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Education
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Sullivan school board meetings to go virtual, in part

By RICK WAGNER

BLOUNTVILLE — For the first two public meetings of 2021, the Sullivan County Board of Education is going back to virtual meetings but with some twists.

For one, members of the public can choose to attend in person but only one at a time and only to make public comments.

If you want to see Tuesday’s BOE work session, have your computer or other device ready. Same goes for Thursday’s regular board meeting.

And if you want to comment at Thursday’s meeting, you have the option of doing so online or waiting in the parking lot for your cue to enter the building.

Otherwise, the head of the school system, Director David Cox, said only the seven board members, he, and board attorney Pat Hull would be allowed in the building for the work session and the entire meeting. However, he said board members can choose to attend remotely.

The work session will be held at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. The purpose of the work session is to review the agenda of the Thursday voting meeting. The work session will be held in the library or cafeteria of Holston Middle School.

The board will meet in regular session 6:30 p.m. on Thursday in the cafeteria of Sullivan Central High School.

Both meetings will be posted on the school system’s YouTube channel.

“Due to Governor Lee’s Executive Order No. 71, which states school boards may meet electronically, and which prohibits more than 10 people in a gathering, these meetings will not be open to an audience, but will be available to view live, on our YouTube channel,” the school system said in a notice emailed Wednesday.

The notice went on to say that anyone who wishes to share public comments with the board at Thursday’s meeting will have two ways to do so: in person or through an online form.

IN-PERSON PUBLIC COMMENTS

Public comment forms may be found on the Sullivan County Schools website (www.sullivank12.net) and should be emailed to kristi.king@sullivank12.net no later than 4 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 6.

“Once your form is received, you will be assigned a number. Please wait in your car in the front parking lot at Sullivan Central High School facing the front entrance until your number is displayed by the front entrance. Commenters will be allowed in to the meeting one at a time. Masks are mandatory,” the notice said.

ONLINE COMMENTS

“If you are unable to attend the meeting, you may submit comments to the board through this online form found here under Public Comments,” the email said.

These forms must be submitted no later than 4 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 6.

The agenda for the January meeting can be viewed online at the school system website.

WHAT’S ON THE AGENDA?

Among agenda items are results of online surveys of renaming, rebranding with mascots and choosing new colors for the middle schools to be housed at the current Sullivan Central and Sullivan South high schools.

Cox said that the survey results likely will not be divulged until the voting meeting Thursday.

However, at the work session and possibly the voting meeting, Cox said a public-private partnership proposal that would build an access road to the new West Ridge High School by its August 2021 opening would be discussed.

“We want our kids, staff and parents to get in and out of the site safely,” Cox said when asked about the new access road plan versus a proposal to widen the winding two-lane Lynn Road.

Jericho Partners LLC, including former county Highway Commissioner Jim Belgeri, has a purchase option on eight acres between the Second Harvest Food Bank and Lynn Road, which West Ridge Fronts. He said action is needed by the school board and county commission in January if the project is to be finished by the time the school opens.

The partners would build the extension of Jericho Road, for an estimated $3.5 to $5 million, and then pass the cost along to county government. The group also would have the ability to develop property adjoining the access road.


News
COVID-19 in SWVA: Region nears 5,000 cases in 2020

By MIKE STILL

Far Southwest Virginia’s daily COVID-19 cases reached 71, pushing the region’s 2020 case total to almost 5,000, according to Friday’s state data report.

The Virginia Department of Health (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) said the LENOWISCO Health District reported 71 COVID-19 cases and two related deaths for totals of 4,953 and 124 deaths for all of 2020 during the pandemic.

Lee County saw 30 cases for totals of 1,506 and 29 deaths. Wise County had 28 cases and one death for 2,051 and 59 deaths.

Scott County had 13 cases and one death for 1,227 and 35 deaths. Norton remained at 169 cases and one death.

The VDH reported 5,182 new cases and 49 deaths statewide in the prior 24 hours for 2020 pandemic totals of 354,766 cases and 5,081 deaths.

The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Friday’s VDH report was 5,148,590 of 8.63 million residents, or 59.05%. For nasal swab testing only, 4,291,320 people have been tested to date, or 49.73%. In the LENOWISCO district, 32,680 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 37.79%.

The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Friday’s report rose from 26.6% to 28.7%. The statewide seven-day positivity rate rose from 13.2% to 14.3% for the last day of 2020.

One new COVID-19 outbreak was reported Friday in an unidentified congregate living setting in the LENOWISCO Health District, according to the VDH. That brings 2020’s outbreak total for the district to 42.

According to the VDH’s Outbreaks by Selected Exposure Settings dashboard on Friday, an outbreak at NOVA Health and Rehabilitation in Scott County remained in progress with 109 staff and/or resident cases and 16 deaths — increases of four cases and five deaths since Dec. 25.

An outbreak reported Oct. 21 at Ridgecrest Manor Nursing and Rehab is still in progress with 111 cases — a one-case increase from Dec. 25 — and fewer than five deaths.

In Lee County, an outbreak at Chestnut Grove Assisted Living remains in progress with 61 cases and no deaths. An outbreak at Lee Health and Rehabilitation was changed from pending closure to in-progress with 147 cases and 18 deaths — a one-case increase from the Dec. 25 report.

An outbreak at Heritage Hall Big Stone Gap in Wise County was designated closed in Friday’s report after 220 cases and 35 deaths.

Red Onion State Prison had 25 inmate cases and added a case for 23 active staff/contractor cases Friday, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap remained at one inmate case and 14 active staff/contractor cases. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 24 inmate cases and one active staff/contractor case.

According to Friday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard, daily case incidence in the far southwest region of Virginia — including the LENOWISCO Health District — was ranked as decreasing after a 16-day drop in daily case rates. The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results was classed as increasing based on an overall 16-day increase in that measure.

All four school systems in the LENOWISCO district were ranked as highest-risk based on the 14-day case incidence rate in the district. For seven-day case incidence, Wise County Schools were ranked higher-risk with Scott and Lee counties and Norton City schools lowest-risk.

Where to be tested

Do you think you might have COVID-19? Local health departments provide free testing.

The LENOWISCO Health Department, which covers Norton and Lee, Wise and Scott counties, posts regular updates on testing sites across the district and offers free COVID-19 tests at its county offices. Those seeking a test must call in advance for an appointment. Contact numbers for the county offices are:

• Lee County (Jonesville) — (276) 346-2011

• Scott County (Gate City) — (276) 386-1312

• Wise County and Norton (Wise) — (276) 328-8000

Additional testing and COVID-19 precaution information can be found at the LENOWISCO Health District’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Lenowisco.

In Southwest Virginia, online resources are available to help evaluate whether residents might be infected and where to get a COVID-19 test. The Virginia Department of Health’s COVIDCHECK (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covidcheck/) can walk a user through symptoms they may be experiencing and help direct them to their local health department office or other available testing sites.


Education
centerpiece
Northeast State welcomes new apprentices from Bell

By Tom Wilson

KINGSPORT — Come fly with us. That’s an invitation from Northeast State Community College and Bell taken up by two new members of the college’s apprenticeship program.

Officials with the Bell Piney Flats facility and Northeast State’s Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM) welcomed Justin Brown and David Gardner into the college’s Registered Apprenticeship Program for computer numerical control (CNC) machining operations. The two Bell associates inked their apprenticeship agreements at a ceremony held Nov. 17.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow into my career,” said Brown, an Elizabethton native and Bell team member. “I’m much more of a hands-on person on how to accomplish things.”

Brown and Gardner represent two of the newest apprentices accepted into the CNC machining section of the apprenticeship program. They currently work in Bell’s machining division. The machine tool path brings them to the RCAM campus in Kingsport, where they will train with top industrial manufacturing instructors.

Northeast State’s Machine Tool Operations certificate program prepares students to become machinists. Those trained machinists read blueprints, operate precision measuring instruments, metal-turning lathes, milling machines, and CNC equipment. The course work and contact hours working at Bell form the knowledge base of their apprenticeship certification.

“I have a strong background in metalworking in my career,” said Gardner, a Bristol, Virginia, native. “When I started working here at Bell, I asked a lot of questions about what I needed to do to advance in my career. This was a great option presented to me.”

RCAM Executive Director Heath McMillian noted a telling fact often mentioned by workforce leaders in many Advanced Manufacturing Partnership meetings: For every manufacturing job in a region, there are seven other supporting jobs created.

“When you start to break down the components of most any manufacturing operation, you will find that most often things begin or hinge on the work that is done by a machinist,” McMillian said. “That is why I believe, as we work to grow our region, we must ensure we have a strong pipeline of machinists.”

Working with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Office of Apprenticeship, RCAM and Northeast State established the registered apprenticeship program to unite college technical education and regional economic development. As a DOL registered apprenticeship sponsor, RCAM can create training curricula specific to companies of any size. When completing all course and on-ground work hours, apprentices receive a DOL certificate of completion.

RCAM sponsored its first apprenticeship program in 2017. As the apprenticeship sponsor, RCAM provides the structure and processes for employers to take advantage of this proven workforce development model. The apprenticeship occupational tracks including mechatronics, industrial manufacturing, and others developed upon request.

“With an apprenticeship you have a commitment to your employer; your employer has a commitment to you,” said Sam Rowell, vice president of Economic and Workforce Development at Northeast State. “You show a commitment to your craft based on the number of hours and the time you’ve put into the apprenticeship.”

This training is especially valuable for smaller companies and entrepreneurs that might not otherwise be able to offer or sustain an apprenticeship program. Companies seeking to develop registered apprenticeship training follow an easy process. The RCAM staff guides a company through the process of becoming an Authorized Training Agent (ATA). That leads a company on-the-job training for employees selected to enter apprenticeship program.

Welcoming these new apprentices continues an ongoing relationship between Northeast State and Bell Piney Flats. The two entities united in partnership some years back to develop the College’s Aviation Technology academic program. Bell instructors serve in an advisory capacity to Northeast State regarding aviation-related course content.

The RCAM is located at 305 W. Main St. in downtown Kingsport. For more information about the apprenticeship program, visit www.manufacturingfuture.net.


Education
featured
Scott schools set for a week of virtual learning

By HOLLY VIERS

GATE CITY — Students in Scott County Schools will resume learning next week after winter break, but they won’t be returning to the classroom just yet.

Jennifer Frazier, supervisor of secondary education and school nutrition, said that due to a continued rise in COVID-19 cases, the school system will have another week of virtual learning from Jan. 4-8. Schools will be closed Jan. 11 for a teacher workday, and in-person learning is set to resume Jan. 12.

During winter break, Frazier said, school system officials have continued to receive weekly data from the health department on overall cases in the county, and cases in students and staff were still monitored.

“We have a running total of that,” Frazier said Thursday. “Right now, we don’t have any positive cases or quarantines at this time that I’m aware of.”

Plans for the spring

Frazier said families will still have the option for their students to learn remotely for the entire spring semester if they choose to do so. She added that some students, especially at the high school level, may choose a hybrid learning plan, in which they complete some classes virtually and others in-person.

Any student is eligible to select an all-virtual learning plan for the spring semester, regardless of whether they did so in the fall, Frazier said. All students are required to submit a new application at scottschools.com to enroll in that program.

For students who choose to learn in-person, school officials plan to follow the same schedule as the fall. In-person learning will take place Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with Wednesday being a remote learning day.

Other offerings

Frazier said schools will continue distributing meals each Wednesday for virtual learning students. Students will receive five breakfasts and five lunches, and meals can either be delivered or picked up at any of the schools.

The school system also offers child care for any essential worker in the county on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. To fill out the essential worker childcare survey, visit scottschools.com.


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