LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7)-- As they teach the next generation, Lynchburg City Schools are looking ahead in more ways than one.
"We need to not only look at buildings, but programming, demographics, transportation, safety,” explained Susan Morrison, Chair of the Lynchburg City School Board.
Morrison said that the list of future needs goes on and as the city grows, they are topics that need attention.
Mayor Treney Tweedy agrees.
"It's very important to the community because it involves our economic development, it involves our workforce,” said Tweedy. “So how are we preparing our students to meet the future needs...and do we have the best system in place?”
City council leaders learned more about the needs facing the school system during budget sessions in the last two years. Aging buildings and declining enrollment have been brought up by council members as concerns. With new leadership at the helm of the city schools, Tweedy explained, it is a good time to take a deeper look and get behind a thoughtful long-term plan for the future of LCS.
City council and the school board are partnering to form a task force to address several needs. Morrison and Tweedy said it will be a broad discussion touching on multiple facets of the school system.
“It will discuss several issues from enrollment to facilities to demographics, and education in the 21st century and what we need in the future,” said Tweedy. “We have to determine what type of education system do we want in the City of Lynchburg.”
For example, the task force will look at plans for renovations or new buildings and where they may be needed most. Many of the city schools are old and some are in need of upgrades.
Morrison said that if the city is going to invest in a new school building, though, there are other elements needed in the conversation. City council would provide the funding for a new building so there would have to be a lot of discussion about the investment. Redistricting or consolidation could also be an important talking point.
"As we look at building new schools or adding on to new schools we need to look at where students can best be educated and where their needs can be met,” said Morrison.
The task force will have to consider declining enrollment, as well. According to data from the Virginia Department of Education, there are about 350 less students in LCS than there were 10 years ago. That’s about how many students are enrolled in Perrymont Elementary School this year.
"It's cause for concern, but how do you meet that? What are the causes?” said Tweedy, explaining how the task force will be designed to dig deeper into the numbers and identify the root causes of problems.
Tweedy said that the task force will be split into committees. Leaders are hoping to have the group up and running this summer. City council will discuss the initiative at their upcoming work session, according to Tweedy, and will lay out more of the logistics.
"The opportunity to have a task force brings more minds into the conversations. It brings business leaders, it brings parents, nonprofits…” said Tweedy.
According to Tweedy, the school board led two task forces in the past. As a result of one of the task forces, a new Heritage High School was built. E.C. Glass renovations were a result of a different task force.
Morrison said that community stakeholders can volunteer to be involved. She stressed that the task force is designed to identify what is best for the city, the school system, but most of all the students.
"When we enter into a discussion it will be many layers of discussion and a lot community involvement,” said Morrison. “There will be hard decisions to make, but they will be based on data and research.”