A plan to expand Chesterfield County Public Schools’ Center-Based Gifted program was delayed by the school board last week. The board voted to delay... Decision on expansion of gifted program delayed: New Carver Middle School program could be affected

A plan to expand Chesterfield County Public Schools’ Center-Based Gifted program was delayed by the school board last week. The board voted to delay the vote until its Feb. 12 meeting, but took public comment on the issue on Jan. 8.

Some Bermuda District residents expressed concern about the delay because the expansion would add a CBG program at Carver Middle School. Several noted that Bermuda is the only one of five county districts without a CBG program.

The school board approved an expansion plan last year that would result in students from Bailey Bridge Middle School – located west of Pocahontas State Park – traveling to Matoaca Middle School’s East campus to help make up for the departure of Bermuda District students attending Carver Middle School. That could necessitate a bus ride of one hour, as the 19.6-mile route from Bailey Bridge to Matoaca typically takes 30 minutes without stops. Bailey Bridge’s CBG students currently attend Manchester Middle School.

How many Bailey Bridge Middle School students would opt out of the CBG program due to the long bus ride wasn’t stated at the Jan. 8 meeting, but CBG teacher Diane Brown said Bailey Bridge parents are highly opposed to the proposed change.

Angel Martinez, a Bermuda District resident, said he plans to enroll his children at Carver Middle School due to the addition of a CBG program there. Martinez said that some Bermuda District parents do not enroll their students in CBG now because of the 35-minute bus ride to Matoaca.

Martinez speculated that a pending decision to delay the opening of a CBG program at Carver Middle is political, since Standards of Learning test scores in the Matoaca District are lower than those in Bermuda, the latter of which provides a majority of the students at Matoaca’s CBG program.

“You could set yourselves up for litigation,” he said, noting the school district budgeted for the new CBG program at Carver Middle last year.
Superintendent Mervyn Daugherty proposed three options at the Jan. 8 meeting: proceed with the original plan, open the program at Carver Middle but keep other feeder patterns in place (including at Bailey Bridge) or pause expansion.

Rachel Watson, a teacher at Elizabeth Davis Middle School in the Bermuda District and mother of a student who attends Matoaca Middle School, said the first option would result in the county’s smallest CBG program being at Carver Middle, while the second option would result in the county’s smallest CBG program being at Matoaca Middle. However, Watson said she didn’t anticipate that the programs at Carver or Matoaca would be small for very long.

Brown, a Midlothian resident who has been a CBG teacher for the past three years, said Phase I of the CBG expansion added a program at Swift Creek Middle School. She asked the board to delay Phase II for another year until a transportation study has been completed. She noted that the district anticipates growth of the CBG program due to it using a new research-based tool.

In his report, Daugherty said “with the new identification tool in place for the first time this year, it will be difficult to forecast accurately the expected growth … until late spring 2019 when identifications [are] complete.”

In other news, the board voted Matoaca District member Rob Thompson as board chair and Midlothian District member Javaid Saddiqi as vice chair.

The board approved a $25.3 million bid from Southwood Building Systems Inc. of Ashland to build a new Matoaca Elementary School. Southwood’s was one of five bids, but the low bidder, Oyster Point Construction Co., withdrew its $24.2 million bid due to a clerical error. The other bids ranged from $26.2 million to $28.1 million.

The board approved a transfer of the old Beulah Elementary School at 4216 Beulah Road to the county, along with annexes at 3901 Dupuy Road in Enon and 13824 Lawing Drive in Ettrick. The county plans to convert the old Beulah school into a parks and recreation community center at a cost of $7.8 million. That project would include demolition of portions of the facility, revitalization of the portions of the facility that will be converted into the community center and parks and recreation offices, and improvements to the grounds to include recreational amenities.

In other news, Kristin Tait was hired as the new principal at Ecoff Elementary, replacing Joshua Cole, whose last day was Jan. 9. Cole was hired as executive director of strategic engagement in Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Education.