"We will have school beginning Wednesday and our buses will be back on the road, so we certainly want everybody to pay attention at all of our bus stops and in the vicinity of all of our schools. We just want everyone to be extra cautious, never pull around a bus with the blinkers on and that sort of thing, and to be patient these first several days especially because some of our younger kids may take a little longer getting onto and off the bus," said county Schools Superintendent Jeff Perry on Monday.
Morning commuters should "always keep safety in mind. Leave for work a little earlier because the traffic will be greater. People should anticipate some congestion at the start of a school year, and we want everyone to be especially mindful of the Powell Valley Primary and Powell Valley Middle Schools because new traffic patterns are in place there," he added.
Over the summer contractors have been creating a new traffic access plan for the three school complex in Big Stone Gap that includes Union High School. The main change separates primary school traffic from the middle school.
PVPS parents will use the traditional access road to the school. Powell Valley Middle School access, however, is now in an entirely new spot, on the opposite end of Union High School from the PVPS access road, near the Valero convenience store and U.S. Route 23.
Parents dropping off kids at the middle school must come in at the entrance between the Valero and UHS, and exit the same way. Work to complete a school bus loop road as part of the project is not yet complete but the main public traffic to and from the middle school is ready to go, Perry said.
"Eventually there will be a walking path so parents and kids can walk between (PVPS and PVMS) but initially, we anticipate things will be a little confusing and a little congested as people learn the new (traffic) system. But the primary and middle schools traffic will be separated which will be better," he said.
Signs and law enforcement will be on hand to help unconfuse and uncongest things as much as possible, Perry added.All but one school chief administrative positions are set. Dante Lee, former principal of Eastside High School, resigned over the summer break to take another position elsewhere. Perry said Brian Crutchfield is serving as interim principal of EHS until at least the end of August.
Initially, though, the school division focuses on safety at the start of every school year.
"Certainly, safety is one of the top things we focus on. We want our kids to get to school safely, to learn in a safe environment, and return home safely. So much of our energies and attention are focused on that, especially early on, and of course be sure we give our kids a good educational experience to get all they need to be successful," Perry said.Wise County's school division is among the 28 percent of Virginia's school divisions fully accredited on every scale, Perry said.
"We had a very good academic year last year, and that's with a lot of distractions," he said, particularly moving three entire sets of high school populations, from teachers and staff to students, into wholly new facility settings.
That includes a gutsy but wildly successful mid-year move into the brand new Union and Central High Schools in Big Stone Gap and Wise, as well as a starting year return of EHS students, faculty and staff after spending the previous year in St. Paul while EHS in Coeburn received significant upgrades.
"Even with all that, our administrators, our teachers, our staffs and of course, our students still did a tremendous job. So this year, with construction work settled down now, it's our hope that we can focus our energy on academics even moreso, and continue to do well and improve in that," Perry said.
"We have real good administrators in all of our buildings and a super, super group of teachers, and we look forward to having a good start to our new school year."