News in 5: Teacher shortages continue to strain schools throughout Hampton Roads

Plus: JCC police are investigating a homicide, a car belonging to a missing Williamsburg man was found in California and a bowling alley could move into the former Yankee Candle site.

Good morning!

Noticeably cooler temperatures arrived today.

The fall-like weather is expected to continue through the rest of the week, and we’ll enjoy plenty of sunshine, according to Meteorologist Myles Henderson of WTKR News 3. The weather should also be just about perfect for the many outdoor events planned in the area this weekend.

Myles Henderson
Sep 13, 2022 ·

COUNTY FAIR
The @[215378896432:274:Isle of Wight County Fair] starts later this week and the weather is looking great!
#isleofwight #countyfair

wtkr.com/weather
#FirstWarn3

Now to the news.

-Christin

1. A new school year is underway, but thousands of teacher vacancies remain in Hampton Roads.

  • There were nearly 700 vacant teaching positions across six major school districts in Hampton Roads on the first day of school this year, the Daily Press reports. The division with the highest number of vacancies is Newport News, which still has 260 open teaching positions.
    • Michelle Price, director of public information and community involvement for Newport News public schools, said the vacancies currently span across all areas of learning.
    • Price said that in the past, there were higher numbers of unfilled positions in the STEM fields like science and math because fewer teachers in those fields were entering the pipeline. But now, the division is struggling to fill almost all teacher jobs, including elementary education.
  • Teacher shortages are bogging down schools nationwide, and schools are under intense pressure to make sure their students can still receive the quality education they need.
    • Some U.S states have gone so far as to significantly loosen job requirements for teachers this year, even permitting people without any degree or formal training to teach, according to The Washington Post.
    • In Hampton Roads, school divisions have tried many methods to attract new educators and retain existing staff, from offering bonuses or pay boosts to using staffing firms that provide instructors to teach virtually while in-person facilitators watch over a class.
  • Statewide Efforts: On September 1, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin signed an executive order which launched the Bridging the Gap Initiative. The goal is to address teacher shortages by expanding recruitment and retention efforts, connecting teachers with childcare options and building the early childhood educator pipeline by training high school students to become childcare specialists. Raises of 10% have also been built into the state’s budget.

“Children in Virginia have suffered the disastrous effects of COVID-related school closures; initiatives like Bridging the Gap and my executive directive to address the teacher shortages are necessary to get and keep students on track,” Youngkin said.

  • In addition to the persistent teacher shortage, bus driver shortages also remain a problem throughout Hampton Roads. Williamsburg-James City County schools are still in need of five bus drivers, and Hampton has 17 vacancies, WAVY News reports. Most schools are also facing ongoing challenges when it comes to finding substitute teachers. During the 2021-2022 school year, W-JCC schools consistently had fill-in rates of only about 50%, compared to 90% pre-pandemic.

A teacher leads her students in a reading lesson. Throughout Hampton Roads and nationwide, schools are feeling the strain of teacher shortages as kids head back to the classroom. (GettyImages)

2. James City County police are investigating the homicide of a 38-year-old man.

  • Police are investigating a shooting that led to the death of a man in James City County. On Tuesday afternoon at about 1:38 pm, James City County Police and Fire Departments responded to reports of a gunshot victim in the 2600 block of Chickahominy Road.
    • Upon arrival, they found a man suffering from a gunshot wound. The man, now identified as Alfred Lamont Johnson, 38, was pronounced dead at the scene.
  • The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact Investigator Josh Ernst or call the Crime Line at 1-888-LOCK-U-UP. Tips can also be submitted anonymously online at p3tips.com.

3. A car belonging to a missing Williamsburg man was found abandoned in California. Now, a cross-county search effort is underway.

  • The Williamsburg Police Department is searching for a missing man who hasn’t been seen by family since May.
  • James Robert Cox, 61, lived in the 200 block of Parkway Drive and has been missing from his home. He suffers from a mental disability and other health conditions.
  • Cox was reportedly questioned by a deputy in New Mexico during a traffic stop. He told the officer that he was heading to San Jacinto, California, but he was transported to a hospital after appearing dazed and confused.
    • Cox was discharged from the hospital and escorted to his vehicle but has not been seen since. He was first reported missing by Williamsburg police on September 4. His vehicle was found abandoned in Desert Hot Springs, California two days later, on September 6.
  • Cox remains missing, and police departments in both Williamsburg and Desert Hot Springs are actively looking for him. Police say he is 5 feet, 9 inches tall, weighs 175 pounds and has a bald head. He sometimes wears glasses and moves slowly. Anyone with information about Cox’s whereabouts or disappearance is asked to call the Williamsburg Police Criminal Investigations Bureau at 757-220-2331.

Williamsburg Police Department – Williamsburg, VA
Sep 12, 2022 ·

The Williamsburg Police Department is asking for the public’s assistance in locating a missing adult with mental disabilities.

James Robert Cox, 61 of Williamsburg, was reported missing from the 200 block of Parkway Drive on 9/4/2022. His vehicle was found abandoned in Desert Hot Springs, California on 9/6/2022.

More information can be found at https://williamsburgva.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=513

4. A bowling alley and entertainment facility could take over the former Yankee Candle Village site in Williamsburg.

  • Uptown Alley – a bowling alley and entertainment venue based in Richmond – is interested in opening a new location in Williamsburg.
  • The Williamsburg Planning Commission is scheduled to hear a proposal from the business during its upcoming meeting on October 19, according to the Peninsula Chronicle. Uptown Alley applied for a special use permit to house its family entertainment center in the former Yankee Candle Village space, located on Richmond Road.
    • Uptown Alley is a family-friendly entertainment venue that features bowling, an arcade, virtual reality offerings, live entertainment, event space and a restaurant and bar. More information is available on the business’s website, uptownalleyrichmond.com.

Uptown Alley Richmond
Aug 21, 2022 ·

5. Williamsburg City Council voted to finance several capital improvement projects.

  • Williamsburg City Council voted Thursday to approve a plan to finance capital improvement projects. According to City Manager Andrew Trivette, the majority of the funds – a total of $25,750,000 – will be used for the new police station.
    • Other funding priorities include several school projects and kickstarting the library design project. As the process continues, there will be opportunities for public hearings, Trivette said.
  • The Council considered proposals from multiple banking institutions. The city’s financial advisor, Jimmy Sanderson, suggested borrowing the money immediately rather than waiting because if interest rates increase, the city could be forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars in additional interest every year to pay back the debt.
  • Additionally, members of the Council agreed to fund the purchase of a property that will be used for the city’s Workforce Housing Program, which allows people who work for the City of Williamsburg to live near the city and pay a reduced rental rate.
    • The Workforce Housing Program was developed to help attract new employees. The goal is for the employees to later invest in the community by purchasing a home with the money they save by paying a more affordable rent. The property the city elected to purchase is located at 4046 Ironbound Road. It contains two duplexes and will cost about $285,000.
    • “I think this is a great opportunity for us,” said Mayor Doug Pons, who pointed out that the property is being offered to the city at a much lower cost than the appraised value. Pons also added that currently, less than 10% of those who work for the city live there, so expanding the Workforce Housing Program will help close that gap.
  • City Council also approved a proposal to fund two school resource officers in the Williamsburg Police Department. The officers will be stationed at Berkley Middle School and Matthew Whaley Elementary School for four years, with continuation possible beyond that timeframe.

6. Busch Gardens is ramping up security at Howl-O-Scream this year.

  • There will be a larger police presence at Busch Garden’s annual Howl-O-Scream event this year as part of an effort to deter potential fights, according to WAVY News. Last year, police made multiple arrests after two fights broke out in the park and left people with injuries.
    • One of the fights last year involved a group of boys, and the other involved a group of girls. Both fights were related, according to 13NewsNow.
  • An incident command post will be staffed by James City County police on Friday and Saturday nights throughout the duration of the popular event, which runs until October 31.
  • In an effort to further boost security, Busch Gardens has also changed its bag policy. Bags larger than 5 by 8 inches will no longer be allowed in the park after 4:00 pm, effective through October 31.

“We have a great relationship with our law enforcement here,” Kevin Lembke, President of Busch Gardens, told WAVY News. “We want to make sure that you have a fantastic time at the event. Get scared, you know, experience everything that Hall-O-Scream might have to offer but do it in a safe way.”

Additional crime notes:

  • Newport News police are investigating a deadly double shooting that occurred in the city Monday evening. Police say they responded to an apartment building in the 700 block of 44th Street to find two people inside an apartment suffering from gunshot wounds. One man was pronounced dead at the scene and the other is hospitalized in critical condition. The shooting appears to be domestic in nature. –WTKR News 3
  • The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office (YPSO) arrested a suspect who fled from police earlier this month. Last week, The Triangle reported that YPSO was actively searching for an “armed and dangerous” man who attempted to break into the home of a person he knew in the Holly Point area of Dare on September 3. The suspect, identified as 38-year-old Travis Levelle Warren, escaped on foot and could not be found. Police have since located Warren, and he is now in custody. –WAVY News
  • A 26-year-old man, De’Aundre Malique Jarrett of Newport News, has been arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of a 21-year-old man. Police believe the victim, Messiah Jarvis Martin, was killed by Jarrett around 2:18 am on September 3. –WAVY News
  • Four girls between the ages of seven and twelve have been arrested for breaking into Christopher C. Kraft Elementary School during Labor Day weekend. Police say the children vandalized several classrooms and stole items from them. The suspects include a 7-year-old girl from Gloucester, a 10-year-old girl from Hampton, a 10-year-old girl from Chesapeake and a 12-year-old girl from Chesapeake. –13NewsNow

Lowest Gas Prices Today

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Local Covid-19 Update

New cases:VDH reports that an additional 13,195 people in Virginia tested positive for Covid-19 last week (down from 16,908 cases reported during the previous week). Localities on the Peninsula with the biggest increases in new cases (over 100) last week include Newport News (+183), Hampton (+164) and James City County (+119), according to WTVR News 6.

Hospitalizations and deaths: An additional 235 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 in Virginia last week (down from 252 the week before), according to VDH data. 124 Covid-19-related deaths also occurred in the state last week (up from 107 reported in the week before).

Vaccination rate: 72.4% of Virginians are fully vaccinated (up from 72.2% last week).

In the National News:

  • King Charles III Takes the Throne: King Charles III has officially taken the British throne following the sudden death of his legendary mother, Queen Elizabeth II, who was 96. The Queen visited over 100 countries as head of state, carried out approximately 21,000 engagements and was the second-longest reigning monarch in world history. She was a patron to more than 600 charities and met with 13 American presidents. The Queen visited Williamsburg twice during her reign, once in 1957 and once in 2007. Her coffin will be taken from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall in a gun carriage process Wednesday afternoon, NBC News reports. Princes William and Harry are expected to walk alongside each other in the process, joining their father, other senior royals and the Queen’s other children. The public will be allowed to pay their final respects to the Queen later Wednesday, and tens of thousands are expected to arrive to say their farewells.
  • Ukraine Regains Territory: Russian forces have begun to retreat amid a highly successful counteroffensive operation launched by Ukrainian troops. Ukraine has been gaining significant ground since the beginning of September, liberating more than 20 villages and reclaiming over 2,300 square miles of territory, ABC News reports. The Ukrainian military also claims to have captured a record number of Russian soldiers and is working on disarming landmines in recaptured areas.
  • Americans Give U.S Healthcare System a Failing Grade: An AP-NORC poll released this week revealed that satisfaction with the U.S healthcare system among the public is remarkably low, with less than half of Americans believing that healthcare in the nation is generally handled well. Only 12% say that it is handled extremely or very well, the AP reports. Satisfaction is even lower overall when it comes to the cost of prescription drugs and the quality of nursing homes and mental health care, with just 6% or less saying those services are handled well in the country. “Navigating the American health care system is exceedingly frustrating,” said A. Mark Fendrick, the director of the University of Michigan Center for Value-Based Insurance Design. “The COVID pandemic has only made it worse.”

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