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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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MMS was finalist for award
Recognition called honor

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville Middle School is receiving national recognition for undergoing significant changes for the better in recent years.

City schools officials on Monday found out that MMS was one of 20 schools that were finalists for this year's Panasonic National School Change Awards, an initiative of the National Principals Leadership Institute.

MMS was recognized during the Martinsville School Board meeting Monday night.

Kim Barto, the school system's community outreach/grants coordinator, said it is a prestigious award, and being among the top 20 considered for the award is almost as much of an honor as being selected a winner.

Barto said the award recognizes schools that made changes that helped them go from underperforming to high achievement in a few years.

Basically, she said, "it shows ... we've (the middle school) made significant improvements" in areas such as academic offerings and quality of instruction.

In submitting an application for the award, Barto said she and other school officials had to document and write lengthy essays on many strategies that the middle school put into place "to make systemic and lasting changes."�

"We're very humbled" to have been selected a finalist, said MMS Co-principal Zeb Talley.

Six schools in North America were chosen for the award. Their names and locations were not immediately available. Each winner will receive a $5,000 grant, information on the awards program's website shows.

MMS representatives will receive a plaque denoting that the school was a finalist during a ceremony in July in New York City, said Barto.

Another city school is receiving grant funding from a national organization.

Albert Harris Elementary School is getting a $6,000 grant from The Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries to upgrade book collections in its library, Barto announced during the school board meeting.

The money mostly will be used to buy historical fiction books to help pupils learn as they read for enjoyment, she said.

Historical fiction "is fact based, but it still is fun for them to read," she said.

The foundation, led by former President George W. Bush's wife, provides grants to help school libraries nationwide buy books, its website shows.

Also Monday, the school board learned that it has been allotted time during a Martinsville City Council budget work session at 4 p.m. May 19 to discuss financial concerns pertaining to the new fiscal year that will start July 1.

The schools sought $6,083,629 in local funds for fiscal 2012 - an increase of $257,235 from the current fiscal year. Officials have said the extra money is needed to help employees pay rising health insurance costs, provide "step raises" to certain teachers based on their years of service and cover rising costs for fuel and Virginia Retirement System benefits.

The schools plan to eliminate up to 25 jobs - on top of more than 50 cut at this time last year - to help cover the increasing costs of health insurance.

The city's budget proposal for fiscal 2012 includes only $5,535,074 in local funds for the schools. That is a drop of $291,320 from the current year and $548,555 less than what schools officials hope to get.

Superintendent Pam Heath said the latter amount represents "quite a disparity."�

Ultimately, the city council will decide how much local funding the schools receive. The school board has been allotted 30 minutes during the budget work session to voice its concerns, Heath said.

"I don't think 30 minutes will be enough," said board Vice Chairman Bill Manning.

Heath said she will try to get the board a longer allotment of time.

In another matter, the board learned that the city schools have received a waiver from the Virginia Department of Education to open before Labor Day for the 2011-12 school year.

Under the calendar that the board recently approved for the new school year, the schools are set to open Aug. 25.

For the current year, the schools had to open after Labor Day - the first Monday in September - to meet the state's so-called "Kings Dominion Law" because they did not qualify for an exemption.

That law is designed to boost summer tourism at amusement parks in the state and help those attractions recruit students for seasonal jobs.

The board learned that schools officials are reviewing programs of study to make sure they comply with new graduation requirements starting next year. The requirements were not discussed in detail.

Also, the board learned that a recent gala to benefit the school system's endowment fund was, according to Heath, a success.

The fund provides teachers grants for innovative learning projects. The gala raised about $25,000 for the fund, said Travis Clemons, the schools' finance and development director.

Heath called that amount "a great return for a one-night event."�

The board also learned about some upcoming events in the schools.

A reception for school system volunteers will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Martinsville High School auditorium's atrium.

A banquet for retiring school system employees will be held at 6:30 p.m. June 2 in the MHS cafeteria.

This year's Big M awards ceremony will be at 7 p.m. June 9 in the high school's auditorium. The award is given annually to seniors with cumulative scholastic averages of 3.7 or higher and who are enrolled in three or more academic courses. One of those courses must be an honors course.

Seniors will graduate at 10 a.m. June 18 in the MHS auditorium.

The board met in closed session to discuss personnel matters and consider the investment of public funds where competition is involved.

Afterward, the board accepted the resignations of Stuart Cox, Andy Kent and Christy Sellers, all of whom are teachers at the high school, and Ashley Smith, a teacher at Patrick Henry Elementary School.

The retirements of Vicky Nelson, a teacher at Albert Harris, and Glendolia Price, a teacher's aide at Patrick Henry, also were accepted.

No action was taken on the investment matter.


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