March 18, 2015
‘Road situation is hurting education in Lawrence County’
State Senator Ray Jones visited Lawrence County Schools, Tuesday, March 17, to discuss the issue of the county road system and how it effects the school system.
Lawrence County has 535 miles of county roads and 400 miles of them are gravel. For the past 2 years Lawrence County has missed thirty days of school or more because of bad weather. A large number of these school closings were due to the condition of the county’s 400 miles of gravel roads and the challenges presented in terms of clearing the roads following snow and/or ice events as well as dealing with breaks in the roads and washouts following rain and flood events.
In response to the need to address these challenges, Lawrence County Board of Education Chairman D. Heath Preston invited Kentucky Senate Democrat Leader Ray Jones to meet with him and school district leadership to address the need to improve a number of roads, specifically gravel and other recently damaged roads, as the roads are a major barrier regarding the education of the children of Lawrence County.
“During snow and inclement weather it is very difficult for school buses to travel on the gravel roads to bring our children to school safely. Our county does everything they can do and works very hard to clear the roads so we can have school. But you really can’t scrape a gravel road,” explained Preston. “With the main roads clear, the gravel roads take days longer to melt and then you are dealing with mud and other poor conditions.”
“We check our roads every morning to ensure the safety of our children. There have been days we have had school on clear roads only, but we want every child to be able to attend school safely,” Superintendent Dr. Robbie Fletcher added.
Senator Jones met with the group and reviewed maps and discussed the current conditions of a number of roads and the impact they are having on education. In preparation for the meeting, Vernon Hall, Director of Pupil Personnel, collaborated with John Osborne, Lawrence County Judge-Executive, and Michael Woods, Director of Lawrence County Emergency Management, on identifying roads that have a major impact on the school transportation system.
During the meeting, Dr. Fletcher informed the Senator of the school district’s application and subsequent approval from the Kentucky Department of Education to implement a Non-Traditional Instruction (Snowbound Learning) program. Dr. Fletcher also explained that this program has allowed students to participate in online instruction via Google Classroom for ten (10) school days during the current school year in an effort to address the substantial amount of school closings due in part to gravel and secondary roads that could not be traveled on by buses for several days following weather events. This group also discussed the effects of utilizing the “clear-roads only” option, which potentially had an impact on the school system’s ability to provide service to the students who live on 32 roads within the school district. In closing, Mr. Preston and Dr. Fletcher stressed to the Senator that the school district is doing everything that it can but that the county needs assistance with improving roads and reducing this barrier to student learning in Lawrence County.
“I want to thank Chairman Preston and Superintendent Fletcher and all the staff for inviting me; it was a very informative meeting,” stated Senator Jones. “ I now understand how traveling on nearly 400 miles of gravel roads twice a day can interrupt the educational process. I also was able to see all the hard work the entire staff is doing to bring the highest level of education to Lawrence County students. The passion to educate from all the staff I met was very clear, and I see great things happening at Lawrence County. I will continue to work with the county and the schools and will take all this back to the state to try and find a solution.”
“This is not something that is going to happen overnight,” acknowledged Chairman Preston, “but we have to continue to work to improve. We have great teachers and staff here at our schools and have proven time and time again we can educate our children.
The high school academic team is back to back district champions for the first time. The middle school academic team just ranked 8th in the state and went against some of the best private schools. Our elementary academic teams are competing at a high level. At Kentucky Governor’s Cup we had a student to rank 2nd and 4th in the state in written assessments. So we are doing a great job and are continuing to improve every day. But – we have to have our children in school to educate them, and we need help to solve these issues.”
Superintendent Fletcher concluded, “The work that went into this meeting is another great example of our community and its leaders being “ALL IN” when it comes to educating our students. On behalf of Lawrence County Schools, we appreciate the commitment that Senator Jones has to our students as well as to all students of Eastern Kentucky. “