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Some steering committee members look to pause Lynchburg's Future of Education taskforce

Some steering committee members look to pause Lynchburg's Future of Education taskforce

With the lasting effects of the pandemic on education uncertain, some members of the steering committee for the education task force between Lynchburg City Schools and the city think the group should indefinitely pause its efforts.

During a Wednesday meeting, some members of the steering committee for the “Task Force on the Future of Education in the City of Lynchburg: PreK-12 and Beyond” — a community effort to support the goals of Lynchburg City Schools and the city — decided to suggest the group pause until a clear direction and function is determined.

“Where we were as a task force back last year... we’re not there anymore,” Susan Morrison, task force steering committee member and member of the Lynchburg City School Board, said. “The pandemic has changed us.”

The 16-member task force — composed of community members, teachers and city leaders — was originally charged with examining needs within six subcommittee categories: enrollment trends and demographics; operations, facilities and consolidation; leading practices in urban education; programming and collaboration opportunities; finance; and talent management.

The task force began its work in August 2019 and last met in person on Jan. 30, 2020 to assess where each group was with its work. At that time, the group was set to deliver a progress report to the city in April and make its final recommendations on what changes should be made in LCS in November 2020.

The task force suspended its efforts roughly a year ago when the COVID-19 pandemic began, unsure how funding and other aspects of the task force would be affected.

The group reconvened in December 2020 to reexamine its purpose and how that has been affected by the pandemic. With discussions within those key subcategories ever-changing and already happening within the schools, the committee struggled to find a clear function that wasn’t redundant to work already happening.

Beau Wright, vice mayor of Lynchburg and member of the steering committee, worried the task force as it exists amid the pandemic would serve “more or less a redundant role to the school board.”

“I think we need to pause. I think the work of the task force will become very important in the future, but we’re not there yet,” Morrison said Wednesday.

The steering committee for the task force is made up of two school board members, two city council members and the two co-chairs of the task force.

Michael Gillette, co-chair of the task force and a member of the steering committee, said while Wednesday’s meeting was dubbed a “steering committee meeting,” he and the task force’s other co-chair weren’t informed of it.

Gillette said he thinks the task force needs guidance from the two bodies that originally authorized it — city council and the school board — on how it should proceed.

“They either need to come together to redefine the expectations or they need to come together to reaffirm what they already had,” Gillette said. “We want to do what is most helpful for the system, but we have no authority to act other than the authority that’s granted to us by the governing bodies.”

Atul Gupta, Lynchburg City School Board member and steering committee member, agreed that the task force should pause for the time being, but said the city and schools should still work together now to address technology needs of the school division amid hybrid and remote learning.

Lynchburg Interim City Manager Reid Wodicka and LCS Superintendent Crystal Edwards agreed that that work needs to happen now, regardless of the state of the task force.

“I love the idea of creating a city where folks are thriving as tele-workers and tele-learners,” Edwards said.

Wright said an update will be given to city council and the school board.

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