Lucy Simms book will arrive soon; School board considering review of teacher compensation

Andy Kohen and Kristen Loflin will serve as the Harrisonburg City Public Schools’ board chair and vice-chair, respectively. The board unanimously selected them to serve in those leadership positions at Thursday’s meeting.

By Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor

Social studies coordinators for Harrisonburg City and Rockingham County schools announced in a school board meeting Thursday that a soon-to-be-released biography of local educator Lucy Simms will be on the shelves of area schools later this year. 

The cover of the new biography of Lucy Simms. (Courtesy of the Harrisonburg City Public Schools)

Kirk Moyers, representing the city, and Beau Dickenson, representing the county, said they are also planning a community event at the Lucy Simms Continuing Education Center this spring, “celebrating the legacy of this local heroine and her story.”

The book, titled “Lucy Frances Simms: From Slavery to Revered Public Service,” by Dale E. MacAllister, follows Simms from her birth on a plantation in 1856, the site of present-day Ralph Sampson park, through her 57-year teaching career – during which she only missed half of one day of work. 

Moyers said the book will allow students who are learning about this period in American history to see, “what did that look like locally, and who were the local leaders?”

Board to examine teachers’ pay and out-of-pocket expenses

The school board is also considering holding work sessions about teacher retention and out-of-pocket expenses. School board member Nick Swayne suggested addressing these issues as the board discussed future agenda items.

“It’s kind of like a well-respected tradition” for teachers to spend their own money on classroom materials, Swayne said, but budget allocations and a simpler system of approval could take the burden off teachers, who would no longer have to pay out-of-pocket for such supplies. 

“This is a serious issue,” Superintendent Michael Richards agreed.

Swayne also said the board should look at teachers’ pay and the school “climate” to improve retention rates.

“Our teachers should be part of the middle class,” Swayne said before defining that as being able to afford buying a home in the city, owning a reliable vehicle and taking vacations. The district’s pay scale for elementary teachers, for instance, is between $45,800 and $63,293, according to the district’s anticipated job listings for the 2020-21 school year.  

Andy Kohen, who was unanimously elected as the board chair for 2020, noted that staff are already working on these issues, but that the school board should look at them as well.

Richards added that work sessions on these topics could include teachers’ mental health and needs for planning time. 

Anish Aradhey won the Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign student artwork competition and was recognized at Thursday’s meeting.

Also at the meeting:

  • Kristen Loflin was unanimously elected to vice-chair to replace Kohen, who takes over as chair from Deb Fitzgerald, who served two consecutive terms as chair and nominated Kohen on Thursday to take the board’s helm.
  • The school district will hold a ground-breaking ceremony for the new high school on Jan. 21 at 3 p.m.
  • Board member Deb Fitzgerald announced that the next meeting, a work session on Jan. 21, would include discussion of the district’s Capital Improvement Plan, which will cover major renovations across the the district and construction projects like the new high school.
  • The board recognized student Anish Aradhey for winning the Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign student artwork contest. Check out his winning design on the campaign’s Facebook page
  • Richards said the strategic planning process is now at the “action team” phase, during which the smaller groups of school staff will develop “specific measurable steps” to meet the objectives outlined by the planning committee so far. The final strategic plan is slated to be presented to the board in July.
  • Kohen announced the Harrisonburg Education Foundation’s upcoming “Saturday Night Fever” themed gala will be Mar. 7.

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