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City Manager's Blog

Learn about the City of Roanoke from the City Manager's point of view.

Nov 30

It Takes a Village

Posted on November 30, 2021 at 3:05 PM by Melinda Mayo

It truly takes everyone in the community working together to provide the best educational opportunities to our children.  Parents, teachers, faith leaders, community leaders, librarians, city government, state government, community colleges, and many more are needed to offer the best opportunities.  This post is intended to highlight a few of the efforts present in our community.

Funding

The taxpayers of the City of Roanoke contribute more tax revenue to education funding than any other expenditure in the City’s annual budget.  Roughly 40% of the total local revenues are dedicated to funding early childhood learning programs; elementary, middle, and high school operations; and support of post-secondary education.  These funds are matched by sizable contributions from the Commonwealth in their support of many of these same institutions and programs.

Roanoke City Public Schools

Roanoke City Public Schools serves 14,000 students through 17 elementary schools, five middle schools, two high schools, and four alternative schools, with more than 2,000 faculty and staff at a per pupil annual cost of nearly $18,000.  All schools are accredited and the current graduation rate is right at 90%.  For nine consecutive years, the National Association of Music Merchants has recognized RCPS as one of the Best Communities for Music. In addition, RCPS has a top 5 elementary school in the State; a Region 6 Teacher of the Year; 14 student athletes that will go on to play at the collegiate level; students who have won National competitions in biology, environmental sciences, and forensics; and much more.  

Early Childhood Reading

Prior to entering elementary school and during their early years at school, a collaboration of dozens of community partners work together to ensure reading proficiency, a strong indicator of later academic success.  Operating under the Star City Reads banner, this nationally recognized program provides books to the parents of newborn babies in Roanoke and facilitates meals and literacy lessons to youth at City library branches throughout the summer.  It also places volunteer readers in classrooms throughout the City and provides books on public buses, in hair salons, and in barbershops.  The program has resulted in thousands of area youth and their parents having access to books and has helped prepare students for academic success.

Helping Make College a Reality

Nearly 15 years ago, the community came together to offer one of Virginia’s first free college programs—a public-private model in partnership with Virginia Western Community College.  The Community College Access Program (CCAP) has provided more than $8 million in tuition assistance since its inception in 2008, helping more than 3,400 students alleviate debt while securing further education.  More than one-third of the students in Virginia Western participate in in CCAP and 80% intend on transferring to a four-year institution, enabling them to continue their education even further.  As a way for CCAP recipients to return the favor to their community, each recipient volunteers for community service.  As a result, more than 25,000 hours of community service has been provided by students.

Education provides a gateway to opportunity for the rest of one’s life.  Our community has come together to do what it can to ensure children are prepared to succeed, that they receive outstanding instruction in quality facilities, and that they are able to pursue their interests beyond high school.  This is how our Star City gets it done!

— Bob Cowell

Nov 22

Welcoming and Learning

Posted on November 22, 2021 at 11:45 AM by Melinda Mayo

Two librarians seeking a solution, English as a second language, writing about public art, health literacy, basic literacy, and citizenship.  What do these have in common with one another?  They all are affiliated with Blue Ridge Literacy.  Founded in 1985 by two librarians, the mission of BRL is “to support achievement of life goals by providing opportunities to strengthen literacy skills to adults in western Virginia.” 

Celebrating Literacy

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to join BRL and its learners, teachers, volunteers, and others as they celebrated the year’s achievements.  There were stories read by the learners—one, a life-long resident of Roanoke who was learning so she could read the Bible; another, a learner from the Congo, so she could better communicate with her patients as a nurse assistant; and another from Panama, so she can better communicate with those she works alongside in her health care job.  Each of these learners read from their own story, written as part of a collaboration with the Roanoke Arts Commission about the public art present in our community.  

Writing from The Heart

For the 26th year, the learners prepared stories to showcase their learning and, in many instances, what their new community means to them.  This collection includes stories of the Roanoke Star, Mill Mountain, and the Elmwood Artwalk.  Amidst these are glimpses of challenges and celebrations, both big and small:  Missing their home country—its food and their friends; the quiet and peacefulness of Roanoke; the beauty of nature that surrounds our City; getting a driver’s license; staying safe in the pandemic; and earning citizenship.  Each of these stories represent an example of the diversity present in Roanoke that makes us such a vibrant and strong community.

The Work

Blue Ridge Literacy, its more than 100 volunteers, and 300 financial supporters work hard to achieve their mission of providing learners with functional literacy skills needed to achieve their life goals.  More than 300 learners were served in FY20-21, representing 47 different countries.   Through the help of BRL programs, 12 learners passed the necessary requirements and became new U.S. citizens.   Recent programs have focused on not only basic literacy skills, but also health literacy and digital literacy.  In the upcoming year, the opportunity to learn financial literacy through a partnership with the City of Roanoke’s Financial Empowerment Center will complement these efforts.

We are truly a welcoming community and the ongoing support of BRL, its staff, volunteers, and learners is but one example of this welcoming spirit in action!

Nov 09

Honoring Those Who Served

Posted on November 9, 2021 at 8:44 AM by Melinda Mayo

On Saturday, Roanoke celebrated Veterans Day with the annual Virginia’s Veterans Parade downtown, inclusive of all that we have become accustomed to for such events: marching bands, military equipment, flyovers, and lots of waving American Flags.  Veterans Day, of course honors those who have served in the U.S. military and has its roots in Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, both following the horror that was World War I.  Less than 10% of the American population living today are veterans— about 19 million in total.  Gulf War Era veterans now represent the largest share of U.S. veterans and there are only about 240,000 World War II veterans remaining alive.  

Most veterans are men (nearly 90%), but women are anticipated to make up nearly 20% of veterans by 2046.  Similarly, the number of African-American, Hispanic and Asian veterans is expected to increase by 2046.  Just as our overall population diversifies, so to do those who join the military, though it remains young non-Hispanic males who most often serve in our Nation’s military.  

Following the parade, a more somber reality associated with military service was commemorated, with a wreath-laying ceremony at Freedom Plaza in downtown.  This event honors both those who have served, as well as those who have lost their lives while in service.  Nearly 80% of veterans alive today served during wartime.  We must never forget that all those who serve in the military may find themselves serving during wartime and may even see combat, regardless of what they signed up to do or when they signed up. 

I want to thank all who have served, for their service and to their families that have sacrificed so much alongside them during their time of service.  Please join me in recognizing this service and these sacrifices.   Happy Veterans Day!

-- Bob Cowell