VSBA Take Your Legislator to School Month

Posted on 11/18/2021

November Is Take Your Legislator to School Month: Suffolk Public Schools Discusses Capital Improvement Needs for Northern Shores Elementary with Local Dignitaries and City Officials   
Writer: Anthonette Ward Community Engagement Officer

On Tuesday, November 16, the Suffolk Public School Board invited local dignitaries to participate in the 2021 Virginia School Board Association's Take Your Legislator to School Month. Guests included City of Suffolk Mayor Mike Duman, Virginia Delegate Clinton Jenkins, Councilman Lue Ward, and the newly elected member of the Suffolk School Board, Mrs. Heather Howell. 

Through this event, the Suffolk School Board wanted to highlight Northern Shores Elementary School for recently being selected as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education, while also discussing capital improvements needs. City officials visited classrooms and engaged with students. They also took note of specific areas that need improvement including, the gym, the media center, and the school’s outdoor mobile units, which serve as classrooms for fourth and fifth-grade students. 

The outdoor mobile units present several areas of concern. “It typically takes about 20 minutes for a teacher to walk students to and from the mobile units for a class restroom break,” said Northern Shores Principal Lori White. “It would take one student between 5-10 minutes including walking to the building, waiting on the facility and returning back to the mobile unit - all is longer in inclement weather,” the principal stated.  “If that student goes to the restroom at the same time every day, they will lose about 1-hour [total] of instruction time,” said Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon, III. Children are commuting from their outdoor classrooms to the buildings for restroom breaks, lunch breaks, school assemblies, and any other function or activity held inside. During certain times of the year, they are walking through the rain or cold weather. 

One mobile unit holds on average about 25 students, with two ventilation units. With housing development construction on the rise in the City of Suffolk, the number of students assigned to each mobile unit presents a growing concern. “Right now, we have to be very creative with how we configure the desks in each classroom,” said Principal White. “We have to be careful not to block the exits and create a fire hazard.”

Mobile units also present significant challenges in the event the school is placed on a coded lockdown. “Teachers have walkie-talkies, and there are intercoms in the units. However, if a student or staff member is walking outside when a code is called, there is no way for them to know,” said Principal White. Currently, there are 13 mobile units on the campus on Northern Shores Elementary, with one being out of use. 

The wood used on the gym floor is the original parquet wood builders laid when the school first opened its doors. Several areas of the wood have warped and split over time or cupped due to previous water leaks. “Our division’s  Department of Facilities and Maintenance has sealed over cracks in several locations. However, it’s just a matter of time before [this] presents a tripping hazard for students,” said Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon, III. Northern Shores currently shares use of the gym with the City of Suffolk Parks and Recreation. 

After the guided tour, city officials reconvened in the school’s media center for a Q&A session. “How do we get rid of these trailers? They have been here too long,” asked Councilman Lou Ward. “We are legislators. We are in charge of the city. Let’s get it done.” City of Suffolk Mayor Mike Duman said, “We need to work collaboratively to do the best we can with what we have. We need to prioritize what our issues are. We are fully cognizant of knowing that the school system is incremental to the quality of life, our workforce development, and how this city is going to progress.”

Students continue to learn and grow academically, socially, and emotionally. Despite its challenges, Northern Shores Elementary is one of two schools in Hampton Roads to receive the Blue Ribbon School honor. “This designation as a National Blue Ribbon School speaks volumes,” said School Board Chair, Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck. 

The Virginia School Board Association (VSBA) Take Your Legislator to School Month event allows school boards to promote closer relationships between public education and legislators serving in the Virginia General Assembly. The mission is to strengthen ties between school divisions, local communities, and elected officials while creating opportunities for productive dialogue so that education and legislative leaders can work together to provide the best possible education for students.

Take Your Legislator to School Month