systems in place for secondary schools, this past year,” Bracy said. “Our elementary schools — all 13 — will receive the same system probably in a couple of months. We just received the funding for that so we’re going to get that in place. Hopefully, in a couple of months, we’re going to get that in.”
Tashamee Alston, a former Lakeview Elementary social studies teacher, came back to volunteer on the first day of school.
“I came out here to volunteer to make sure the kids got to their classrooms, things run smoothly to make sure they know how they’re getting home,” Alston said. “We helped bring out the welcome back sign for the students this morning. It felt like it would be inviting and warm for the parents who come out.”
She and other volunteers are just an extra set of hands to make sure things go easily for students on day one.
“Just to be a friendly face that they remember,” Alston said.
A lot of children are hopping on and off the school bus for the first day of class. Bracy said finding a ride shouldn’t be a problem for any student this year.
“As far as having all of our routes covered, we do,” Bracy said.
He explained that the division worked strategically to condense bus routes throughout the city over the past year. With bus driver vacancies remaining high across the country, this move by Portsmouth school administrators means each route has a dedicated bus driver.
“All in all we’re just glad to have drivers for all of the routes,” Bracy said. “That’s something I’m sure a lot of school divisions can’t say at this time and we’re still working to get sub drivers as well.”
The school division is also expanding its fleet of electric buses. Bracy said thanks to a federal grant and funding from Dominion Energy for charging stations, the division is moving towards becoming more energy efficient.
“You’re on the bus, you can barely tell that it’s running,” he said. “We have a partnership with Dominion that has helped us get some of those buses so we’re pleased and we’re trying to get more, as well.”