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Chairman Linden delivers the 2022 State of the Schools Address

On Tuesday, Dec. 7, School Board Chairman David Linden (Hollins District) delivered the 2022 State of the Schools Address as part of the 2022 State of the County Address.  Below are Chairman Linden's remarks.

>> You can watch Chairman Linden's State of the Schools Address courtesy of RVTV.

Good morning!  I’m honored to have the opportunity to speak to such an outstanding group of community leaders.

The theme of this year’s address is A Vision for Tomorrow.  Setting the vision and providing the means to achieve that vision is the job of leadership, and Roanoke County Public Schools is blessed to have an amazing and dedicated group of leaders, starting with my colleagues on the Roanoke County School Board.  I’d like to thank each of these members for their continued support of our school system.

We also are blessed with visionary school leadership starting with our superintendent, Dr. Ken Nicely and his staff.  Under his leadership, our school system consistently is ranked among the highest in the region and the Commonwealth in terms of graduation rate, annual test scores and student academic accomplishments.

Every school system across the country is working to recover from the devastating impacts of the pandemic.  Our school system was among the very few across the state and across the nation, that maintained a high level of in-person instruction for students throughout the pandemic.  

This visionary effort paid off – the majority of our students did not suffer significant academic loss.  When you compare test scores pre-pandemic to post-pandemic, you’ll see that the majority of our students already have just about returned to their pre-pandemic levels of academic performance – well above current statewide averages.  Roanoke County Public School students are excelling in the classroom and these results prove it.  We still have work to do, because we are committed to lifting every student, but we are working from a solid foundation of practice and success.

I want to take this moment to express our thanks and appreciation to every single staff member who helped our students succeed.  We can’t say enough how much we appreciate our teachers, instructional assistants, bus drivers, nutrition associates, administrators, maintenance staff, central office staff and many more for all their hard work.

Visionary educational leadership is much more than just recovering academic performance.  As you probably know, our vision is to prepare all students to be Opportunity Ready.  Dr. Nicely and his team are taking this vision even further.  

We have begun a pilot program for our Opportunity Ready Graduate certification program.  We’re putting our reputation behind our graduates.  A graduate who has earned an Opportunity Ready certification has developed proficiency in key success skills – Citizenship, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity and Critical Thinking.  If you receive a job application from a graduate with an Opportunity Ready certification, we hope you will give this graduate a greater level of consideration.

It is this type of innovative leadership that makes Roanoke County Public Schools among the first School Divisions of Innovation as part of the Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network. 

When it comes to developing a vision for tomorrow, innovation is critical.  

Many of you are familiar with our Burton Center for Arts and Technology.  This is an amazing center that has produced outstanding graduates.  Many of these graduates have become your employees.  Burton celebrated it’s 60th anniversary this year.  

The problem is we’ve outgrown Burton.  The building is in a flood plain and we simply don’t have the room to expand.

We need a larger modern, state of the art center for career and technical education programs.  It's time to be innovative.

We are extremely proud that we are moving forward with the development and eventual construction of an all-new career and technical education center, located just a few miles from here on Peters Creek Road.  Already, we have secured the land for this brand-new facility that will provide our students and staff the space they need to not only provide opportunities for the programs of today, but also create even more opportunities for the programs of tomorrow.

We’re working with the Board of Supervisors to find innovative new ways to fund what will be the largest single construction project in the history of Roanoke County Public Schools.  Roanoke County students deserve to learn in a modern, functional facility using industry-level equipment, and we’re working together to make this new center happen as soon as possible.

I’d like to take this moment to thank the career and technical education citizens advisory committee for their hard work this past year and all the businesses that provided input on our career and technical education programs as we develop the vision for this new career and technical education center.  

We are teaching and training your future workforce.  We hope you will support our efforts as we build the vision of tomorrow for our CTE programs.

However our needs don’t stop at Burton.

We have two elementary schools that are in desperate need of replacement right now – Glen Cove and W.E. Cundiff elementary schools.  Both schools were constructed in 1971 with open concept classrooms.

I’m a realtor.  Open concept is great for houses, but they’re terrible for classrooms.  Look around where we are now.  Imagine each table is a classroom.  How well would you learn with all these different classrooms doing different instruction at the same time?

Take a look at these pictures.  That’s the challenge our students and staff at Glen Cove and W.E. Cundiff face every school day.

Learning can be a messy, noisy and active process.  Our students, especially elementary students, have to be able to get up, move around, make noise, and be able to make a few messes.  That’s very hard to do in an open concept space when you’re disturbing other classrooms and other students.

And then there are the security concerns.  Sadly, we are reminded again and again that the safety and security of our school buildings must be a top priority.  Wide open classroom spaces are a bad idea for schools.

We must be innovative and find a way to not only fund our new CTE Center, but also replace these two schools right away.  The longer we wait, the costs get even higher and higher.  

And remember, there are more schools that are getting older and in need of significant renovation or replacement.

For many years, the Board of Supervisors has stated our schools are the crown jewel of the county and for very good reason – our schools and our teachers are among the best in the state.  We need to keep this crown jewel polished and updated.  

It’s like your smartphone – when you first get one, you have the latest technology… but after a few years, that smartphone starts to become out of date.  A few years after that, it’s barely working and it’s time to upgrade.  

It’s time for a serious upgrade for some of our school facilities.    

Think of it as investing in Roanoke County and in the economic development of our community.

When a new business is searching to find a community to build a new facility or relocate from somewhere else, what are some of the top features they’re looking for?  

One is the workforce.  What does the current workforce look like?  Is there an available, skilled workforce available to fill the jobs that will be created?

Two, and perhaps more importantly, are the schools.  How strong is the local school system?  Are these schools noted for academic accomplishments?  Are the school facilities modern and up-to-date?  

Businesses are looking for thriving, successful communities where families will want to relocate and we need to make sure our schools are places where families will want their children to learn.

While I’m talking about economic development and workforce development, I want to remind you about our very successful Student Registered Apprenticeship program.  Some of you currently are hosting student apprentices and we thank you for partnering with us.  

We need many more businesses to partner with us to provide apprenticeship opportunities.  Please see the card at your table for more information on how your business can host student apprentices.

Creating and achieving a vision for tomorrow takes teamwork.  Here in Roanoke County, we are so very fortunate to have a close relationship between the school board and the board of supervisors.  This isn’t the case in many counties across the Commonwealth.  While we have discussions and different ideas for how make the vision of tomorrow a reality, in the end the school board and the board of supervisors are moving forward with one goal in mind – to make Roanoke County the best place in Virginia to live, work, learn and play.