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Roanoke Rapids Graded School District is grateful to have returned from the winter break. 

Over the past few days, our students and staff have worked hard as they returned to the rhythms of school.

Our Roanoke Rapids High School scholars used these days to prepare for their first semester exams, which began on Friday and continue this week. 

If you see one of our scholars, please encourage them to do their best on their tests, eat a healthy breakfast, and get a good night’s sleep. 

These tests “count” for both students — a percentage of their overall course grade — and for the school and district — a part of the school performance grade in the state’s accountability model as well as a factor in growth designations for teachers. 

Our Roanoke Rapids Early College scholars are excited to have completed their exams and have started their second semester classes. They follow a different calendar that closely matches Halifax Community College’s schedule.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have enjoyed visiting Roanoke Rapids High School to watch culminating presentations. 

Before the break, I visited Natalie Robertson’s Honors Health Science I class. 

The 11 scholars in Mrs. Robertson’s class have studied body functions and disorders, and they had to build a working model of a function or disorder they learned about during the semester and share it with their class as they taught everyone in the audience about the body function or disorder. 

I was proud of each scholar for their depth of learning and creativity in expressing it! 

Mrs. Robertson designed an engaging method to get students to lead and review the important concepts of the course, and they taught me a lot as I watched them.

Last week, I visited Josh Clark’s Honors Law and Justice II class. 

The 15 scholars in Mr. Clark’s class worked together to act as a security firm that was presenting a proposal to conduct a security audit of Roanoke Rapids High School. 

They synthesized their learning throughout the course to discuss the assets, risks, and vulnerabilities they saw in their school and researched and recommended ways to make it safer. Their presentation was designed as a “pitch” to convince the superintendent and staff to recommend their company’s proposal to the Board of Trustees. 

Mr. Clark designed an engaging, real-world scenario, and I was proud of our scholars for how seriously they took this assignment. 

When we debriefed after the presentations were finished, I explained that this is something that we are actually in the process of requesting proposals for across the district, and they have set a high bar for the firms who will submit a bid!

On Saturday, our Roanoke Rapids Chess Club — Jack Moore, Colby Bobbitt, Louise Nery, and Carlos Nery — competed at the Triangle Chess Tournament in Chapel Hill, and they won second place! 

I am so excited to see our students develop a love of a game that develops their cognitive skills and social skills and they can continue playing throughout all of their lives. 

We have chess clubs at elementary, middle, and high schools, and it is exciting to see our scholars being competitive and achieving against students from other areas too! 

A big thank you goes out to Jenny Shives, AIG Coordinator, and our fantastic AIG staff and chess club sponsors across the district and our chess club parents for their hard work with our scholars.

This past week also brought our first inclement weather days for 2023-24. 

I believe that almost all superintendents will tell you that having to make weather-related decisions is one of their least favorite parts of their jobs. 

In short, no matter what decision is made, we can’t please everyone — as much as we would want to. 

We struggle between trying to wait to see a more accurate weather forecast with giving families enough time to make plans if we have to have a delay, come in late, or cancel school for the day. 

Every minute of school counts, and we do not want to miss a second of it, but we want to keep our students and staff safe as our first priority. 

On Tuesday, the forecasted wind gusts worried us because of their possible impact on our school buses, so we decided to do an early release. 

That night, we had flash flooding and a high number of power outages, so we decided on a two-hour delay. 

Our bus drivers and monitors have to leave their homes in the dark and begin driving their first bus routes in the dark, so standing water in the roads is a danger for staff on the way and for them as they drive to pick up our first students. 

Early Wednesday morning, our facilities department checked each school campus, and we drove across the district to check on the roads. 

Although there were some areas still without electricity, we decided to continue with the two-hour delay and shared with our families that if they decided to keep their children home, to send a note the next day and the absence would be excused. 

We were grateful that the weather forecasted for Friday did not affect the school day! 

Also, I am so grateful for the strong working relationships that I have with our neighboring superintendents and community college president — Dr. Cunningham at Halifax County, Dr. Simmington at Weldon, Dr. Atkins at Northampton, and Dr. Elliott at HCC — and our teams.

We brainstorm together and work with our staff to share information. 

Though our coverage areas differ in size and sometimes we do make different decisions based on the different circumstances, we work together to keep our collective students and staff safe.

Lastly, I want to share some difficult news. 

Over winter break, we experienced the loss of one of our Belmont Bees, fourth-grader Tommy Wrenn, who passed away on December 27, 2023. 

Returning to school after Tommy’s passing has allowed us to reflect on sweet memories of Tommy. 

There are so many important things that our schools and our staff do for children from preschool to high school, but days like these put into perspective that our number one priority is to love each and every child we are privileged to share with their families. 

As we go through the next days and weeks, I ask you to keep Tommy’s family and our students and staff in your thoughts and prayers.