Millage-funded projects to start at Vicksburg schools

By Jef Rietsma

Projects related to Vicksburg Community Schools’ successful millage request last fall are in the planning phases. Work is expected to begin this summer.

During the board of education’s Jan. 11 meeting, Assistant Superintendent Steve Goss said the district is at a point where behind-the-scenes work on the projects is being performed, including planning and design.

It’s “primarily for work at Sunset Lake (Elementary), and we expect the construction documents to be ready to go out to bid probably in late January or sometime in February,” he said. “That will still give us time to get mobilized for those projects over the summer.”

Goss said one issue on his radar is what he called a substantial amount of work going on at all three elementary school buildings this summer.

“There are a couple things that complicate that,” he said. “Summer construction season gets shorter and shorter, and that’s going to continue to be the case. The demand to provide services in our buildings over the summer has been going up and up and up.”

Goss acknowledged the need for summer school and additional support, especially in light of a COVID-compromised school year. As a result, Goss said he plans to schedule a meeting in coming weeks to figure out how to proceed with summer school and a construction schedule simultaneously.

He said the meeting would likely involve Superintendent Keevin O’Neill and other district officials, including its principals, curriculum director, community education director, architects and the construction team.

“We’ll try to start flushing out how we can provide access to the buildings for our students and staff while also allowing the construction work, which needs to get done within a limited window … how to manage all those things,” he said. “Stay tuned for more details on that, but it’s a good problem to have.”

During audience comments period of the meeting, a number of teachers spoke of the regrettable loss of language arts middle school teacher Laura Wilson and reading specialist/instructional coach Lynne Buell.

Both teachers , each with 20-plus years in the district, subsequently joined Centreville Public Schools.

Jennifer Rodas, Vicksburg Education Association president, chimed in.

“It does seem that a lot of these discussions on why teachers are leaving our district are falling on deaf ears,” she said. “I appreciate the district’s perspective that this is a great place to learn, things are great and we’re having a lot of success. But if we keep losing veteran teachers, we’re not going to have as much success as we do now and in the future.”

Melissa Jamerson, second-grade teacher at Indian Lake, said something has been broken in the district. It can be restored, she said, if all parties work together.

“We have to communicate and put aside roadblocks, we have to admit that mistakes have been made, we have to truly listen to concerns/opinions and find a common ground knowing there will be opposing points of view,” she said.

Board President Skip Knowles addressed the concerns. He referred to a point made by Wilson in her resignation letter, in which she mentioned the risks of in-person learning at a time when she and many peers felt virtual learning was the smarter choice.

“She said the voices of the parents far outweighed those of the staff members,” Knowles said. “We are a public school system; we serve the public. Those are our taxpayers. Those are the ones that were polled and close to 80 percent wanted face-to-face instruction, and that’s what we have to reflect.”

Knowles also took exception to the claim teachers have not been involved in negotiation sessions, which have been ongoing since summer. Knowles said the district is in the midst of discussing a collective-bargaining agreement. He said it’s imperative to follow protocol.

“It is not proper nor is it legal for us to directly get into discussions with members of that collective-bargaining unit,” he said. “We have a bargaining committee that’s involved with regard to that who does communicate with us. We do care and we are concerned. I just want to get that point across.”

O’Neill said the last few bargaining sessions were productive and he hoped to have another session with the Vicksburg Education Association prior to going to mediation.

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