Bringing legislatures, public schools closer

Preschoolers at work on “gingerbread geometry.” Cosmetology students practicing in their in-school full-service salon. Elementary school gardens planted and tended by students and the community. A new middle-school chamber orchestra that practices on its own time.

These are just some of the Fredericksburg City Public School programs and initiatives that local legislators visited during a whirlwind tour Thursday morning.

The Virginia School Board Association has designated November as “Take Your Legislator to School” month in an effort to promote a closer relationship between public education and the state legislature.

“If folks don’t take the time to come see what we do, they fill in the blanks,” with something negative FCPS superintendent Marci Catlett said.

State Delegate-elect Joshua Cole and Senator-elect Tara Durant, legislative aides from the offices of Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and Fredericksburg School Board members visited each of the division’s four schools, along with the preschool and alternative education programs.

Catlett and deputy superintendent Matt Eberhardt credited both Cole and Durant for helping the school division acquire funding in recent years to expand its capacity and programs.

Cole helped acquire $500,000 to expand James Monroe High School’s cosmetology program, doubling its capacity from 14 to 30 students, and boost the certified nurse assistant program.

Catlett said improving and expanding career and technical education offerings will be the main focus for the division.

“Our next major goal is getting our CTE program to what our students deserve. That will be our next cheerleading effort,” she said. “First, we had to address overcrowding and our instructional programs.”

Durant was instrumental in helping the division address overcrowding, Eberhardt said. She helped apply for money from the state’s new school construction grant fund to offset some of the cost of the new middle school being built in the Idlewild neighborhood.

FCPS received some $7 million through that effort.

“We could not have done this without Del. Durant,” Eberhardt said.

The group also visited the site of the new middle school. Eberhardt said construction is about two weeks ahead of schedule and is expected to be two months ahead of schedule “very soon.”

It is also coming in under the $77 million budgeted for it, he said.

The new school, which will retain the name “Walker-Grant Middle School,” will have capacity for 1,100 students and will allow the division to renovate the current Walker-Grant Middle School building into a third elementary school, thereby alleviating crowding at Hugh Mercer and Lafayette elementary schools.

Both the new Walker-Grant Middle and the as-yet-unnamed new elementary school are projected to open in August 2025.