Beyond the Sky: Imagine That!

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Beyond the Sky … 

When kids get passionate about learning and they ask me to join them, I have to say yes. Even at 7 am on a Saturday morning.

It’s why I found myself getting up early to head off to a local park on a misty morning last June. When I arrived, the kids, a team of middle schoolers, were already there along with their teachers, the school principal, their parents, the media, and … me.

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Why? Because two eighth-grade girls at Sutherland Middle School decided they wanted to fly a high altitude balloon to the edge of the atmosphere. They’d enlisted adults, their teachers, and other interested students in their project. We were all gathered to see what would come of this year-long project.

I watched with my camera, capturing video and photos, as they worked to put all the final pieces together; the go-pro camera, an arduino-driven tracking system, and the balloon. They checked their tracker app on their cell phones and installed it on my phone, too.  Finally, after their final check, they called 4 different air traffic control centers from Charlottesville to DC.

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We adults stood back and watched the kids position the balloon and let it go.  It rose, and cheers went up. Then, in silence, it glided back to earth. Shoulders drooped a bit but the kids got to work. They figured out what parts of the apparatus could be ditched to lower the balloons weight and then they let it go again … this time it rose and rose –gliding out of sight and we all cheered.

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They checked their cell phone tracking apps over the weekend and into the early days of the week. These modern-day rocket kids began to wonder if their balloon had wandered too far afield and all their work was now lost. Then – an alert triggered. When the call came to central office that they were off to collect their balloon, we all cheered again. Our balloon chasers found it on the other side of Lake Anna , more than fifty miles away, and secured permission from a farmer to retrieve it out of a wood-lined pasture. Guess what?

Mission Accomplished!

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Who wouldn’t want this kind of learning passion for all kids? As superintendent I find my own passion in the work I do comes from helping educators create multiple pathways to learning so that all our young people find their way to pursuing hopes and dreams, to have as many choices as possible when they move into adulthood, and to gain an equity of access to rich, experiential, creative work that educates them for life, not school.

droneclubI think Julian captures this vision in his passion for making and flying drones – and through what he’s learned as he’s participated in the maker movement that brings passion alive in young people in our schools today. What started as an isolated passion in the Western Albemarle library maker space while making drones took Julian one day into the school cafeteria with his drones to see who else might be interested. As a result of Julian’s leadership, he’s now surrounded by a score of middle and high school student who share his interest.

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Bridge Building Camp (courtesy of NBC 29)

That passion also resides in Ayoade, a high school senior enrolled in the MESA academy, who believes that engineering is fun and a great career choice.  However, Ayoade believed that many young girls might not know that. So as a sophomore she took a startup idea to her engineering teacher who said, “why not?” As a result, she became a social entrepreneur, creating not just a bridge-building camp for middle school girls but one in which participants give back to our community by creating bridges that make our local walking trails accessible.

courtney1And, there’s Courtney who isn’t just a fabulous actress, choreographer, and dancer in the Monticello High drama program but also a script writer who just had her own award-winning, one-act play performed in state competition. What makes Courtney’s work unique? She believes that arts are a path to teaching communities about issues of social justice and her most recent script, Necessary Trouble (taken from a speech quote by Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis) pushes audiences to engage in discussion about what rights mean to students who find themselves on different sides of a civil rights issue.

Josh1.jpgFinally, there is Josh, a tenth-grader who speaks to his tough life experiences –foster parenting, many transitions in homes and schools, and his challenges with the greatest frankness. He has shared on the national stage how engaged, hands-on, project-based learning, along with support from his Albemarle High Team 19 peers, teachers, and his principal has changed his attitude about high school – going from a kid who thought he might not graduate when he entered high school to now dreaming of becoming a tech engineer. You might ask so how did Josh get to a White House podium? Last year, he participated in a focus group at his high school led by a member of Student Voice and Josh’s voice, filled with passion and authenticity, was noticed by the facilitator leading to an invitation to speak at the White House Summit on Next Generation High Schools.

These stories don’t happen by chance. They happen when educators see the future as adjacent to the possibilities we build inside our schools today. Courtney, Ayoade, Josh, Julian, and the balloon kids represent every child inside our schools – classrooms filled with poets, engineers, artists, nurses, programmers – and yes, I hope, future teachers, principals, and maybe a superintendent or two.

We don’t find our children’s passions or talents when they sit in rows facing a dominant teaching wall, listening hour after hour, day after day, year after year, taking test after test to prove what they know –  but with little chance to show us what they can do.  Yet, when our young people get hooked on learning and take that passion into life along with a sense of personal agency, their voices will influence first their schools, and then their communities, the nation, and the world.

Unleashing the potential of our young people so they can build agency as learners and find their voices through experiences that plumb their passions means the sky is no longer the limit. Beyond the sky becomes possible.

Imagine that.

Summer 2016

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It’s only a few days until the opening of the 2016-17 school year. Despite the hustle and bustle in a school during the summer to make sure halls, classrooms, and specialty areas are clean and ready for children and teachers, a school in summer just becomes empty real estate when emptied of the community it serves. That’s why we are building out rich summer experiences for our young people so that they can take advantage of year-round learning communities, not just for ten months.

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Getting Ready to Enter School at Woodbrook Elementary

This summer our programs ran in almost every school;  visual and performing arts, STEM, Maker Education summer school, Leadership and Entrepreneurship Academies, readiness programming for rising ninth graders  and children entering kindergarten, blended learning courses for summer high school, and both face-to-face and online physical education and personal finance courses.

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Rock and Rappers at AHS

In our second annual Rock and Rap Academy, students from county high schools formed music groups and bands to write, perform, and record their own music. They had the chance to work with music educators from our schools but also local musicians from across the region. Our young contemporary music performers put on a show at the Ix Building for parents and friends as a culminating concert.

Young citizen leaders from our high schools gathered at the annual Leadership Academy to practice the competencies of leaders, to hear the stories of leaders across our community, and to take on a project that represents citizen leadership action.

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Student agency and voice matters. This year a group of our young women from Albemarle High again sponsored a regional bridge-building camp so middle school girls could experience the power of engineering to make community improvements while learning the principles of math, science, and tech embedded in engineering. But, as founder Ayoade Balogun shared this with me last spring in an interview,  “I also want young girls to see engineering as fun.”

In the Entrepreneurship Academy offered to high school students with an interest in designing, making, and launching projects they’ve created from scratch, students worked with our high school mechatronics teachers – staff who combine traditional shop, programming, and engineering design in one class – to create their own products from innovative baseball bats with specialized grips to a couch desk for a classroom, bedroom, or office. They each gained career and technical education course credits as they created their projects.

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Coder Dojo kids working on Scratch – an MIT coding language

Most adults find computer science, programming or coding, to be a mystery. That’s not true of over 600 learners, ages 5-18, from our diverse school communities who participated in our fifth annual Cville Coder Dojo. The multiage coder dojo camp originated in Ireland as a way of engaging young people in coding. While most kids who learn to code will not pursue computer programming, they still learn to apply mathematical reasoning, logical thinking, and creative processes as they use code to program arduinos, raspberry Pi, and 3-D printers, build games in scratch, construct websites using HTML code, and make music with sonic Pi.

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Citizen scientists

Our children also participated in summer school programs where they spent time making all kinds of projects as a path to learning. Students at Woodbrook Elementary participated in activities to find the joy in inquiry learning as citizen scientists – and learned about worms, insects, gardening, and geology on the school grounds. They ended school with a showcase of their work from student-made podcasts to teach guests about science to student-constructed worm farms for sale.

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M-cubed learners at work

Math competency is a gateway for kids to pursue dreams. Without it, so much is not available or limited in reach. The nationally recognized M-cubed program brings middle school African-American males together to gain algebra readiness together as a community. The program goes far beyond just math, however, as the young men engage in dialogue with local mentors and leaders. If we want to mind learning gaps, opportunities such as M-cubed represent our commitment to diverse experiences for all children.

We don’t live on an agrarian calendar in our homes and communities anymore.

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Jazz Camp band performs in the Pavilion

Offering high quality learning experiences during the summer allows our parents and staff flexibility in family choices about work schedules and vacations while also offering a variety of enriching experiences for all children often at no cost, low-cost, or with scholarship support. Our enriched opportunities engage young people in applying literacy and mathematical reasoning competencies as well as in building academic background knowledge, key to avoiding the summer social and academic slides that can occur for at-risk learners.

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Kids from several elementary schools play the World Peace Game at Agnor-Hurt Elementary

When our schools fill with children and staff during the summer, it’s a return on community investment in educational facilities that remain in use rather than close for learning business. Using our schools year-round does create a challenge for our building services staff but I believe that it fulfills our mission to fully engage our full community of learners in learning, regardless of the calendar date.

Our summer programs support working families with options for high quality care with a learning focus. And, our summer programs allows us to engage staff in learning new instructional techniques and tools to take back with them into their regular year teaching. We see many benefits to our learners and families. Equity of access to top-notch summer programming is a design principle of our offerings. It’s an essential, not just nice to do.

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“Maker Me” project at Stone-Robinson Elementary

 

 

 

 

2016: Congratulations Graduates

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Graduation Days:

It’s always inspiring to watch our young people graduate and we grad1have graduated over 1000 graduates in recent days. I ended the past week with the last of 5 graduation ceremonies. Most people know little about our shared regional services provider for special needs learners but a week ago I began graduations with a ceremony honoring 2 graduates at the Ivy Creek School. From that small but important gathering, I was privileged to watch our three comprehensive high schools – Albemarle, Monticello, and Western Albemarle – graduate their seniors. Murray High, our small public charter, graduated 24 honored seniors. My takeaway? Every child counts and all means all when it comes to our educators’ work. When I spoke with teachers, parents, and principals across every school they described this graduating class of millennials: leaders, doers, community-service minded, close-knit, almost like family. Educators also had this to say about the classes of 2016:

grad3“I’m going to miss them terribly. They’ve made me a better teacher, coach, and man.”

“These students inspired me to be a better human being. They have worked hard. Some will be the first in their families to graduate from high school. Others will be the first to go to college. They are first class in every way.”

“This class in terms of leadership is as good as it gets. They are socially conscious with a real sense of goals, short and long-term. They have phenomenal energy.”

grad5“They are creative, kindhearted, with a great sense of humor.”

Our young people will serve their communities, state, and nation well because of all the adults – parents, teachers, mentors, and family – who have helped guide them to adulthood.

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They will go to college, the military, work, or gap years in their next phase of life. I am so proud of the thousands and thousands of community volunteer and service hours they’ve provided to organizations and individuals in need of support. They’ve been accepted to colleges all over the US and the globe, including the most highly competitive public and privates in the US. They are leaders, doers, and dreamers – all of which we need as a nation, state and community.Grad2

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Spring Updates: From Homework to Henley’s New Fitness Center

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Stay Tuned: Homework Policy Under Consideration

Spring flies by in our schools as we begin the approach to the end of the school year. The days are longer and our learners are out on playing fields until dark and then heading home for family time and sometimes hours of homework.

Because of concerns about the time some students spend on homework, the School Board’s Health Advisory Board (parents and health professionals from our community) requested that the School Board consider changes in policy to more clearly regulate the amount of time students spend on homework on a weekly basis. The Health Advisory Board brought this recommendation forward because of their belief that our students’ overall health and wellness must be supported by adequate nightly sleep, family time, and down time away from school work.

As a result of this recommendation, school staff have been engaged in discussions about homework for well over a year using information homework research, surveys of parents, teachers, and students, and direct feedback from groups such as Parent Council and Teacher Advisory. As analysis of feedback and data are brought to closure, the School Board will consider final recommendations from staff and determine any changes to be made in its current homework policy.

Henley Middle School Fitness Center Opens

In the United States, anyone who follows mainstream media knows that many common adult diseases result from underlying causes that we can control.  As reported by the Presidential Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, many Americans do not lead a fit and healthy lifestyle and this begins at an early age. While a poor diet is a known culprit, lack of exercise is also a contributor to what some call lifestyle diseases.

Henley gym3On April 25, Henley Middle School celebrated the grand opening of its new “fit for life” fitness center which includes indoor and outdoor areas for gym activities, strengthening and conditioning, and aerobic workouts. After a ribbon cutting by two students, eighth graders demonstrated the different areas to School Board members, community members, staff and local media.

And, how do middle school students describe their new fitness center? Awesome … Challenging … fun … hard… love it ….. Great… really good .. amazing!

Hneley gymPhysical education teachers at Henley envisioned the fitness center as a more effective space in which to teach young people the competencies needed to lead a fit and healthy lifestyle into adulthood. Rather than requesting a second traditional gym to accommodate increased student enrollment, the PE teachers researched and recommended the fitness center concept to staff and architects charged by the Board to address the significant overcrowding of the school’s gym. The current gym has been used to serve the physical education needs of over 800 students even though it was constructed to serve many fewer students.

Henley gym2The Henley fitness center was created at no more cost than building a second gym but allows teachers to engage students in a variety of fitness activities that cannot be accomplished in a traditional gym environment.

Partnerships Make a Difference: Woodbrook Reads and SPCA/SDV Dogs Listen

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Community Partners Make a Difference … 

Across our schools, we have documented over 300 partnerships that benefit our young people and the staff who work with them. Our schools connect with a variety of partners to support our learners: local businesses, faith-based organizations, nonprofits, and our local college and university volunteer associations. Partners aren’t just donors to us of time, expertise and resources but our young school communities also provide resources and services to our partners as well. For example, all high school seniors participate in a variety of community service activities to provide support to organizations in our community that also need an extra pair of hands to accomplish their work. This could mean helping package donated food with the Blue Ridge Food Bank volunteers, working with United Way and Good Will projects that serve the homeless and our less advantaged community members, reading to senior citizens at a local nursing home, participating in canned food drives, or tutoring younger students after school.

 

spca6When visiting Woodbrook Elementary this past week, I had the opportunity to interact with one of our Woodbrook partners who provides a unique service in several of our schools, an SPCA/SDV volunteer with trained therapy dogs. Here’s what one teacher at Woodbrook has to say about this volunteer service to her young readers:

“I can’t tell you how much your program means to our students! They will benefit so much. Today they are already asking when they get to do it again.” Allison Greene, reading specialist from Woodbrook Elementary.

I Learned something new, too …

While this particular activity brings trained therapy dogs to the school to be good listeners to our youngest readers, I also learned that this pair of beautiful and perfectly genteel collies also bring a credential for working with children with autism.

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It was quite wonderful to see our children so engaged as young readers but also their learning about the dogs from the owner. As they gently touched one of the dog’s foot pads, I could only think that these are the experiences that close children’s learning opportunity gaps as they discussed the roughness of a dog’s foot pads and why those exist to help a dog move essentially barefoot through a variety of environments.

Principal Lisa Molinaro and I were delighted to land in the library and spend time with children, the dogs, and their owner who is a regular volunteer in the school.

Partnerships with organizations are a win for our schools. But there’s also more!

The SPCA is a great partner with us because they also benefit from our student volunteers who go there to help with walking dogs waiting to finspca8d owners, cuddling with kittens to acclimate them to human touch, and assisting with other activities that benefit the SPCA.

This past summer, Woodbrook Elementary’s summer program children worked on a project to benefit their SPCA partner, making homemade dog biscuits and cat toys to take there as gifts to the animals while also spending time with a local vet learning about pet nutrition. Woodbrook’s partnership with the local SPCA represents a great story of what it means to educate children for life, not just school.

Our children learn as they move through our schools that community is important and that giving of ourselves to community makes a difference. Our vision for all learners incorporates more than just academic success as an outcome. We also want young people who develop and sustain empathy over time and a value for community. This matters in families, our community and ultimately when our high school graduates become young adults.

Partnerships matter and we appreciate all the many ways that our children learn through our community partnerships. Thank you, Woodbrook and our Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA for being a wonderful model of that.

To volunteer at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, email volunteer@cascpa.org

 

 

 

 

Welcome to 2016 – It’s beginning to feel a lot like winter!

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IMG_1254Welcome to 2016! I hope everyone experienced a relaxing holiday season with family and friends. We asked our staff and students to take time away from school and homework over the winter break to spend time with their families, read a good book, visit relatives, or simply do those things that families accomplish together – cleaning out a closet or repairing something around the home.

Now it’s time to get back to school and re-engage with our learners as we head toward the end of the first semester.

January also heralds two important processes for our community – inclement weather decisions and budget season engagement

Anyone who’s experienced what it means to close or delay schools is well aware of all the frustrations that snow and ice bring to our lives here in Albemarle County. We work hard to keep our schools open but if we have ice or a snow storm, it often means school closures occur even after roads are clear in the urban areas. Albemarle still is a very rural county and many roads that our buses travel are unpaved, mountainous and narrow once beyond of the urban ring and off our main highways.

I am often asked how the decision is made to close schools in winter and what helps guide the final decision. Chief operations officer, Dean Tistadt, explains the division’s school-closing decision-making process in response to winter weather in this video.

We also know that child care, work schedules, and school closures collide to create frustration for parents and employees alike even as our children sing “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” That’s why school closing communication is so important during the winter.

To communicate clearly, we use every media outlet possible including notifying parents as soon as possible through our electronic communications system.This can mean a late evening or early morning wake-up call communication from the school division.If you haven’t signed up for the system and wish to do so, please contact your school’s office staff as soon as possible.

Sometimes, we don’t have enough information to make an evening call. In that case, we need  spend all night monitoring multiple weather system services as well as contacting state and local public safety, VDOT, and surrounding division transportation teams. We also put our own school transportation road assessment team “boots on the ground” to assess road conditions and report in prior to a decision being made.

Around 5 am, I receive a call from Transportation Director Jim Foley and Dean Tistadt in operations and we go through the checklist of data related current and potential weather and road conditions – not just in Albemarle but also in surrounding counties (on the first day of school, I road a Stone-Robinson Elementary bus that crossed into both Fluvanna and Louisa counties. This also can happen with Nelson, Green, Orange, and Buckingham.) We together use the checklist data to make our best analysis of the potential for inclement weather, Mr. Foley makes a well thought out recommendation and only then do I decide to open or close schools.

The worst case scenario occurs when bad weather arrives after buses are on the road (drivers begin leaving to start routes often by 5:00-5:30 am) or a storm system changes course at the last moment. That’s when our team sometimes makes an early morning decision that isn’t in sync with the incoming weather despite our best deliberations. Overall, our calls have a high rate of being on target. However, we know that snow and ice sometimes defy the best meteorologists’ forecasts and we get our decision wrong as a result. However, our entire team appreciates that parents know and support that our job #1 is to always keep children. Sometimes that means we need to close school due to snow or ice.

Some important reminders:

  • Please update your child’s childcare plans after school in the event of an early closing if those have changed since the beginning of the school year. You can contact your school’s office staff to do this.
  • Make sure your child knows the current early closing plan as well as your child’s after school care provider.
  • If your child’s plans need to change after school due to an early closing, please call school office staff as soon as possible to communicate plan changes. Office phone lines stay very busy on a snow day but do not rely on email to communicate a change in plans since it may not be read in time.
  • Review transportation plans with your teen driver in the event of inclement weather. One of my greatest concerns is the accident potential associated with inexperienced teen drivers on our highways in bad weather.
  • School buses are safe transportation vehicles and our drivers routinely go through required training and each driver holds CDL commercial driver’s licenses. Our drivers are prepared to drive in bad weather.

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  • Follow us on Facebook and twitter @k12albemarle.org

 

 

 

Budget work has been in progress for months and I will do my official presentation of the 2016-17 funding request to the School Board on Tuesday, January 19. More information will be provided here in the coming weeks. Here’s a link to the budget calendar.  

 

 

 

Teachers Matter Most

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December is a busy month in our schools from wonderful holiday programs to routine activities that engage children in deep learning. I am fortunate to visit our schools and see the amazing work accomplished by our young people and the teachers who create opportunities to involve learners. Learning planned by our teachers challenges children’s imaginations, supports them to solve complex problems, engages them to seek and use deep knowledge of content and make interdisciplinary connections, and encourages them to sustain curiosity and pursue learning that is of intrinsic interest.

dec blog 2On a Sunday afternoon, I recently watched Scottsville fifth graders perform The Little Prince at Victory Hall, a community arts center in downtown Scottsville. The children enchanted the audience as they shared the story, with a parent-constructed set that was just perfect for the show. The sophisticated concepts in The Little Prince were beautifully interpreted by the children. I loved the introduction by Principal Sharon Amato- Wilcox who reminded us of one of many important lessons in this children’s story:

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince 

Drama teachers Fay Cunningham, Madeline Michel, and Caitlin Pitts recently hosted student drama teams from our four high schools (AHS, MoHS, WAHS, and Murray High) to participatIMG_2110e in a fast-paced “script to performance” master class, Wired, in which students began the morning writing a script from scratch and performing that evening. I had the chance to watch student teams participate in a feedback session with the teachers and afterwards we chatted with the students about how coaching and guiding drama students gives them immediate, actionable feedback on their progress which they love about drama. One student commented that he wished school could be drama class all day long every day.

dec blog 8A visit with a Sutherland Middle School science teacher, Bryan Anderson, also provided insight into the interesting work that he does with students in an outdoor environmental garden area. It’s amazing to see that some typical garden plants such as broccoli  are still producing due to the unseasonably warm weather. His recycled soda bottle irrigation system seems to work well – and the rabbits who live in a hutch nearby and are a great source of fertilizer. It’s not every day you see kids inspecting cotton in a school garden with the intention of sharing it with their social studies teacher as an artifact from early agricultural days- but Brian and his kids are willing to try out all kinds of experiments in their schoolyard garden.

This past Saturday, Stone-Robinson Elementary staff hosted a #girlsgeekday program. I visited and saw around 60 elementary-aged girls working with volunteer staff, mostly women, including a number of teachers. The girls were figuring out how to program Lego robots, use basic code, design and build structures to withstand high winds, create animation videos, and program with visual patterns to control Ozobots. Watching our elementary girls work with great delight on STEM projects all Saturday morning reinforced how important it is to support all of our young people to see themselves as capable designers, builders, engineers, programmers, mathematicians, and creators. A takeaway? when children find learning interesting, they are intrinsically motivated to keep going.

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I also found out this past weekend about an AHS jazz band accomplishment. After completing and submitting a jazz tape made with support from the A3 House music studio in the Albemarle High Learning Commons, our jazz musicians were notified that they had been selected as one of twelve high school jazz bands across the nation to attend the prestigious Savannah Jazz Festival this coming April. Our AHS jazz musicians are some of the very best in the nation under the direction of Greg Thomas and this video shows why they are considered as such.

Finally, I’m proud that Albemarle County Public Schools was recently notified of its #5 school division Niche ranking in Virginia. Notably, our teaching staff received the highest rating possible which corroborates my belief that our teachers advance learning in powerful ways and that’s recognized by parents and students alike. While I want all of our young people to have excellent, modern facilities and top-notch learning tools, I also know that teaching quality makes the real difference in a child’s success in school. Commitment to learning quality must supersede other investments. Recruiting, selecting and developing the best educators we can find has led to our recognition of our young people and those who serve them well.

Schools matter. Learning tools matter. Teachers matter most.

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Looking for Learning: School Visits to #acps

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Looking in classrooms of today reveals changes in tools, teaching, and learning.

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Read, Design, Engineer

This past week I observed elementary children programming Arduino controllers to turn LED lights on and off. In doing so they researched in technical manuals to figure out how to first connect their circuitry and bread boards together and then set up code to activate the Arduinos. When I visited a middle school class, I watched a teacher working with a specialist to figure out how to use a laser cutter so that students could incorporate this new tool into designing, engineering, and building projects in what once was a traditional shop class. But a visit today makes the point to me that it’s definitely not your father’s shop class. While students do continue to learn to use traditional shop tools such as a lathe or a drill press they put new tools such as 3-D printers and laser cutters in their tool “boxes”, too.

A photo posted by @gschoppa on

Our educational times are changing. 

When I walked into an engineering class in one of our high schools, a student 3-D prints  parts for a working U-Boat replica while another student focuses on figuring out controller code to fly quad-copters in formation. These learning experiences are ones that radically differ from what young people were accomplishing in high school just a few years ago.

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Inquire, research, make

When I visit our schools and see teachers and young people at work, I look for our students’ work to acquire competencies of lifelong learning – a key focus for students graduating from our high schools that moves them beyond passing required courses and tests of Virginia standards. Providing a variety of choices for students to pursue paths to learning is key. While most of our graduates will go into post-secondary education to acquire four-year or two-year degrees or credentials, we know young people will enter a rapidly changing workforce. We know that some jobs will remain important but others will be wiped out by the rise of technologies that will replace jobs we take for granted today. Focusing on citizenship, post-secondary education, and workforce capability are all critical to our children’s education. Understanding the dynamic of coming changes that will result from evolving technologies is a must to educate our young people well.

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write, create, perform

What’s needed to prepare young people to transition into an adulthood that will bring even more challenges to staying current as lifelong learners? In Albemarle, we believe those skills include both traditions of literate and mathematical thinking but also the capability to create not just consume, to design and make, to pose questions and search for needed information across media, to communicate and collaborate with others to find solutions and complete projects.  We also believe its important for students to lead fit and active lifestyles and sustain wellness as they move into adulthood. We label this work in and out of our classrooms as lifelong learning competencies.To accomplish our goals, we see arts, sciences, social studies, language arts, mathematics, world languages, and physical fitness and wellness as remaining important.

Teachers plan for students to engage in work that leads to these competencies.

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Team 19 students working on interdisciplinary video documentaries.

We assess performance through projects, tasks, and products that represent this work. Our principals look for this work when they observe students and teachers working across our instructional programs. Instructional coaches and learning tech integration specialists assist teachers with professional learning so that strategies that support integration of lifelong learning along with conceptual understanding, knowledge acquisition and skill development embedded in standards-based curricula.

Work to develop lifelong learning competencies can’t be done in isolation of excellent teaching, integration of a variety of learning technologies, and effective assessments of what we expect our young people to learn whether age 8 or 18. This kind of teaching demands that young people analyze, apply, and create as they process what they learn. This kind of learning represents integration of interdisciplinary content that supports students to use skills and knowledge being learned across the curricula.

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The U-boat project unfolds history, math, science, and language arts

Reading complicated technical manuals leads to programming Arduinos. Creating a U-boat leads to research about the role of new technologies in World War II and history of naval warfare. Figuring out how to use a laser cutter creates potential to connect the arts, sciences, and technical education.

Just as in other sectors, public and private, our educators today are pressed to learn new skills and incorporate changes into practice at a faster pace than we could have imagined in the twentieth century. Ensuring that our young people leave us prepared for what comes next in their lives demands our attention and time. That’s why we must sustain openness to learning even as we expect that of our children.

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Arts and Communication

Biology students take to the water

sciences and fitness

Using Math to CAD program

mathematics and social studies

 

On Young People, Leaders, and Leadership

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high school summer intern at work

This past week, a group of ten high school teens came to my office to sit down and chat about leadership. They’re part of a high school leadership class working on a qualitative project to interview leaders from various walks of life. All our high schools offer leadership classes as a path for students to learn how to exercise influence and agency through development of voice and skill. I want to encourage this generation of young leaders so it’s important for me to take time to chat with them about what makes school and community important. I recognized one of the students, a young woman whom I’d known since she was in elementary school. We used to talk about her interest in teaching and maybe, just maybe, becoming a superintendent of schools one day. That’s not a conversation I have very often with students of any age!

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High school students engaged in their passion for music

Some wear high school sports gear. Others dress casually as high school teens do. They represent the diversity of their high school, a school where over 71 languages are spoken as well as diversity in interest and passion for learning across arts, STEM, athletics, and academics. Their mobile devices, now ubiquitous BYOD in our schools, lay on the table or hide in laps. One asks if it’s okay to record our conversation as well as video a short segment for use in class. “Of course,” I reply.

 

Each teen opens our conversation by sharing a little bit about their current work as well as what they see themselves doing next. College acceptances are definitely on the minds of the seniors in the group – one young woman shares her lack of certainty about whether to accept a college athletic scholarship to a school that might not be a top choice otherwise. Two are a little anxious about getting back to school in time for an upper level Spanish test. They all look forward to eating lunch off the high school campus at a local bagel shop. As they chat, I realize the topics on their minds today aren’t too far from those their parents and grandparents might have discussed with their superintendent or high school principal.  Even though our world has changed in so many ways since their grandparents and parents were in high school, the same issues of friendships, school work, and what comes after high school resonate similarly across generations.

GISIt’s evident as we talk, these young people value that “every day” leaders influence and improve community and schools not just through positional power but also personal agency. Their questions range from how I define leadership to what I look for in a principal as a leader. They wonder about my perspectives on whether students’ opinions and ideas should be elicited as a part of decision-making in a high school and whether I think that the work of student leaders makes a difference in our schools.

Here are some perspectives I shared.

grad1517On educational leadership: I believe the best leaders constantly model serving our community of learners, parents and staff. Educators often work long hours to ensure our young people receive the best we have to offer. This may mean going to a hospital when a child is seriously ill. It can mean staying after school to help students who are struggling as learners or to sponsor and attend after-school activities or events. Educators seem to never stop working whether it’s talking to parents in the grocery store or planning lessons and answering email at night. Educational leaders – whether teachers or administrators – value the people they serve and it shows 24/7. They come to work every day with a passion for supporting learners and learning. They see themselves as lifelong learners and are willing, regardless of experience, to learn new competencies to better support of learners and learners.

grad1516On what makes a good principal: To be an excellent principal, both technical and relationship skills are essential. Principals must be able to build effective schedules, develop and manage budgets, and analyze and evaluate how to improve and sustain quality educational services for students. Yet, technical skills represent just a slice of the competencies a principal must demonstrate in the role. However, the critical part of the job is about building strong and positive relationships with parents, staff, and students. Principals must be good listeners, solution finders, consensus builders, communicators, and decision makers. Principals today are flooded with stakeholder communication from text messages to phone calls and email. They know that great communication is key to running a school successfully even as they balance many competing values and interests across stakeholders in their work. It’s not unusual for principals to respond to emails received during the school day starting as early as 4 am or until 11 pm.

1 mohs9thOn student voice: Becoming a committed citizen and community member means learning how to advocate for and support others and self. Taking time to reach out to hear what students have to say is a critical component of leading in a school. When I was an elementary principal, students used to sign up for lunch on Wednesdays with me – a time to eat in the principal’s office and chat about what mattered to them. As superintendent, I stop to listen and chat with students when I visit classes in schools, during the summer leadership academy, and with county student council members. Listening to students helps inform me about what’s important to them from conversations about topics of interest to them as varied as homework to social media use to friendships. Students’ perspectives matter and we educators can learn from students just as we expect them to learn from us.

On young people: Young people have a lot to say. They write, sing, talk, text, Instagram, and tweet to each other, their communities, and the world. High tech immersion is a constant in their lives. Yet, they also valuing being with others face-to-face, not just with other young 6 rock and rappeople but also with adults who care about them and value their voices.

Our teens are community doers – they get involved in service projects to help others and they value that they have something to give. They see themselves as leaders, activists who can make their schools, communities, and the world a better place. They aren’t perfect but neither were their parents and grandparents. However, when I spend time with our young people, it’s evident to me they are growing up to be fine leaders and doers as they move forward in life. And that’s worth it’s weight in gold to me.

Yes, their voices do make a difference.

 

 

Just Around the Corner: A New School Year Begins

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3 clarinetsAll of a sudden, it’s time to begin school again. Our schools are almost ready. Floors shine. Open Houses are planned. Renovations and modernization work are coming to closure. Buses are washed, gassed and ready to roll. New teachers began last week and experienced teachers return this week. Athletes and band students have begun to practice for fall activities.

We are excited to welcome about 13,500 children to our 26 schools on August 19.

We Have an app for that!

acpsappTo keep track of school activities in our schools, school calendar activities, and updated announcements, consider downloading our Albemarle County Public Schools app  (Albemarle County PS) for your android or iPhone at Apple Apps Store or at Google play.

 

It’s been a busy summer across Albemarle County Public Schools for our teachers. 

School had barely ended in June and we convened almost 300 teachers and principals in school leadership teams to work on curricula, assessment, and instruction. Teachers explored multiple strategies to engage learners in active, deep learning. They worked on designing paths for children and teens to engage in problem-solving and project research that leads to hands-on and collaboration experiences. Teachers together across grade levels, content areas, and even schools created opportunities for students to design, create, engineer, build, and make when they start the 2015-16 School Year. Throughout July, almost all teachers participated in professional development and training to prepare for changes in curricular content, review assessments, extend tech skills, and build instructional units.

2 new teachersThen, our new teachers, 130 strong, arrived last week to get ready to work with our learners, build teams, and meet experienced mentor teachers, instructional coaches, and tech learning integration specialists.

 

 

Here’s one example of a unit two fourth teachers designed this summer. Imagine the teachers introducing their children to a variety of tools to help them research how insects benefit the planet. Consider the children completing research that leads them to plant flower beds at school that will attract insects.

using data

using data

Think about those fourth graders first collecting data and observations on insect visitors (especially bees) to their flowers; then making a communications plan to persuade families and our greater community to plant native plants that are bee-friendly. This teacher-designed unit supports fourth graders to acquire lifelong learning skills. Through interdisciplinary studies that integrate math, writing, reading, science, and geography, these young students will pursue questions and sustain curiosity culminating in projects designed to deepen their learning.

And, it’s been a busy summer across Albemarle County Public Schools for our students.4 leadership

Our principals have worked as if school never ended and that’s no surprise given the number of programs we’ve run for children throughout the summer. Even as they’ve worked on schedules, class assignments, and planning, they’ve been working with summer programming attended by students. As I’ve visited schools, it’s been wonderful to see how positive and supportive our young people are with each other, particularly given the multi-age nature of our summer activities.

  • 10 maker sewElementary and middle schools sponsored summer maker and project-based learning programs in every school.
  • Our first elementary arts “Sight and Sound” academy ran at Baker-Butler.
  • The Coder Dojo Academy again ran at AHS serving over 600 K-12 students participating in learning to code and create wearable LED art.
  • Teen leaders gathered in our Leadership Academy at the County Office Building to plan ways to empower student voices across our high schools. 8 coderdojo
  • Our regional Fine Arts Academy at Burley Middle School added a fourth jazz band this summer to meet student interest – and we ran full sessions in creative writing, drama, and visual arts.
  • Our newest Rock and Rap Academy at AHS overflowed with kids. 6th -12th grade, all set on one goal – to compose and perform pop music.
  • African-American middle school males in our M-Cubed Academy worked on algebra and geometry projects at Burley.6 rock and rap
  • Bridge building middle school girl geeks convened in the woods near the Rivanna River with MESA Academy support and spent a week engineering and constructing a bridge across the river.
  • Children in the English as Second Language Program participated in a Community Immersion program to visit historical sites across the region.
  • Special Education students had opportunities to participate in  support programs designed to sustain key skills across the summer. 9 PK camp
  • Kindergarteners, sixth graders, and ninth graders attended pre-school activities designed to help them make positive transitions into new schools.
  • Summer interns worked with our tech support staff to set up new laptops and re-image our existing student technologies.

 We’ve had a wonderful summer.

Now, the start of school is just around the corner. We look forward to a year of positive experiences for our students, their teachers, and our school communities. Welcome!

12 interns 11 build bench 5 jazz 7 car build

 

 

13 AH 1 mohs9th

To Over 1000 Graduates: A Graduation Note of Reflection

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“You make a living by what you get,

but you make a life by what you give.”                                                                            William Churchill

To the Class of 2015:

Live Stream Team

Just over a week ago you were still high school students but when you walked off the graduation stage you became alumni of your schools. It was an honor to be there with you and with six generations who as a community surrounded you to celebrate your accomplishments – whether face-to-face or through our tech team’s live streaming.

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Mustang grad
Cale volunteer

 

Those in the audience represented the Greatest Generation, your great-great grandparents, on down to the Boomlets, your youngest siblings. We were together to see you graduate from your high schools. 1000+ in number – you were the largest graduating high school classes in the history of Albemarle County Public Schools: Western Albemarle High, Murray High, Monticello High, Albemarle High.

For nine years, I have asked seniors and teachers what makes the graduating classes unique. This year was no exception.

  Here’s what I heard about you:

grad1510Western Albemarle High: You are passionate, loyal, eager to get things done, motivated, intellectual, ambitious – extroverted, humorous and a bit rowdy in a good way. And a teacher’s lovely comment – you have been a class of leaders who value each other.

 

grad155Monticello High: Unpredictably deep in talent and ecstatic about life, you like each other and are fun-loving, fabulous, well-educated, humorous and outgoing. Everybody is viewed as having their own interests but you come together as a group. A favorite comment from a teacher? You are kind!

 

grad156jAlbemarle High: You see your class as “spirited x3”, but are supportive of each other, goal-oriented and very diverse with many talents. You are, as more than one teacher said, creative, gregarious, close-knit .. and distinguished in your accomplishments.

 

grad157Murray High: You are valued for your creativity and commitment to working until your performance represents quality. You care about the planet and about helping others. More than one of your teachers described you as capable of accomplishing whatever you set out to do in life.

 

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Patriots’ selfie stick
camera shot

As the Class of 2015, you’re members of the Millennial Generation, but I wonder if you might eventually become known as the Smart Generation. Most of you have Smart phones. Some even wear Smart watches. In the not too distant future, you will likely ride in Smart “driverless” cars. Many of you are going to colleges with Smart washers and driers that will text you when your laundry is dry or a washer is ready for use.

Smart technologies are everywhere.

As Millennials, you don’t just live the experience, you value sharing it with others and your devices are in your hands almost 24/7. You lit up the world with your texts, photos, and vids as you went through the rite of passage we call graduation. It was no surprise to find you actively using twitter to narrate your graduation stories – 140 characters at a time.

No doubt we can agree that contemporary technologies connect today’s world and redefine our work .. our homes .. and our schools as never in human history. Some even think that historians will one day identify this time in which we live today as the beginning of The Age of Smart Machines (in whatever format that history books of the future exist.)

You will shape that history through your own actions.

I am convinced that you can and will define the future of our communities, nation, and world as you bend new technologies for good through your creative, innovative thinking – and by using your emotional intelligence together as collaborative solution-finders. It will not always be easy, but I have confidence you will accomplish great work regardless of the paths you pursue.

grad1523

Good Friends     Always Warriors

 

As you transition from your current to future communities,

consider what’s  most important to living your adult lives well 

First, sustain your caring relationships with people – family, friends, neighbors. Your teachers have described you as young people who are close-knit, kind and loyal. Remember as you enter the world of adulthood to continue to give of yourself to those around you.

Second, continue to give back to your community as volunteers. You’ve tutored younger students, raised funds to donate to the needy and important causes, engaged as political and social activists, and worked for local non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity. That’s the important work of creating quality communities for all of us now and into the future.

Third, remain engaged and involved in making this great nation of ours an even better nation as you move towards the 22nd century. You are lifelong learners and our world will need that from you. Imagine this. With the extended lives we humans are leading some of you will be around to ring in the new year in 2100. You have a lot of years to give to improve the quality of life in the United States and find solutions to big problems facing the world. The planet will need your best thinking and actions.

Finally, since you walked off our various stages over a week ago no longer a student but now an alum, you probably have already forgotten most of anyone’s speeches during your graduation ceremonies. I’d like to think you heard this.

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Murray Graduation
Relationships Matter

Contemporary, smart technologies shape our world. We experience that every day. But, the devices you carry with you aren’t what’s most important to shaping the future. Rather, it’s the integrity, decency, and empathy that have defined you as friends, family and community here in your high schools.

Technologies will come and go. However, as Churchill once said, “you make a life by what you give.”

 

Best wishes, Class of 2015, as you step forward into the rest of your lives.

grad1516 grad1517 grad1518 grad1519 grad1520 grad1521

(A few notes from the class of 2015 graduation)

“Before I sit down, I have one last word of advice. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you, who challenge you, who you can be yourself around, and who will eat a 20 piece chicken McNugget meal with you at McDonalds because they are your best friends.” Tim in his speech to fellow WAHS Warriors.

“In 2005 the first YouTube video was uploaded.” Sasha and Mrs. Kindler together shared changes in our world that our Murray grads have experienced.

To paraphrase a line from the Monticello’s Mustang duo Zander and Wills iTunes song Fighters: “You are moving forward – no setbacks today.”

“I don’t have the power to change the world but I’ve got the power to spark the mind of a person who does ..” Kolion quoting the rap poet Tupac for AHS Patriots.

And from Jack, student meteorologist @MHSweather94 and school closing advisor, who agreed with me last week: “Today’s a great day to graduate, sunny – with no chance of snow!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

May: A Month for Creativity

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Robot Builders at Broadus Wood Elementary

“A new study from Michigan State University found that childhood participation in arts and crafts leads to innovation, patents, and increases the odds of starting a business as an adult. The researchers found that people who own businesses or patents received up to eight times more exposure to the arts as children than the general public.” (C. Bergland in “Creativity in Childhood Leads to Innovation in Adulthood”, Psychology Today.)

Why should we make sure that our young people have deep opportunities to exercise creativity in learning activities in every way? In Psychology Today, author Christopher Bergland spells out recent research detailing why sustaining creativity matters and how creative experiences prior to age 14 impact students in college and in their future financial opportunities in the workforce. It’s worth a read.

When children are afforded the opportunity of experiencing creativity through learning, they explore and discover new ideas, different solutions, alternative paths of designing and making, and a variety of media applications through which they can share their creativity. The chance to create allows children to integrate thinking driven by their own curiosity and interest with the opportunity to design, build, make, engineer, and compose – the ultimate hands-on learning experience. For example, when teens were given the challenge to demonstrate physics concepts in a high school class recently, one student decided to build a PVC pipe keyboard to explore sound.

Western Albemarle Physics

 

art builders

Young art designers build in Meriwether Lewis Elementary

In our schools this month is a time in which our students demonstrate lifelong learning competencies in performances, culminating projects, competitions such as Destination Imagination, school-wide and community exhibitions, and portfolio compilations. It’s a time to celebrate the talents and capabilities of our students as they show achievement in a variety of ways and explore possibilities in their learning.

 

GIS

Where Should NBA teams be located?
AHS GIS project

Despite standardized testing in May, our musicals, concerts, and plays show off our students’ creativity. Learners bring creativity to bear through project-based learning and in products they’ve made as they share their accomplishments in class presentations and school-wide festivals and fairs. They even post to YouTube and on websites where their creativity projects are broadcast to the world.

Our students create across all the disciplines they study in school from math to writing. We know it’s not possible to measure the quality of their 3-D printed sculptures, GIS projects, self-portraits, Minecraft historical sites, slam poetry, choreographed dances, documentary films or simple machine inventions through multiple choice tests so we provide opportunities for students to show not just their teachers but the whole community what they can do. We know creative learning opportunities engage and empower our youth through contemporary learning. However, now we know the pay off is much bigger than just for today.

Why create? Because it matters for a lifetime.

Monticello Drama’s West Side Story

Learning Mathematics Well = Confidence, Competence, and Positive Attitude

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Confident and competent and positive in math? Why not?

doargraphWhy do Americans stink at mathematics? Why do from 30-40% of people who respond to attitudinal questions about math use language describing that they “hate”  it? Why do many parents and educators believe that being good at math is about ability, not capability?

At a recent School Board work session, Board members, along with parents, teachers, principals and community professionals, tackled the question of what it take to educate all young people well in mathematics as they move from pre-Kindergarten to graduation. They explored research relevant to learning mathematics, parental and educator attitudes about mathematics, and effective mathematics curricula, assessment, and pedagogy. They learned that mathematical performance in higher level courses in high school is a gatekeeper to college, particularly for children living in poverty. They learned that as children age up in schools, they perceive themselves as less and less capable in math, particularly females. They discussed that regardless of a child’s potential career path, reports abound of mixed performance and lack of confidence among young people in school, more so in mathematics than other curricular areas. Most importantly, they discussed what we need to do to address the concerns we share with UVA Curry math education professors, engineers, community members, parents, and educators about mathematics performance and attitude among our students.

using data Many people have opinions about the root cause of America’s problem with math. In Albemarle, we are embarking upon a deeper dive into understanding the problem from a research-driven, not opinion-based, perspective.

If we believe that:

  • mathematical concepts, problem-solving skills, and procedures are all critical to learning so all students can apply mathematical thinking in unique situations, we need to make sure that our professionals from PK through post-calculus develop and hone expertise in math content, assessment, and instruction,
  • a vigorous curricula matters, we must make it accessible through sound instruction and tool resources for all students beginning in our early childhood classrooms and continuing through graduation,
  • time and effort matter, we must support students through trial and error and expect mastery of mathematics to be the goal, not finishing a unit of study in a specific time
  • confidence is important, we adults must behave in ways that help young people build success, see themselves as capable, and stay motivated to learn despite the challenging work we put in front of them
  • meaningfulness is important, we must create learning connections from math to other disciplines and to the real world so that kids use mathematics in contexts that make sense to them.

"Measure Twice - cut once" Why focus on mathematics?

Every lifelong learning competency that we desire young people acquire before adulthood represents mathematical thinking, language, and skills – in one way or another. Adults use math in homes, community activities, work, and play. Mathematical thinking grounds our capability to apply, analyze, evaluate, and create across disciplines. As the Dean of UVA Engineering once said to parents contemplating the impact of their child entering our MESA Academy: “If your child decides to major in studio art, s/he will be a better artist because of learning basic principles of engineering.”

Not every child we educate will go into a career that demands the use of the most sophisticated of mathematical thinking even though some will do so. However, if we want to open more doors of opportunity and ensure our young people can process a world of math in their daily lives, we have to do better to support their performance, attitude, and capability in mathematics while we are teaching them in our schools.

Using Math to CAD program

Using Math        in CAD programming

That’s why our School Board is studying mathematics as a strategic focus. It’s not about test scores, it’s about children becoming confident, competent learners who actually like math.

 

 

 

 

Top Performance Doesn’t Happen By Chance

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IMG_4639 I am always proud of the accomplishments of our students and staff in Albemarle County Public Schools. It seems as if each week brings an example of their top performance across arts, academics, athletics, community service and leadership.  Top performance doesn’t happen by chance. It comes from the hard work and dedication of staff to provide opportunities for young people that sustain their curiosity, persistence, enthusiasm and willingness to rise to challenges as young learners.

  • Five of the top six spellers at the central Virginia regional Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee were from Albemarle County and fourth, third, and second place were earned by elementary students from our schools.

  • Young musicians from all three of our comprehensive high schools have been admitted into the elite Commonwealth of Virginia orchestra, band, and choral programs based upon their stellar performance tryouts.

  • Teams from elementary, middle and high schools will compete in the regional Destination Imagination Tournament held at Western Albemarle High School.

  • Crozet Elementary has been selected as one of four schools in Virginia who are finalists for the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Award for environmentally friendly and energy-efficient schools.

  • Robotics Teams from all three high comprehensive schools and Henley Middle School have competed at the state level and both Team Vertigo from AHS and the Nerd Herd from Henley will advance to the super regional in Pennsylvania.

  • Maeve Winter, WAHS student, is a distinguished state finalist in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

  • Both the Western Albemarle (five-time state winner) and Albemarle Girls Swim Teams won 2015 state championships in their respective group classification.

  • Albemarle High again has received the prestigious National Music Education and Virginia Music Education Associations’ Blue Ribbon Award for its performing arts achievements and programming.

  • 2014 Albemarle County Schools graduates again exceeded state and national SAT and Advanced Placement scores, placing the division among top performing school divisions nationally.

Please join me in congratulating our staff and students on these accomplishments – just a few of many that represent the quality of educational performance exhibited by members of our school communities.

robotics

 

 

The Funding Challenge: Sustaining Our Portfolio of Educational Excellence

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Funding from the Commonwealth for K-12 education has dropped over the past seven years. This drop has shifted the burden of responsibility for education in Albemarle and other localities to local taxpayers’ property taxes. If per pupil revenues from the state had remained flat over this time period, Albemarle County Public Schools would have no funding gap in the 2015-16 funding request because we would receive $3.8 million in additional state revenues for FY16. This is not the case. The current revenue gap for the school division is $2.7 million. This creates a challenge for the Board to sustain commitments to quality programming, growth needs, and excellent staff to serve the 13,500 students enrolled in our schools.

Past Board investments in a Portfolio of Educational Excellence have allowed us to sustain commitments to programs, staff, and students so that we didn’t fall behind either market-competitive compensation or program services to students. Today, Pk-12 programs serve young people well because of past investments to recruit and retain a top-notch workforce.

However, the current FY16 funding request challenges our capability to both keep up with market-driven staff compensation while continuing to sustain and enhance the educational services that our community values and supports. This means that past cuts and reductions in funding allocations impact to such an extent that we are faced with the need to catch up in these areas :

  • salary compensation and benefits coverage,

  • purchase of learning resources,

  • facilities and classroom modernization in areas such as science labs,

  • professional development and training to develop and extend content and teaching expertise.

It’s important to realize that we cannot keep up current services when revenues do not move apace with the costs of inflation, compensation and benefit expenses, growth, and directed/mandated services.

Sustaining the Board’s market-compensation commitment to staff is the top priority expressed by every demographic group surveyed earlier in the school year. Due to revenue gaps, staff likely will not receive Human Resources’ recommended market-competitive salary increase – unless more funding becomes available. Instead, a phased-in raise during the 2015-16 School Year is the likely action.

Take home pay is less today than it was five years ago for teachers and other staff including those working in local government. Like others experiencing wage stagnation, our educators are finding it difficult to make ends meet as health insurance costs rise, Virginia Retirement System changes have taken a big bite out of paychecks, and cost of living adjustments remain nonexistent. This isn’t just a problem here. It’s occurring all over the United States. The recession has impacted education. Today, fewer college students are choosing to major in education, practitioners are switching to more lucrative careers, and the boomers are exiting the profession to retirement. While this might not impact today or tomorrow, this trend has deep implications for the future of a strong educational workforce here in our community.

Why should we ALL care about sustaining commitment to excellent schools, to supporting breadth of programs that serve young people, and hiring the best educators we can find?

Our Portfolio of Educational Excellence represents the core values of a premier community with one of the overall highest educational levels in the United States. The capability of higher education and the business community to attract top employees and develop the local economy is dependent upon excellent public schools. The quality of our schools impacts Albemarle real estate values. However, the most important reason why we need to sustain our programs, services, class sizes, and competitive market walks through our school doors every day.

Our children.

What have past Boards and our community considered as valuable investments in our Portfolio of Educational Excellence over the last two decades?

  • We have implemented a competitive market strategy to recruit and retain excellent Albemarle teachers by paying at the bottom of the top quartile of a competitive market which includes contiguous counties and selected counties in northern, Tidewater, Richmond area, and southwest Virginia.
  • Our schools have some of the smallest average class sizes in Virginia – ranking us in the top tier of small class sizes among the elite northern Virginia divisions and the Charlottesville City Schools that represent the highest per pupil expenses in the state. For comparison, Albemarle County Schools rank 1st in elementary, fourth in middle school, and third in high school class sizes despite per pupil expenses that are the third lowest in this cohort performance benchmark group.

IMG_0682Students take advantage of a comprehensive K-12 arts program that is recognized at the local, state and national level as one of the best, including the addition of a new secondary summer fine arts academy in 2014. While many divisions have reduced arts commitments, Albemarle’s School Board has sustained visual and performing programs.

 

  • The K-12 physical education program taught by licensed PE staff represents both the time and activities necessary for young people to build lifelong wellness and fitness knowledge and skills.

IMG_41006-12 AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) services supports over 300 students who will be first generation college students, providing courses to build skills, knowledge and strategies essential to performing at high levels in college preparatory classes with mentoring support typical among college-educated families.

wahsDifferentiated high school academy options allow young people to pursue specific interests such as health and medical sciences, engineering, and environmental studies during the regular year and visual/fine arts, computer programming, and leadership during the summer.

  • Comprehensive college curricula includes a broad offering of advanced placement and dual enrollment courses open to students who wish to pursue college credits in high school.

DI robotsNumerous gifted and talented and general enrichment options include robotics, Destination Imagination, National History Day, Westinghouse Science Fair, UVA Writers’ Eye, Governors’ Schools, VHSL competitive activities from drama to athletics, and so much more.

 

  • Nationally recognized K-12 library programs and facilities offer contemporary access to research, communication resources, and activities that allow libraries to be open and accessible to students and staff to search, connect, communicate and make learning.

IMG_9532A  6-12 contemporary Career and Technical Education lab program addresses both the interests and needs of students who will enter future workforces – with focus on developing transportable life skills that are important in school, at home, and at work. A lab school partnership with UVa, the Smithsonian, and Charlottesville City Schools offers middle school students an interdisciplinary STEM curricula.

  • The division’s nationally recognized instructional coaching model provides pedagogical and content development support directly to teachers with particular focus on mentoring and assisting novice teachers. This program is part of a package of strategies to help recruit, develop and retain excellent teachers, a return on investment.

  • The Board’s commitment sustains a value for community schools so children are educated as close to where they live as possible.
  • The Division values its partnership with local government as we together capture efficiencies through shared services and activities in Human Resources, Finance, Transportation, Technology, Pre-Kindergarten, the Comprehensive Services Act for special education, and Legal Services to the Board.

CATEC buildersSustained community partnerships offer extended learning opportunities for students through Piedmont Virginia Community College, the University of Virginia, the Charlottesville- Albemarle Tech Ed Center (Charlottesville Schools), private sector businesses and corporations, and community agencies.

 

  • A pilot elementary world languages program at Cale Elementary adds depth to the opportunities for young children to learn a second language when their brains are most receptive to developing language competencies.
  • Pk-12 intervention and prevention services address economically disadvantaged children who may enter school with learning gaps, English as Second Language Learners, handicapped learners, potential dropouts, and students with mental health and emotional needs.

Monticello High Music Industry Class Writes Lyrics and Records Music

Top performance by Albemarle students in arts, academics, and athletics has led to a graduates who excel by any measure. The total drop out rate for students in the class of 2014 of 2.3% represents a total of just twenty-three students who dropped out of school between ninth and twelfth grade. Our recent graduates were accepted at close to 300 different colleges and universities including 20 of the 25 top private and 21 of the top 25 public colleges and universities in the nation.

Excellence is a hallmark of our community’s public schools, representing the investments of generations who have lived here in Albemarle County. Public education is a heritage for our community going back to its roots in the earliest decades of United States history. Mr. Jefferson saw the need for public education and he influenced the state and nation to embrace public schooling. Why? He knew that public education was essential to a strong and thriving citizenry.

Here in a county that set in motion the birth of the United States of America, it seems only appropriate that today we should be a model for educating all of our young people well – boys, girls, children of color, the handicapped, the immigrants.

Monticello Jan. 14. 18.

“A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens, from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest, of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest.”  Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C, Cabell

 

 

A Season to Remember: The Gift of Teachers

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103This moment in time, with our shortest days, important holidays, and the changing of seasons, brings us to memory and reflection. It has been a bittersweet year in Albemarle County with the ongoing successes of our children mixed with tragedies in our schools and in our community. This has been very difficult for those in our very human-centered occupations. I have been remembering and reflecting, especially on the lives and passing of two of our beloved educators this month, teachers who touched the lives of children, parents and peers over their teaching careers.

At our recent School Board meeting, I described Robin Aldridge, Hollymead teacher, as a “Child Whisperer.” She was the teacher every parent wanted in their child’s corner and every teacher valued as a colleague. Board Chair Ned Galloway shared a few words about Sue Pasternack, Agnor-Hurt teacher, who leaves all who knew her with an imprint on our hearts as we remember her humor, passion, dedication and compassion for everyone she encountered. Both of these educators were warm and loving toward each child whom they served so faithfully.

Prior to a moment of silence for both of these remarkable educators, the best way I can explain their impact upon so many children and families over many years is to say that they personified our values for respect, community, excellence, and young people. They epitomized the master teacher I hope every young teacher aspires to become one day.

It was not Robin or Sue who chose their careers; it was the profession that chose them. They had a gift to offer to children and families in our community that could never have been purchased. It was a gift priced not in numbers, but in faces—the faces of children with excitement in their eyes, smiles in their voices, and the unbridled confidence that comes with making new friends and new discoveries.

What truly is special about our Albemarle community is that our students reach their welcomed destinations with the support and encouragement of not just the professionals who educate them, but also, through the efforts of those who transport them, feed them, keep them safe and healthy, and provide them with learning environments that are anything but ordinary.

You serve as a model for our nation, and what a gift that is. We receive accolades every week for the exemplary performance of learners, employees, departments and schools. Our students distinguish our community through arts, athletics, academics, community service, and leadership. This does not happen by chance; it happens because of each of you. No matter your role in working with children, you all are teachers, and our children learn from the words you use, the smiles you share, and the care you provide.

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In the past two weeks, more than one of you has said to me that a casualty of our hugely productive but overcrowded professional lives is that we do not sufficiently take the time to tell those with whom we work how much we value and appreciate each other. So as we prepare for a much-deserved winter break, I want you to know how much I admire your selfless devotion to our students and to our colleagues, and most of all, your contributions to making our community and nation a better place.

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Thank you for your commitment to the young people we serve together, and please have a safe, enjoyable and restful holiday season with family and friends.

Mathematical Thinking Matters

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IMG_5496Whether buying a new car, working in a research lab, applying the Pythagorean theorem on a construction site, or using spreadsheet formulas to plan how to pay off student loans most efficiently, mathematical thinking is a basic for graduates of our schools. What students must learn today goes well beyond the work of yesteryear’s arithmetic textbooks when members of earlier generations used to memorize rote fact families, repeat procedural recipes from long division to geometry theorems, and solve basic word problems.

It’s an expectation in Virginia that contemporary students take three or more years of high school math – a requirement far beyond the “just” Algebra I requirement of thirty years ago. That’s why developing critical reasoning skills in math is a key focus for today’s educators to make sure young people acquire the competencies they need for a lifetime of mathematical thinking.

This kind of mathematical learning does not happen by chance in schools. It demands teachers who deeply understand a range of mathematical disciplines and who skillfully use multiple teaching strategies to help learners of different competency levels learn to think mathematically as they solve complex math problems.

A high school principal recently shared that learners who once struggled with math are having significant success this year in Algebra I – by any measure. If a student can’t pass Algebra I and then take two more math courses beyond Algebra, they won’t graduate with a standard Virginia diploma. For an advanced diploma, the college admissions gold standard, four math courses are required.

When I met the lead teacher for the successful high school algebra team (a course in which parents and students routinely ask teachers, “when will I ever use algebra in life?”), she said three things which stood out to me: algebra problems must be real, multiple problem-solving strategies must be learned, and positive relationships between the teacher and learner are vital.

My conversation with her reminded me of a recent blog post by Walton Middle School math teacher Bill Doar who works to make sure every student in his class learns math concepts and competencies well. Teachers such as Mr. Doar create learning experiences so students learn math well and find themselves actually liking math.

Here’s a post from Mr. Doar on how he teaches middle school students to see math as a positive part of their day as they learn Virginia’s more rigorous standards.

Teaching for Perplexity by Mr. Bill Doar,
seventh grade math teacher

Walton MIddle School

The past two months have flown by.  On October 11th, my wife and I welcomed our first child – Will into the world.  It feels like September was just a short while ago and we were in Virginia Beach enjoying Labor Day.  Will is starting to smile, make cute baby ‘coo-ing’ and sleep for solid four-hour chunks at a time.  Those luxurious four-hour segments were not always the norm.  Sleep during the first month was scarce and I would often find myself watching Sportscenter or listening to sermons at 3 a.m. to pass the time while Will fell asleep.
One night several weeks ago I stumbled across a YouTube channel run by a math teacher I admire greatly – Dan Meyer.  I initially heard of Dan during my first year teaching in the Mississippi Delta and watched one of his more famous videos – ‘Math Class Needs a Makeover’.  I could immediately relate to his struggle of making math engaging.  In it he describes the math teacher – student relationship as follows:
“I sell a product to a market that doesn’t want it but is forced by law to buy it…”
I distinctly remember the moment during that first year when I realized, many of my students don’t like math, believe they can’t do it and don’t see any practical application of the workbook problems tdoarpic2hey’ve encountered since kindergarten. In the past five years of teaching I’ve worked hard to make math standards meaningful, engaging and applicable to real life. Through technology infusion in the classroom, the ‘maker curriculum’ and the push to make teaching more than just preparing for the SOL, I’ve tried to make my classroom one where the work we do has application that reaches beyond the annual standardized test.
A recent challenge posed while watching one of Dan Meyer’s videos at 3 a.m. holding Will was to change the progression of each lesson.  About 98% of the time I would start with a standard, students would take notes, work out problems, ask questions then try an enrichment/application level activity.  In Dan’s video ‘Teaching for Perplexity’ he challenges educators to start with a real life, engaging, thought-provoking question and embed the standards in the question.

Today in class, I handed my Core + students the 7th grade VDOE formula sheet when they walked in and told them to create the six shapes on the formula sheet and record the dimensions on a graphic organizer I created.  It’s been amazing to see the change in student engagement transitioning from the traditional ‘sage on stage’ teaching model to challenging students to create and ask probing questions along the way.  I’ve found that with this new model students can learn at their own pace and they genuinely want to ‘complete the challenge’ set before them. It also allows me to circulate the room and give more individualized attention.

The most astonishing aspect to this change though was that during our 40 minudoarpic1te activity today we were able to discuss evaluating expressions, order of operations, exponents, nets of 3D shapes, area, perimeter, volume and surface area.  When I am teaching in front of the class and students are working on a worksheet, it is incredibly difficult to teach more than one or two skills at a time.  This may prove to be the most important benefit to the change in classroom model.

In all honesty, I do not use this model everyday but am trying to implement it more and more each week.  I will leave you with a challenge Mr. Meyer posed during a recent TED talk.  Study the graph below that shows water consumption during the Olympic Gold Medal Hockey Game.

doargraph What caused the highs and lows?  Where is the math in this graph?  What standards could this graph be used to teach?

You can follow Bill Doar on twitter @MrDoarAtWalton

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As you can see from his post, Bill Doar works on students’ attitudes toward math, not just their math competencies. He knows students need both confidence and competence to advance their math knowledge and skills.

In the United States we tend to project a belief that some students are “good” in math –  but most aren’t. Boys are better at math. Girls aren’t. These beliefs play out at home and in school. We know from research families and educators around the world have a different mindset about the capability of children to learn to think mathematically. Adult beliefs about learners impact children’s beliefs about themselves as learners. Negative beliefs about some children’s potential to learn can become their destiny.

Math is a case in point. Let’s change that.

 

Thanksgiving 2014 Reflections

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While watching flakes fall yesterday, I spent some time in the morning cleaning up meeting rooms in the office area where I work. IMG_1103I was thankful our schools were closed for Thanksgiving. Based on prior weather reports, we superintendents in the area knew it would have been one of those iffy “five o’clock in the morning” school closing calls that could have been a good one – or not.

Three Stories

In the afternoon, I ran a few errands and, as often happens, ran into people connected to my work in schools, past and present. It’s a time to chat, catch up on family news, and reminisce about educators who have touched young people’s lives. It’s a time to share our thankfulness for moving through hard times and our good fortune in better times.

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Jamestown still life by 4th grader

On this afternoon in Thanksgiving week, I listen to a father grateful his young son is home for the holiday after being deployed in aerial missions over Iraq. I remember his child’s big brown eyes and quiet demeanor from early days in elementary school, a child with a seriousness about him that belied his age. I’m not surprised to hear that he has chosen to serve his country. His family has always been a family with an ethos of service to others from their work in a local church to volunteerism with local youth.

I admire a sleeping puppy lounging in a store cart under the watchful eye of its new five-year-old owner. Her mom, who I also knew as a student a long time ago, tells me that school is just wonderful and that her daughter comes home every day talking about how much she loves her teacher. Her mother and I reconnected on the first day of school this year when I recognized her and offered to take a phone picture of her daughter and her together in front of school. She tells me this week how grateful she is that her daughter has had such a wonderful kindergarten experience in our elementary school. I look into the face of this young mother and can’t help but remember the day her father died as the result of a tragic car accident.  Our rural school community rallied around her family, devastated at the loss of a good man, a wonderful father, and a faithful volunteer at our school and in the community. Now she reminds me of him – active, positive, and engaged with her children.

Walking across a parking lot in front of a 29 N store, a pickup truck horn honks and I stop, worried that I’m in his way. Instead, the driver rolls down his window and says, “How are you doing, Pam?” It’s the dad of another Albemarle county graduate, a young man who works in management in a local sports arena. His dad speaks with pride of his son’s accomplishments and his delight at his son’s success just shines from the pickup truck. He shares how much his son loved a particular teacher who kindled his passion for learning long ago.

Not every conversation I have in stores, parking lots or a local fitness center goes this way. Schools are a reflection of what it means to be human. Humans make mistakes. Adults don’t always get it right. Kids don’t always get it right. Educators don’t always get it right. When we don’t, it’s our job to figure out how to fix the problem so we can make our community a better place for all concerned.

My Gratitude

However, this Thanksgiving week, I am privileged to hear a series of stories about young people with overall excellent experiences in our schools. This is truly more of the norm than exception in my work. In fact, I think it’s more of the norm than exception in my life. So, I write today about my gratitude for living in a great nation and wonderful community, being a part of the most important profession in the world, and routinely hearing stories of how educators make a difference in the lives of families and children.

The Power of Thank you

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Finally, I end with a story about visiting school as students were winding down for this break. Nothing makes me more grateful than spending time in schools with educators and children. On this day, I listen to a teacher reading a Thanksgiving story to second graders. I chat with parents and children finishing a feast in another room. I hear about a community service project in another.

Thanksgiving is uniquely American as a remembrance of what it means to overcome adversity and achieve success as a community. However, we don’t just share the history of Thanksgiving in our work with children that leads up to the break. We also share something with our children that’s incredibly important to happiness and success in life – taking the time every day to help others, share, pause and say thank you.

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Veterans’ Day 2014

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On Veterans’ Day, I am reminded to be thankful for the many citizens, mostly while still young adults, who have chosen to serve in U.S. military service over eight generations spanning the centuries since the American Revolution. I grew up in a family of “citizen soldiers” who served our nation on behalf of us all. My mother, ninety-three years and counting, served in Naval Intelligence in World War II. She once commented that it was the best work of her life, a time when she felt a sense of mission that was bigger than her or any other person who served with her.

In our school division, veterans serve as teachers, bus drivers, assistants, and administrators. They often go quietly through the days and years of their work in education without drawing any attention to their prior service. They may have served decades ago or in recent times. Many of us also have taught young people who joined the service and served our country well. Some of us have family members and friends who once were in the military and now are veterans.

Honoring our veterans transcends our day-to-day lives. Our veterans notice when we say thank you. They notice when our young people learn about Veterans’ Day from you. They notice when we take the time to explain what it means to be a service veteran.

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No matter the time in peace or in war, our veterans deserve our appreciation for serving our nation on our behalf. Thank you for taking the time to pause and reflect on the meaning of Veterans’ Day.

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Why Arts? A Learning Commitment to Our Young People

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balloons2I had an opportunity to spend time in Stephanie Helvin’s room recently at Stone-Robinson Elementary. Stephanie teaches art. Watching her second graders as they began work on creating line drawings of hot air balloons, I noted that she introduced them to science, math, and new vocabulary as she shared with them how to turn overlapping circles into dimensional drawings.

Why arts education? In a day and age when conversations about the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in pK-16 curricula and workforce preparation dominate education, what makes the arts still relevant? In many public schools across the United States, art room doors have closed, teachers have been let go, and art time has shifted to academic time.

Why then have we worked in Albemarle Schools to purposefully sustain a budget commitment to the arts despite current trends across the United States to slash arts from schools’ offerings?

As Kai Kight, Stanford graduate, says, “Innovation happens at intersections.” The capability to innovate directly affects our potential to ensure a thriving economy and culture across our communities. Arts education builds innovative thinking.

Our division has a critical commitment to educating young people well so they will be ready for their future as citizens, lifelong learners, and employers and employees. We believe this  comes from a well-rounded education to sustain learners’ creativity as well as to build their analytical skills across the curricula. Arts do both.

For example, a recent video shared with me by Albemarle High orchestra teacher Carrie Finnegan captured the neuroscience underpinnings of how playing a musical instrument benefits your brain and impacts both linguistic and mathematical functions:

We also understand that learning through arts will build deep cognitive learning in young students:

“The arts are not just expressive and affective, they are deeply cognitive. They develop essential thinking tools — pattern recognition and development; mental representations of what is observed or imagined; symbolic, allegorical and metaphorical representations; careful observation of the world; and abstraction from complexity.” (How the Arts Develop the Young Brain, Sousa)

Our fabulous arts teachers across the county’s schools understand the importance of their role to build this deep learning among children by keeping creativity alive as our learners move through school. Andrew Sherogan, Meriwether Lewis Elementary, and Molly Foster, Hollymead Elementary, are two of our visual arts teachers who routinely share that message in their blogs as they profile children engaging in our arts programs through project-based learning.

stem2We are not alone in our commitment to putting the A from arts into our contemporary focus on STEM.  We see the value in STEAM just as top universities do, including our own University of Virginia.

President Teresa Sullivan and actor Kevin Spacey described this  at the recent UVA President’s Speaker Series for the Arts:

“The University’s arts curriculum inspires creativity, innovation and discovery, while giving our students across all disciplines opportunities to integrate the arts into their U.Va. experience.” (Sullivan)

“We have this system that we call STEM, to teach sciences and technologies. Now there are a lot of schools who are adding an ‘A’ and calling it ‘STEAM.’ ‘A’ is for arts,” Spacey said. “I think it’s incredibly important because while math, science and technology are hugely important, if we leave behind a young person’s imagination or creativity, I think they won’t have as full a life.” (Spacey)

We realize in Albemarle that young people draw upon arts skills to help them design, build, engineer, produce as well as use math, science, engineering and technology competencies – whether creating an electric guitar or 3-D printing a prosthetic hand. The renowned WAHS robotics teams use a multitude of integrated skills essential to their design process. It’s not just their engineering minds at work. There’s a wealth of creativity embedded throughout their design decisions.

Kai Kight, graduate of of Stanford University, certainly understands the value of integrating the arts across the curricula while sustaining a passion for “arts for arts sake.” So do engineering professors. One said to me recently on a tour of our schools that a keen grasp .. of “spatial thinking helps our young people excel as they enter higher levels of math from trigonometry to advanced calculus.”

Arts are as important today as they have ever been in human history. Arts opportunities engage learners’ interests and inspire careers as well as a lifetime of personal enjoyment. It’s why I’m committed to arts education for all students we serve in our schools.

 

 

3-D Printing: a Contemporary Learning Tool in #ACPS

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I like to feature educators and students from across Albemarle County Public Schools to illustrate the innovative work in which our teachers and learners engage. 3-D printing is becoming a workforce tool in ways that I would never have envisioned four years ago. From printing “one-hour” crowns for teeth in dental offices to orthopedic implants, this tool of advanced manufacturing is changing the world of work, medicine, and even homes. Just google 3-D printing!Our middle and high schools all have 3-D printers that teachers are using with students for a variety of design purposes in STEM+ activities. Students with access to 3-D printers use math, engineering, tech, and science skills but also content and competencies from the arts, history, and language arts. I’ve seen mouthpieces for band instruments, a working telegraph, parts for a Sailbot, pulleys, and geometric equations printed in 3-D. Young people use 3-D printers in our schools as tools for learning how to design, engineer, create, and build. As children and teens use these tools, they practicing and develop contemporary workforce competencies of collaboration, creative problem-solving, critical reasoning and communication, not just learning content. They are becoming more capable because of excellent teachers who support them as learners. And, we know this learning can’t be captured on a multiple choice test. Instead, the work our learners produce in 3-D fits well with both traditional projects and performance assessments.

Chris Shedd, Burley sixth grade teacher, represents the cutting edge of STEM + social studies work that’s possible because of access to a 3-D printer. Here’s a post Mr. Shedd wrote to share his sixth graders’ projects.

3D Printing in Social Studies by Chris Shedd, Burley Middle

photo6photo7 photo8 Burley students are mastering 3D printing technology. They are researching and creating 3D models to enhance their learning, collaborate with another local middle school, and even to help a group of college students. The 3D printer offers a great opportunity for students to develop new technology skills and to use their creativity.

Last semester students began using a 3D printer in my social studies class. Students researched and created 3D models of structures including Jamestown, Monticello, the Rotunda, the Mayflower, and Burley. One student created an almost exact replica of a specific Civil War bullet. Nine Burley students attended the Tom Tom festival to show off their work to the public. Many students made 3D models for their Creative Projects and researched their historical significance.

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This semester we have an exciting partnership with an 8th grade class at Sutherland Middle School. Burley students are going to research and recreate spy gear from the American Revolution. Sutherland students are going to look at modern spy gear and some of the science behind it. We are hoping to have our classes Skype with each other, share what we have learned, and discuss how spy gear has changed over time.

Burley students are also creating models from natural history for Randolph College in Lynchburg, VA. Randolph’s Natural History Collection is considering buying a 3D printer and scanner. They want to scan items from their collection and paint them. They have asked Burley students to create 3D examples to test their paints. So far students have created a snail, a trilobite, fossilized dragonfly, a crab, and a lobster. Three copies of the snail have already made it to Randolph College, and they liked it so much they have requested more copies. Mrs. Schoppa, Burley design and engineering class teacher, has been helping us keep up with the printing of objects. I am hoping some of her students will create models for Randolph as well.

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All students have modeling software on their computers. I encourage students who are interested to download Autodesk 123 D. It is a free, basic CAD program. Give it a try!

 

An Inside View from a Student Teacher: Starting the School Year

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How do new professionals learn a set of skills, routines, and knowledge necessary to success? 

Whether it’s the field of medicine, banking, automotive maintenance or teaching, students in those fields learn as much or more on the job in intern or residency experiences with experts as they do sitting in classrooms. The apprenticeship always has been a key way that expertise is transmitted forward from one generation to the next.

Student teachers learn on the job as apprentices with Albemarle’s top teachers. Here’s one example of many.

Yarden Batson, student teacher at Meriwether Lewis Elementary with master teacher Anne Straume, shares her perspective on what she learned as she watched and assisted Mrs. Straume in the first week of school.

First Week of School

by Yarden Batson, University of Virginia student teacher

This week of school was one in which I learned how to set-up the classroom, h“>ow to become a part of a professional learning community (PLC), how to start establishing a community of   learners, and how to create authentic lessons that motivate students to have high expectations for themselves.community (PLC), how to start establishing a community of learners, and how to create authentic lessons that motivate students to have high expectations for themselves.

After almost a week of planning I was excited to meet the students. They walked in on the first day of school ready to learn. Many of the students were excited to see friends they haven’t seen in a while as well as meet students who are new to the school.These first few days of school required a lot of planning and creativity. My teacher and I want to design authentic learning experiences for the students as well as create a community in which all students’ strengths are used. We want to motivate all of our students to work their hardest and learn that they have the power to achieve great things and make positive changes in the world around them.I taught my first few lessons this week as well as observed as the teacher encouraged struggling students, went over expectations, and modeled appropriate classroom behavior. I feel so lucky to have a teacher, who is so well-loved and so enthusiastic about her students, model and guide me through this experience.I am looking forward to a wonderful semester of student teaching!

Below are some pictures from “Open House” and a sneak peek into what we are planning for the semester.

Why We Are Here: Albemarle Schools 2014-15

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This summer I had the opportunity to observe young learners and teachers working in a variety of settings across our community. From teens exploring what it means to be an “everyday” leader through community service to elementary engineers and programmers, I noticed learners who engaged and excelled in their work.

Staff in our schools understand that achievement gaps often begin with opportunity gaps. We are committed to providing year-round programs and pathways that close opportunity gaps for students. Whether it’s the work we are doing to revamp Career and Technical Education, extend customized options such as our academy model and charter schools, add fine arts pathways that provide more in-depth exploration of creative potential, or offer accelerated options such as the M-Cubed program, we believe that we need to keep working on as many ways as possible to reach every child so that gaps in educational opportunities do not limit their potential.

It’s why we are here.

avid AVID is one such program, In Albemarle, our AVID program has grown in 8 years from serving a handful of students to serving several hundred. Today, teachers with AVID training are in all middle and high schools aiming to make sure that our young people, especially those who are the first generation in their families to go to college, are well prepared to do so. We aim to beat the odds that a student will drop out of college or spend too many years attempting to graduate. It’s an issue of concern for our nation and  state.   

Why AVID Makes a Difference ….   By:

Kathryn Baylor, principal
Peter Henning, asst principal

For years, educators and education reformers have cited the achievement gap as the greatest challenge facing public education in America.  Some have gone so far as to refer to the achievement gap as the greatest civil rights issue of our time.  As the years have passed, closing the achievement gap appeared increasingly impossible.  There were too many contributing factors, from poverty to violent neighborhoods to fractured homes.

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AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) offers a real solution to the achievement gap.  AVID is a worldwide college and workforce readiness system that serves close to 700,000 students across the globe.  With an instructional focus on writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading, AVID helps prepare students for success in high school, college, and beyond.  The AVID elective class provides an additional layer of support for students, largely from low-income and minority backgrounds, who show the potential to become first generation college students.

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AVID is a phenomenal investment for a school.  The national network of AVID schools and staff offers some of the best professional development available in public education.  The AVID system also serves as a no-frills, no-nonsense model with proven success for schools and school divisions committed to closing the achievement gap.

 

AVID students gain acceptance to four-year colleges at a rate that is nearly 3 times greater than their peers across the nation.  This holds true for students across all demographics, from African American to White to Latino.  AVID students are succeeding, and at an astounding rate.

AVID is not magic.  AVID is great teaching, and hard work, and commitment.  AVID works.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Year of Extraordinary Learning

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It has been an extraordinary year of learning for the more than 13,200 students who attended our schools in 2013-14!

14collageWhen I visited classrooms this year, I saw young people building and sustaining creativity, engaging in critical thinking, working collaboratively and communicating effectively, acquiring learning competencies that will serve them for a lifetime.  The breadth of these student experiences is beyond remarkable.  This only was possible through the contributions of people who believe that our young people deserve our best work–in every department, at every grade level and within every work area that serves young people.

Every adult counted.

It’s not a coincidence that when our County Student Council solicited “We Notice” recognition nominations, we received hundreds of responses from students. They celebrated teachers and cafeteria staff, custodians and teaching assistants, nurses, and office staff, bus drivers, coaches and administrators.

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They reminded us of something we already knew.  Our “behind the scenes” professionals clearly made a difference every day in the lives of our students and families and deserved to be spotlighted.

Technology and building services staff members often worked long after everyone left our buildings – making sure repairs were made, upgrades occurred, and the power worked. Cafeteria workers were in place early, accepting deliveries, sanitizing work areas and preparing food for the day.  In transportation, staff members serviced buses, ordered parts, scheduled routes, and updated parents about buses unavoidably late.  They also retrieved “lost” items, reassured parents about school being opened– or school being closed – on bad weather days. IMG_0883In the classroom, it was inspiring to see young people engaged in the practical application of their learning, moving far beyond simply memorizing information for state tests.  Across content areas and grade levels, I saw young people eagerly demonstrating that when teachers engage and empower them, learning accelerates. Students experienced learning at its highest levels because teachers created multiple pathways to knowledge and discovery.

During the year, students:

  • constructed and launched rockets and engineered robots, 
  • choreographed dance routines, wrote lyrics, and produced songs,
  • kicked, tossed, ran, and jumped their way to a fit lifestyle,
  • learned Japanese, French, Spanish, German, and English too,
  • scripted and created award-winning videos,
  • programmed and printed innovative technology 3-D solutions to support handicapped classmates,
  • researched, designed and secured funding and built outdoor learning gardens, a wetlands discovery area and a wildlife center,
  • recycled cardboard into marble roller coasters and demonstrated how changing slope changes speed,
  • participated in mock United Nations and Model Congress activities,
  • performed complex musical pieces, dramatic performances, scientific and historical research, competing at the top level of state and national championships,
  • volunteered thousands of community service hours to support schools, community organizations and service facilities and,
  • so much more it’s impossible to begin to share it all.

We know success in life demands far more than a proficient score on an SOL test, a high SAT or AP score or even a superior grade point average. It also requires the ability to solve problems, create products, debate answers to challenging questions, work effectively with diverse peers and persuasively communicate face-to-face and in multiple media. This road to success opens as soon as children enter our doors, some coming with all the resources a family might dream of providing their children and others with far less.

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Yet, every one of our learners from our high school graduates to pre-schoolers were the beneficiaries of the work of an extraordinarily dedicated and skilled team of professionals……professionals with many different titles and responsibilities, work locations and backgrounds.  

 

 

 

Because of the unity of our educational communities – all twenty-six schools, operational departments, and instructional support – we are able to offer our young people our very best.

Thank you, Albemarle educators, for doing such an important job and doing it so incredibly well.


National Teacher Appreciation Week: Teachers Matter

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Dear Teachers,

I take every chance I can to share the work of our schools’ excellent educators with the public. You and I both know that no more important profession exists than that of teaching.  I am proud to be a member of this professional community that continuously has advanced civilization since the first teacher stood on the banks of a river drawing “counting” marks in the sand or using cave pictographs and campfire stories to pass on tribal history. As valued community members, teachers have had influence across tens of generations and today’s generation of teachers is no different.

You matter.

I talk to parents every day who relay stories of how a teacher has made a difference for their child. This occurs in school hallways, parking lots, and store aisles.  I hear the stories at PTO gatherings, or on the phone and through handwritten notes, emails, and social media. Just the other day, a parent stopped me at a school activity to comment that her child loves her teacher and still wakes up each morning excited to go to school. A high school parent shared that he suspects his soon-to-graduate senior will miss a teacher who has impacted her life as much she will miss leaving her close friends behind. During the recent We Notice celebration sponsored by the County Student Council, teachers shared letters with me from parents and students including a teacher with a We Notice note from her own child. The letters said “thank you” in different ways. Thank you …  for helping me, looking out for me, teaching me to be a better person, going an extra mile for me.

The stories are different but one message is clear. No matter what else changes, teachers matter.

You matter because you prepare young people for adult life. You created passion in a student who never cared much for science and she pursued a career in medicine. You discovered an interest in music within a child who struggled with reading and he became an extraordinary singer. You modeled that you too  can make a mistake, apologized, and helped a child understand that we are all human. You took your car for a wash on a Saturday at a school club fundraiser and made a day better for teens you teach. You greeted students at the classroom door to help them with a project even when you needed a bathroom break yourself.

The list is endless of what you do for young people. In exchange, you may work two jobs to make ends meet for your young family. After a long day teaching, you take work home every night to be ready for the next day or next week. You pay for school supplies that a student needs but can’t afford. You add granola bars to your own grocery cart to be sure everyone in your class has a snack at break.

You do whatever it takes to help young people be successful in your class.

Your spouses, partners, and friends who don’t work in education notice how hard you work in the evenings from designing lesson plans to grading student work. Your colleagues in education, even those no longer in the classroom, understand exactly what it takes to be an excellent teacher. They know every day you enter school with personal qualities that help you meet the needs of each unique learner – patience, attention, commitment, enthusiasm and care. You study not just the content you must teach well but also how to teach children well. You are a learner yourself.

Many of you remember playing teacher as a child. Some of you were drawn to the profession because you loved school. Others of you chose the profession because school was a struggle and you believed you could help children who most need excellent teachers to find success as learners.

I believe all of you came to the profession and stayed because you believed you could make a difference in the lives of those we serve as learners.

And, many of you, as I do, remember a teacher who inspired us to teach. For me, it was Mrs. Hiers who was my high school biology, chemistry and physics teacher – when she wasn’t serving as the guidance counselor in my very small, rural high school. One day, she handed a biology lab report back to me and shared in her soft voice that I had a real affinity for biology. That sparked possibilities I had never considered before. That comment led eventually to a major in biology and to the beginning of a career I have loved ever since.

Teachers have made a difference in my life from my childhood to this day. And, our world is a better place because each of you chose to believe in the power of teachers to influence young people who grow up to advance civilization.  You pay forward what excellent teachers did for you.

Thank you for choosing to teach.

The World Is at Our Learners’ Fingertips

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Bookless Libraries: A Skyping Session with Texas

contributed by Mr. Keith Ellen, 7th grade language arts, Burley Middle School

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Recently, our Media Specialist, Sarah Severs approached me with an offer to Skype with a librarian in San Antonio, Texas.  The new public library there, Bibliotech, has the distinction of being the country’s first public library to go “book-less.”  The idea was that I would include my 7th grade advanced/honors language arts class would be part of the cross-country conversation.

A Natural Connection to Research

I immediately realized that in order for my students to be active participants in the conversation, they needed to develop a sense of ownership and truly believe their input to be valuable, they needed to become knowledgeable.  This allowed me to make the research process they worked on earlier in the year much more real and practical now.  Using their internet searching skills, students easily found information on the specific library as well as other places who were considering going the same route as Bibliotech.  As they read, they developed questions that were leading and higher order.  At first, they simply recorded any and all questions with little regard to wording.  Students then got in groups and chose the ones they felt were best.  Then, as a class, we worked on editing the best questions and students volunteered to ask the questions during the interview.

Fieldtrip To Texas

Catarina Velasquez, Community Relations Liaison for the library, first lead us on a guided, virtual fieldtrip of the facilities.  We immediately noticed the enormous amount of open space (obviously due to the lack of bookshelves).  We were all very impressed with this immaculate facility.  It was apparent San Antonio spared little expense as everything seemed to be done on a much grander scale.  It’s certainly not your mother’s library!  From the interactive 40 inch touchscreen monitors that are set up for younger children to the gaming area complete with multiple x-box consoles to the computer lab boasting 28 inch monitors attached to 48 Macs that allow the user to switch between Apple’s operating system and Windows.  Of course, as Ms. Velasquez continued her tour, many students were still stuck on the idea of being able to play video games at the library!

A Look Into the Future

As we were debriefing, students and teachers alike began to toss around the ways in which we could incorporate some of the amenities into our school media centers.  One thing getting lots of attention was the ability to “check out” books without an actual trip to the library, something our local public library now incorporates.  Overwhelmingly, the conclusion was reached that whatever path we follow, much thought and consideration should be placed on remember that not everyone learns in the same way.  Many students shared they still enjoy the “comfort” of reading a book the traditional way and they would not want that option to be completely taken away.  I have to agree, although there are many benefits of going partially digital as well.

Skyping Session with BiblioTech

BY ALYCE

Weeks before, we were told that we would be given the opportunity to Skype a public library in San Antanio, Texas. Our class was told that it wasn’t just some library, it was an all digital library! Days before, we wrote facts and information on the white board and did tons of research. Seeing pictures, I personally thought it wasn’t real because it seemed too good to be true! Just before the Skype call, we set up two computers at our school library. One was broadcasting while the other was Skyping. Our class was anxious to see what the library would be like and who would be on the other side.

Before the call, my thoughts at first were that it was impossible, too many problems. That’s why, before we went to go talk to them, we wrote a lot of questions that we curious for answers for . As we Skyped, I wanted to go there because it seemed so new and high tech! They even had moving tables there! I think the modern look and furniture would work for Burley!

A while ago, my class had a conversation with the librarian of Bibliotech, a library in Texas that has gone completely digital.  Instead of checking out physical books, you download them onto your e-reader for a short period of time. If you don’t have an e-reader, you can check one out. But the library isn’t just for checking out books- there is a large study area with computers if you have a school project to work on, or something else. They have interactive tablets with educational games for small children, and an x-box for older kids. They even have a cafe in the library! They are one of the first libraries to go all digital, but I doubt the last. I would prefer an old-fashioned book over an e-book, but I would be fine either way. As for our school library, I don’t think it would work. It would take a lot of time and money to change over, and for a school, I don’t think it would work as well. Students take their books into class and read all the time, but you can’t do that with an e-reader, because the teacher doesn’t know if you’re actually reading or not. So for a school library, I don’t think it would be very practical, but for a public library like Bibliotech, it might just work.

 

Thanks for visiting!

 

 

 

Dear Teachers: A Letter of Gratitude During National Autism Awareness Month

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I receive letters and comments with some regularity from parents expressing thanks for teachers who have made a difference in the lives of learners enrolled in our schools. Once a parent described a teacher as creating “Kodak moments” in her child’s life. I think the following post describes just that.

When Amy Price Azano, mother, shared a link to a national blog post she wrote about Albemarle educators who made a difference not just in the life of her young child but her family, I asked her if I could cross-post it here. She agreed. April is National Autism Awareness Month and her blog post references its particular significance to her. I’m honored to share it with you.

Inspiring Others

        By Amy Price Azano on April 1st, 2014

April is National Autism Awareness Month. April 2nd marks World Autism Awareness Day. Light it up blue tomorrow for World Autism Day. Today’s blog post is in honor of these celebrations.

Dear teachers: Thank you for sharing our “autism life”

First doctor’s visit. First haircut. First wave. First “Momma.” Autism is measured by these missed developmental milestones, and I have long since misplaced those typically developing checklists and corresponding stickers for my son’s baby book. His first doctor’s visit was for colic and every appointment that followed had its own nightmarish retelling. His first haircut had a similar story: fearful screams as if the barber would slice off a leg rather than a soft shaft of hair. We had no diagnosis, only a sinking feeling that something was wrong. He was a year old. He wanted no part of his birthday party or the birthday cake or the presents or the noise or the company. He got a “first birthday” sticker in his book, but not the stickers that would follow: first wave hello, say bye-bye. He did not say “momma” or “dada” or “milk” or “water” or “bed” or “hi” or “I love you.” We were left with an empty book and too many sticky reminders of those unreached milestones.

This was the autism life as we knew it — managing the daily challenges, triumphs, the revolving door of speech and occupational therapists in and out of our home, the unimaginable patience we drummed up each day, the enthusiasm for small requests, the attempts at eye contact and sounds that resembled words. Autism didn’t just isolate my son from the world; it isolated and insulated all of our worlds. There were no family vacations and too often our best laid plans were force abandoned by meltdowns or overwhelming anxiety.

That’s until I met you: the teacher in his first self-contained special-education classroom. My son was my first exposure to autism, but you were experienced with students on the spectrum. As I tried to explain the nuances of his anxieties, you reassured me and said: I will keep him safe. I cried knowing he would be afraid and confused, and you replied: He will have fun and learn how to be more independent. And each time, you were right. That’s until you kicked him out. You argued that the self-contained classroom was no longer his least restrictive environment, so you helped me find a hybrid, inclusive (reverse mainstream) preschool classroom where he would have typically-developing peers who could help with his speech and social interactions.

So then I met you: the dual-endorsed elementary and special-education teacher who invited my son to the classroom on a quiet evening after a long day of teaching other students. You sat on the floor with him while he looked at trucks and trains. You didn’t ask him any questions. You just sat quietly while he explored, and you joined him. He grabbed a car so you grabbed a car. He put down a block. You put one on top. Then you pulled out a basket and started cleaning up, and he followed in unison without either of you saying a word. Weeks later, you asked your bus driver friend to park outside your classroom during the middle of the school day. I told you he was scared of the big bus, despite his love for anything with wheels. You said: Let me try and led all the students outside, rolled pennies onto the floor, and created a scavenger hunt. All of a sudden, my son was climbing onto a bus looking for pennies — just like the rest of his new friends. You emailed me nearly every day of the entire school year to tell me about his meltdowns, his accomplishments, his response to the fire drill, the student assembly, and you brainstormed with me how we might get him potty trained before kindergarten. You graduated him with honors.

Now onto the big school with the big bus and the big kids. And there you were again: the teacher. This time an inclusive, general-education kindergarten teacher with a huge smile and a high voice and bright running shoes. You taught him to love school, to read, to make friends. You coached him into taking turns on the tricycle. You made him star of the week and came to his first ever friend birthday party because he invited you. You hugged him every day (and still do when he sees you in the hall).

Now we get to track educational milestones — and they’re sticky, too, with glue and finger paint and your silly smiley faces at the top of his first grade work. My son has a favorite author, greets his bus driver every morning, has play dates with his neighborhood friend, enjoys school and told me twice today that he loves me — and it’s largely because of you, teacher. Doctors visits are still challenging, meltdowns happen, haircuts are out of the question, but now I have someone from the “outside” who understands, who will brainstorm interventions and offer objective advice. You have asked me to trust you and, in return, you love my son. You keep him safe, teach him independence, and instill a love for learning. You honor his way of being in the world. You are a part of our autism life and make us all feel less isolated. Never underestimate your role or question whether or not you make a difference. Trust me: You do.

Amy Price Azano is a professor of adolescent literacy at Virginia Tech. Follow her on Twitter @ruralprof. Her original post was shared at Smart Blog on Education

Educational Excellence: A Community Commitment to Our Future

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Excellence in education is how any society prepares for a successful future. Whether we look near – the Virginia public education ideas pioneered by Thomas Jefferson – or further – the economic success in the 1950s and 1960s of states with large investments in education – or much further – nations such as Ireland which transformed their economies through education – we understand that great schools, and a commitment to education for all, are the pathway to both prosperity and democracy.

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Fifth Graders Raise the U.S. Flag Each Morning

Here in Albemarle County we have always known this as true, and we have consistently chosen to make such a community commitment to our future. That’s found in decisions to build new regional high schools in the 1970s and 1990s, to the aggressive replacement of aging elementary schools over past decades, to the wide support for our top quality programs including gifted programs, special education, English-language education, art, music, library services, physical education, world languages, and career-technical education. It’s also represented in a community belief in our customized programs such as our two charter schools, 3 STEM academies, CATEC, AVID (a program to prepare first generation college students), and Bright Stars pre-kindergarten programs.

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400 Student Musicians Now Play Strings in Albemarle County Schools

These commitments, joined to our promise of the kind of individualized support possible because of small class sizes and community schools, and linked to the continuous innovation which provides our students with contemporary skills, have led Albemarle County into a position of educational leadership which has supported this area becoming the most economically successful community in all of Central Virginia.

Albemarle County parents, educators, and our business community share a high standard of excellence in our educational aspirations for all Albemarle’s children, just as we share high expectations for our community’s future. That expected educational excellence means not just all those programs already mentioned, but also a broad range of top-notch extracurricular opportunities across athletics, arts, academics and clubs.

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Analytical Thinkers   At Work

It means keeping elementary and secondary students on separate buses and on separate start and end schedules in our schools. It means teachers being highly competent in not just their content areas but also in their expertise to work with every learner who enters our schools. It means competitive market compensation and professional training to recruit and retain top-notch employees. It means availability of the best learning resources in every classroom and library, both traditional and contemporary. It means maintaining our buildings and grounds so that we avert the high cost of maintenance when repairs are deferred and so that when people enter our schools they know that our taxpayers’ investments in infrastructure are valued through our care.

Excellence means that our educators work with our young people every day to meet community expectations for high performance benchmarked not just against Virginia’s standards but also compared to the top performing schools across the United States – the schools that graduate the young people our children will compete with for college admissions and for jobs as they move through their adult lives. And, excellence means that we support our educators so that they are sure to meet those performance benchmarks year after year in arts, academics, athletics, community service, and leadership.

The success of our schools – on every measure – is well documented. The honors for our work come continuously. But of most importance, we know that our commitment to excellence represents our community’s values – values which have been held dear despite a long season of recession over the past five years.

We know this because our community and business leaders have made it clear.

Our realtors know our Division adds value to real estate portfolios.  Just go to their websites.

“Add the gorgeous environment, more commercial development…, fabulous public school reputations at all three levels, and lack of development elsewhere in the county, Crozet became attractive to even folks commuting up 29N for NGIC and DIA positions.”

“Do better schools increase house prices? From my perspective as a Realtor in the Charlottesville area, the answer is yes. I have never had buyers tell me that they wanted to live in a bad school district; but virtually every single one – whether they have kids or not – wants to be in a good school district. Frankly, I don’t need metrics or analysis or data to support my conclusion; I know that people buying homes in Charlottesville and Albemarle want good schools.”

Our growing BioTech community and Charlottesville Business Innovation Council members support school programs and value our educators’ work that helps a regional tech economy grow.

Solution Finding

Solution Finding

Our local higher education and business community in general want to sustain public school excellence because great schools are an asset to the entire community, whether in recruiting employees or ensuring that families have access to excellent educational opportunities for their children.

“At the University of Virginia, it’s important to our faculty and staff to have strong local schools for their families. The University is also engaged in various partnership programs with local schools, and these partnerships have had a long-standing, mutually beneficial effect in our community.”   

                                 -President Teresa Sullivan, University of Virginia                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Our citizens, including the growing number of retirees locating here, want to sustain a highly successful and crime free community, one that provides a rich and vibrant culture in Mr. Jefferson’s home county. Rather than adding to a community’s social services and criminal justice costs, they know a well-educated workforce benefits a community’s quality of life. Because of our community’s commitment to educational excellence, rather than aspiring to average, the school division is touted as significant to why this county ranks as one of the best places to live, work, raise families, and retire in the United States.   
Educational excellence is the gold standard for top communities in the United States. Albemarle’s citizens know that. It’s why they support devoting resources to provide quality learning opportunities for all our children. And, that’s a legacy from Mr. Jefferson that still resonates today. 
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Welcome 2014!

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It’s hard to believe that we’ve flipped the calendar page to 2014. As some researchers suggest, the older you are the faster that time appears to fly, a bit like the changes in technology we now experience annually in our lives. Yet, educational pundits sometimes say that if Rip Van Winkle awoke and dropped into the modern world, the one place that wouldn’t seem much changed to him would be a school. Now I know our Albemarle schools haven’t stood still here, but over the winter break I’ve thought about where we were in 1999, where we are now and what comes next …

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multi-age coders in summer Coder Dojo

Remember Y2K?

It seems as if just yesterday, the newspapers and news channels were full of stories about the potential crash of the world as we entered a new century. Some were convinced that technology would fail and the world would end as we had known it in the 20th century. Water bottles and non-perishable foods flew off the shelves as people prepared for power grids, banks, phone service, and communication networks to stop functioning.

Yet, here we are. We’ve made it almost halfway through the second decade of the 21st century and the computing speed of technology follows Moore’s Law, changing with rapidity since we worried about surviving “1999 to 2000.” In ’99, most people only vicariously understood the power of evolving technologies to change the world.Today, the experience of using powerful technologies is ubiquitous. In fact, the number of cell phones will exceed the total world human population in 2014.

Today we are learning to integrate new tech language, devices, virtual tools, communication networks, and learning options inside and outside the walls of places we call school. Day by day, new modes of communicating, seeking, constructing and creating knowledge change the world’s stock of what people understand and can do. Some research even supports that use of contemporary technologies may wire our brains differently, adults and children.

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Third Grader using mobile device to create portfolio link for parent conference

Consumer Changes

Mobile computing devices that most of us carry in our pockets are more powerful than the computer systems responsible for navigating the first astronauts to the Moon and back. Our current purchases aren’t determined by the reach of transportation to stores in our local community or catalogs from which we can order. We surf the web to find and order what we want from eBay, chain stores, and even obscure internet “storefronts’ in other nations.

We once lamented that bookstore chains such as Barnes and Noble would put small independent book sellers out of business. Today, we hear that online merchants such as Amazon may put Barnes and Noble out of business. We once were limited mostly to medical access and availability of health interventions within a regional service area.Today, medical services and consultation have become part of a medical delivery model spanning states and nations. For example, the University of Virginia Medical Center offers a vast of array of telemedicine services including teleconference support to physicians for outreach and educational consultation purposes. And if home deliveries by drone seem like a pipe dream, the FAA just commissioned testing of drones by six public sites including Virginia Tech.

Workforce Changes

Over the last fourteen years, new technologies have changed just about every current career that a high school graduate may choose to pursue. For example, the contemporary Automotive Mechanic, according to the Virginia.Gov career guide must be able to exhibit (along with skills and aptitudes) knowledge of tools that are quite advanced beyond those of the 20th century mechanic:

  • Machines and tools, including their designs, uses, repair, and maintenance.

  • Circuit boards, processors, chips, electronic equipment, and computer hardware and software, including applications and programming.

  • Practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.

Educational Changes

Our children are growing up in a world where they are surrounded by evolving technologies. The expectations for workforce entry, community and citizen engagement, and post-secondary learning all involve new competencies of technology literacy and applications. Yet, much of the time young people spend with new technologies often seems more for entertainment purposes than for learning. However, we also know that these technologies can become powerful learning tools when used with learning purposes in mind and when adults understand how to create those pathways.

Over break, I’ve witnessed children reading on e-readers, solving interesting problems in Minecraft, writing code as shared in a parent-posted video, searching the web for science info, and skyping with a grandparent in another state.  Technology opens pathways for learning that didn’t exist just ten years ago and while I don’t know an educator who doesn’t value their capability to support learners face to face, I also know many teachers who see integration of new technologies as advancing educational opportunities as significantly as the printing press technology did in 1450.

 If forced to pick one grand challenge facing education communities today, I believe it’s figuring out how to appropriately transition to uses of contemporary technologies that advance access and opportunity for learners, without losing the basic social nature of human learning.

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Band director working with students in a music industry lab

After all, it’s the interactions among learners and with teachers that power up the learning potential of technologies whether in writing poetry, composing music, coding in Java, or repairing cars. We know that humans exert a mediating influence upon each other to consider different solutions to problems, to scaffold knowledge and experiences into new learning, to stimulate curiosity and interests, and to connect ideas. We humans have always networked to learn from campfires to the Internet. We have always been storytellers and makers.

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Constructing buildings (measurement and geometry)

As we move forward through 2014, confronted by old challenges of funding educational resources (remember a box of pencils for a class in 1999 cost about $2.60 vs. one mobile computing device which will range from $250-$900 depending upon application) and recruiting and retaining excellent educators, I know that we are in a turning point to figure out how technology will be used by educators to effectively and appropriately support learners and learning, not just serve up the newest tech tool.

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Collaboration on physics problem solving

The grand challenge associated with making investments in contemporary learning resources while sustaining viable face-to-face learning communities won’t be figured out by any one school board member, superintendent, principal, teacher, technology specialist, or parent. Instead, this challenge demands that we all work together to make sense of what’s in the best learning interests of our young people as they make their way into a future that will be very different from the 18th century of Rip Van Winkle or the 20th century in which I was schooled. It’s definitely time to do that work.

Happy New Year!

T’is the Season for Endless Possibilities: Respect, Community, Excellence, Young People

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For the SPCA

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Kids making to support community service

In this season, our thoughts often turn to giving.

When I visit schools, I observe our children and their teachers offering their services in support of those who are less fortunate or whose circumstances prevent them from accessing community activities. This week while at B.F. Yancey Elementary, children were conducting a fundraiser for the SPCA by marketing handmade products to the school community.  Their hard-earned eighty-eight dollars goes to supporting animals in need at the shelter. Learning in our schools extends well beyond working on Virginia Standards of Learning content. We also are committed to realizing our values in the work of young people as they acquire the competencies of lifelong learning – regardless of the season.

Teachers work year-round with children to learn what it means to take care of each other in the community. We want the community norm to be that our children show positive care and concern for each other, take responsibility to keep each other safe, and be kind. After listening to a radio show on this topic, Mimi Fitzpatrick at Brownsville Elementary decided to introduce her children to the Newtown Kindness Organization and engage them in creating and producing their own video to the tune Nothing More, challenging them to bring positive energy to their own sense of community responsibility.

Ms. Fitzpatrick teaches her children to use contemporary communication tools as a part of developing literary. Her classroom functions using the Responsive Classroom approach which is implemented across the division in elementary schools.

Her reflective post on what her third graders learned from this project follows:

Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s Classroom Blog

Endless Possibilities

A few weeks ago, while listening to the radio on my morning drive to school, I heard an incredible song. Not only does it have a good tune, but its message is also inspiring and simple which makes it that much more powerful. The first line that really stuck with me says, “We are how we treat each other when the day is done.”  This line is repeated in the refrain, and combined with so many other great tidbits, that by the time the song was over I knew I had to do something to pass this song on to my kiddos, and in turn the rest of the world.  My first thoughts involved an auditorium full of 700+ melodic students and even more joyful, yet sobbing parents.  While I still think this is a great idea, I gave it a little more thought, and started trying to find a little more information on the song.

 As it turns out, the band called The Alternate Routes created their song Nothing More in an effort to support the Newtown Kindness Organization. This organization has taken on the mission of fostering and spreading kindness throughout the world by starting with children.  The Alternate Routes put out a request for people to sync their own home videos to the song, and pass it on to spread the message.  Once I saw this it helped me figure out what our work with this song might look like in the classroom.

The kids’ first exposure to the song was during our morning meeting.  We thought about what the lines might mean and visualized what they could look like in our lives at school and at home, and in the world around us.

I also typed up the lyrics and put them into our reading centers this week.  Students worked on reading the lyrics fluently, paying attention to phrases and reading with emphasis and expression.  They also worked on an educational art project at another reading center, in which they chose their favorite line, and drew what they visualized when they thought about that line.  Our readers are constantly working on improving their fluency and comprehension, so these activities fit in seamlessly. We are also lucky to have an amazing resource at our school called the Innovation Lounge, where the kids were able to collaborate and create short video clips using iPods. While they worked together to act out and record what they visualized, I got to stand back and record the real thing– kids working together, and solving problems together!  Wooohooo!!


When we thought more about the song and what different lyrics meant, it seemed that opportunities continued to pop up for teachable moments.  We all started noticing small things we do each day to keep the cycle of kindness going, like holding the door for the person behind us, helping someone when they fall over, or asking someone new to play.

We were also able to use it to help us solve problems in better ways. After a touchdown celebration was taken too far at recess, we were able to say, “It’s like that line: To be humble, to be kind. Let’s see if we can think of a better way to do that.” Also, after feelings were hurt in the lunchroom, the line “to be bold, to be brave,” came to mind when the boys decided to stand up for their friend.  The possibilities are endless!

With all of the contributions from the kids, and the candid videos I shot throughout the week, I was able to slap together a video that we have all been quite proud of.  It can be seen here. We hope you enjoy it!

You can find out more about the Newtown Kindness Organization and The Alternate Routes’ song on their website or on YouTube.

To read more from Ms. Fitzpatrick’s blog, you can find her writing here.

Lessons from the Trenches: What Student Teachers Learn from the “Residency”

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This week, I am sharing a blog post written by University of Virginia Teaching Associate (AKA student teacher), Claire Cantrell. She offers insight into reading instruction in the third grade classroom where she is working this fall and how she is reinforcing good reading practice, including reading and singing music lyrics as a strategy. First, I’d like to share perspective on the student teaching experience.

An Introduction to the Student Teaching Experience

Prior to obtaining a teaching position, student teaching brings the greatest opportunity for “teachers-in-residency” to learn job skills at the side of master teachers. The student teaching experience offers the chance to practice and receive feedback from practitioners who have a wealth of expertise to share with student teachers. The relationship offers two-way learning opportunities since student teachers also bring from their studies knowledge of research-based pedagogy that can be applied in the classroom. In addition, student teachers often offer skills in using technologies as learning tools that add value to a partnership of learning between the experienced practitioner and a younger generation of student teachers.

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I’ve had the chance this year to observe both through social media and face-to-face observation such a relationship between UVA Teaching Associate Claire Cantrell and her supervising clinical instructor, Ann Straume. Claire is fortunate to not just be working with an outstanding career educator but also is learning to teach in a U.S. Blue Ribbon School, Meriwether Lewis Elementary, where she is surrounded by extraordinary educators who offer a school-wide environment of creativity as well as ongoing critical analysis of best practice learning. I also see this quality of experience offered to student teachers as the norm across Albemarle schools, regardless of where a student teacher is placed.

Claire’s Classroom Experience

Ms. Cantrell’s blog profile:

“Student teaching in a third grade classroom is an extraordinary blessing, privilege, and joy. I am loving every minute of it, constantly learning, and reflecting. This is a space for those reflections, challenges, and learning experiences. I studied Spanish and I am now finishing my Masters in Teaching at UVa. I aspire to be an excellent elementary classroom teacher who inspires students to love learning.”

Update: We Are Readers (Capital R)

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Update on how the “We are Readers: Join the Movement” movement is going (see post with purple banner picture).

Teaching is all about making decisions and making use of the limited time that we have for instruction. For example, we have 45 minutes a day for reading instruction and 45 minutes per day for writing instruction. How do we use that time wisely? How do we create a balanced literacy program?

Is it possible to incorporate all of the skills, lessons, and elements of a “balanced” literacy diet?                                                                                                                    The short answer is- no. It’s impossible to incorporate every aspect of literacy instruction in a given day. Maybe it can be done over the long-term. But in the short-term I have 5 days and 45 minutes per day of reading instruction. So I am always coming back to basic questions:

What is best practice for reading instruction?
We value time spent reading above anything else. Research supports this. My Clinical Instructor and I are converts to the pleasure-reading, read-for-the-sake-of-enjoying-reading, read-good-fit-books, read-because-you-love-it, choose-books-you-love-to-read, spend-time-reading-independently reading program.

How do you organize instruction to give students time to read independently?
1) We set aside time every day for students to read for enjoyment.
2) We encourage students to “steal minutes” of reading time throughout the day.

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Kids love “stealing minutes” of reading. My students come up to me throughout the day and ask, “Ms. Cantrell, can I steal some minutes now?” And my answer is consistently “yes” (unless they are supposed to be engaged in a different instructional activity). This shows me that students are looking forward to curling up with a good book.

A donation of construction "tool belts" allows children to carry books with them anywhere they want to read

A biz donation of painters’ “tool belts” allows children to carry books with them anywhere they want to read

What else do we do?
Reading mini-lessons:
The students have a chart glued into their “Book of Books” composition notebook that is titled: “What do good readers do?” Each lesson I have the students copy down the example of what good readers do in their chart. Simple. Organized. Easy to review.

Shared reading: SongFest!!
One of my first reading mini-lessons was “Good readers reread (when they don’t understand something or when they zone out while reading)”

The way that I reinforced the importance of rereading was by having them listen to a song they enjoy and try to sing along. Most students did not know the lyrics. I posted the lyrics on the ActiveBoard and had them read them once. Then we reread the lyrics while we listened to the song. And most kids could sing along!

So now we use read, reread, and reread and sing technique with LOTS of songs. I have a special folder where I keep multiple copies of the lyrics to the songs we are learning so students can choose to read song lyrics during “Be a Reader” time. This practice of rereading also supports fluency. On Fridays we have a Songfest where students practice rereading and singing the songs we have practiced.

 

 

Design 2015: Transforming Teaching and Learning in 3rd Grade

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Every year brings fresh learning experiences to the children we serve in Albemarle County Public Schools. This year, we are implementing Design 2015 projects in every school to support experiences that engage, challenge, and encourage questions and curiosity. Our educators want children to acquire, use and synthesize knowledge. We want to inspire our young people to work well together and find value in working with people who bring different skills and ideas to teams. We want learners to think critically and be able to analyze and solve problems.

Design 2015 Projects include renovations that allows use of cafeterias and other areas as multi-purpose project areas. Teachers are implementing project-based learning and helping students use interactive technologies to research, create multimedia projects, and accomplish independent learning. As educators develop and extend teaching skills that help contemporary learners, they are sharing their work with parents and colleagues.

Recently, a parent chatted with me about how much her child was enjoying learning this year in Ms. Karen Heathcock’s class at Broadus Wood Elementary. Ms. Heathcock, third grade teacher, blogs routinely about the work her students are accomplishing. I asked her if I could post one of her recent blogs about how the Design 2015 project work is impacting her classroom. Here’s her post:

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Transforming Practice

 Posted by Karen Heathcock on September 13, 2013

Fresh off our school’s Design 2015 work, I spent much of the summer reflecting on how the Lifelong Learner Standards and the Seven Pathways would truly inform my teaching philosophy and my daily practice. In the midst of lots of professional reading and exploration, it hit me. These were principles that weren’t going to INform my teaching, they were going to TRANSform my teaching.

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Since then, I have committed to ensuring that every time my third grade students walk into the classroom, they are going to feel like they are walking into their future, not into my past. It doesn’t matter how I’ve taught something before, or how I learned it myself, or what I happen to have in my filing cabinet, I am going to provide my students with the experiences, the knowledge, the tools, and the confidence to master VA standards, of course; but more importantly, to pursue what interests them.

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On the seventeenth day of school, my third graders are already on fire!

  • We’re finishing up films for the Young Filmmakers Academy that will be screened in November as part of the Virginia Film Festival.
  • We’re Quadblogging with a school in Australia and two schools in the UK – a program that has us sharing our work and learning about all that we have in common and all that makes us unique.
  • As part of our geography unit, we’re Mystery Skyping with other 3rd grade classrooms around the U.S. We use different kinds of maps and some very artful questioning skills to isolate the region, the state, and hopefully, the city of our mystery guest classroom.
  • We’re STEM-maniacs! Every Friday, we do an engineering design challenge that has us collaborating, creating, thinking, testing, tweaking, and troubleshooting. So far, we’ve designed hovercrafts, NASA-inspired Mars Rover landers, and 12 inch newspaper tables that can hold the weight of a textbook. Follow our hashtag on Twitter #STEMFri where we will share challenges and results with interested classes and experts.

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  • We are diving headfirst into Twitter. We want to share our work, connect to experts, find peers in different cultures, and spread our excitement and enthusiasm around the world!

We work closely with our School Librarian (shout-out to Melissa Techman, @mtechman on Twitter) who is always full of fresh ideas and always willing to share her time to support us. She was recently featured in this Digital Shift article!

We would love to connect with any other classrooms who are interested in learning and growing together.

You can follow Karen Heathcock on twitter @karenheathcock . She blogs at:

http://teachers.k12albemarle.org/kheathcock/2013/09/13/transforming-practice/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Transforming Practice
Posted by Karen Heathcock on September 13, 2013
Fresh off our school’s Design 2015 work, I spent much of the summer reflecting on how the Lifelong Learner Standards and the Seven Pathways would truly inform my teaching philosophy and my daily practice. In the midst of lots of professional reading and exploration, it hit me. These were principles that weren’t going to INform my teaching, they were going to TRANSform my teaching.

Since then, I have committed to ensuring that every time my third grade students walk into the classroom, they are going to feel like they are walking into their future, not into my past. It doesn’t matter how I’ve taught something before, or how I learned it myself, or what I happen to have in my filing cabinet, I am going to provide my students with the experiences, the knowledge, the tools, and the confidence to master VA standards, of course; but more importantly, to pursue what interests them.

On the seventeenth day of school, my third graders are already on fire!

We’re finishing up films for the Young Filmmakers Academy that will be screened in November as part of the Virginia Film Festival.
We’re Quadblogging with a school in Australia and two schools in the UK – a program that has us sharing our work and learning about all that we have in common and all that makes us unique.
As part of our geography unit, we’re Mystery Skyping with other 3rd grade classrooms around the U.S. We use different kinds of maps and some very artful questioning skills to isolate the region, the state, and hopefully, the city of our mystery guest classroom.
We’re STEM-maniacs! Every Friday, we do an engineering design challenge that has us collaborating, creating, thinking, testing, tweaking, and troubleshooting. So far, we’ve designed hovercrafts, NASA-inspired Mars Rover landers, and 12 inch newspaper tables that can hold the weight of a textbook. Follow our hashtag on Twitter #STEMFri where we will share challenges and results with interested classes and experts.
We are diving headfirst into Twitter. We want to share our work, connect to experts, find peers in different cultures, and spread our excitement and enthusiasm around the world!
We work closely with our School Librarian (shout-out to Melissa Techman, @mtechman on Twitter) who is always full of fresh ideas and always willing to share her time to support us. She was recently featured in this Digital Shift article!
We would love to connect with any other classrooms who are interested in learning and growing together.

A New Year Begins

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The opening of a new school year always brings joy, passion, and excitement to our educators’ work with young people. As I visit each school across Albemarle County, I see brightness captured in our children’s eyes, a quickness to their step as they enter new classrooms, and enthusiasm in their voices as they embrace interesting ideas and questions that challenge them to think. Albemarle educators value our children acquiring the competencies of lifelong learning readiness. When our current pre-schoolers graduate in 2027, we want them to be ready for a world that will be different than the one we know today.

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Kindergarten Spanish Lesson

If any one variable has changed the world over the last decade, most people would say it is technological advances. Whether considering the workforce, the home and community, politics, the economy, or communication media, technology advances have changed the way we cook, drive, work, communicate, entertain, vote, travel, purchase, pay, and learn. From agri-business to engineering, no sector is unchanged.

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Parents and educators alike want our children to be well educated for their century.  We know that despite the advances of technology as learning tools, the quality of teaching remains a vital factor to achieving our dream to unleash the learning potential of every child enrolled in our schools. This means investing in the training educators need to continue to advance and develop skills and expertise.  This summer and on work days before school started, teachers participated in professional training to deepen content knowledge, focus on new curricular standards, and refine performance assessments for use with students during the year.

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Agnor-Hurt Educators Welcome Back Young Learners

This year, four schools – Monticello High and Walton, Burley and Jouett Middle Schools – are using 1:1 learning technologies with certain grade levels. Elementary school educators in every school are working to incorporate “hands-on” learning experiences across the curricula so that young learners have opportunities to create, build, design, and make using traditional and contemporary learning tools.  Cale Elementary continues to pilot bilingual language learning as a pilot in anticipation of expanding second language learning in more elementary schools in the future. Four middle schools – Henley, Sutherland, Walton, and Jouett –  have new learning labs where students will explore topics including advanced manufacturing and project based learning in math. Western Albemarle staff are working this year to design and develop a third academy to be made available to our county high school learners next year – an environmental studies center. Every school has renovated spaces – libraries, cafeterias, art rooms, inquiry labs, technical education, project areas – designed for contemporary learners and learning. At Albemarle High a new writing studio was created as part of the library suite, a space where students can work with peers to improve writing skills and pursue interests in personal writing.

CATEC builders

CATEC Design/Builders

This renewed focus on active learning by our students emerges from the Board’s revised strategic plan, Horizon 2020, which sets in place the Division’s next steps in determining the optimal use of resources, implementation of balanced assessments, expansion of partnerships, and improvement of opportunity and achievement among all learners.

 

In identifying new strategic objectives, the Board, educators, parents and community partners who participated in development of Horizon 2020 believe that our young people must graduate from our schools capable and competent to embrace learning across a lifetime, unleashing their potential to pursue career options, post-secondary education, and adult citizenship with all the enthusiasm and excitement they brought with them when they first entered our schools.

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A Summer of Learning in Albemarle Schools

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“… Design and thinking is … idea of making creative leaps to come up with  a solution… allows people to not just be problem solvers with explicit, but also tacit knowledge… they are learning by doing… coming up with solutions by making things.”

Bill Moggridge, former Director (deceased)                  Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum                  Design and Thinking, the Movie

Coder Dojo Maker

Coder Dojo Tech Girl and Mentor

Public educators and young people have lived in a world defined by standardized test results for well over a decade. We now see millennial educators entering our profession, having grown up in what I sometimes refer to as the “test prep” generation. They, in many cases, never experienced some of the learning opportunities that older generation teachers remember or experienced themselves as children.  In many public schools, field trips, school plays, guest speakers, in-depth discussions, inquiry projects and hands-on activities no longer exist.  In others, professional positions from art teachers to librarians have disappeared from America’s school staffs. Remember the recess play that once was the norm in elementary schools, but now often is the exception.

Albemarle educators and students are fortunate our School Board values and supports engaging and enriching work for our young people.

Consider time. Consider resources. Consider children.

A Summer for Young Makers

This summer, I’ve had a unique opportunity to watch children of all ages across my division engage in a different kind of “summer school” curricula,  Our students have created, designed, built, engineered, produced, played, marketed, and contributed as they have worked to make, take apart, problem-solve, and understand what it means to learn through your hands and mind. In doing so, they’ve used math, science, writing, reading, social studies, movement and the arts in their learning – whether measuring boards down to the fraction or following recipes. I’ve walked spaces where children are improvising jazz for the first time, learning how to use a drill, making soap, constructing squishy LED circuits, designing cardboard buildings and arcades, building robots in every form and material imaginable, and programming in computer code from Scratch to Python.

Maker Corps and Maker KidsMaker Corps and Maker Kids

Four elementary summer programs were fueled by our Maker Corps affiliation with MakerEdOrg. In  another elementary school, children both made and marketed their wares to raise funds to donate to the SPCA. A group of high school students participated in a Leadership Academy designed to infuse a cadre of diverse teen leaders into their schools. They created leadership teams and designed a project to wash cars, earning money for Habitat for Humanity. Over 800 learners ages 5-18, worked in multi-age Coder Dojos to develop and extend coding skills; making games, websites, and tech programs. Middle school summer schoolers participated in cooking classes, learning all sorts of key math and reading skills along the way. In our award-winning M-cubed program, middle school boys built and tested their gravity-powered roller coasters, experimenting with energy, force, motion, and slope. And, the jazz makers – kids who came together for two weeks in beginning to advanced jazz camps – culminated their summer learning with a free concert at the downtown pavilion.

A Spark that Inspires Teachers and Learners

The educators who worked with our young people this summer say “these kids have been so engaged, fun, excited, curious, hardworking, and collaborative. And, some are kids who really struggle with ‘doing school behaviors’ during the regular year.” Rather than a summer school experience centered in tutorials and repetitive practice work designed around standardized tests, our kids have built complex language through experiential learning in rich environments, as they’ve been challenged to use math, science, history, and the language arts as they’ve designed and created – everything from jazz to video games.

Why are we focusing on teachers using make to learn and learn to make strategies as a pathway to lifelong learning rather than the current test prep mania? Because educators everywhere know that children who are bored by school work, turned off by worksheets, tired of listening to mostly teacher talk, and stripped of opportunities to stretch their hands and minds are kids who struggle to sustain attention and value learning. Some master effective “doing school behaviors” and obtain decent grades but may also often feel disconnected from joy and passion as they work.

Boredom in school is the number one reason listed by dropouts for dropping out. It’s even felt by our top students – not because of content lacking rigor. Rather, it’s because teachers today feel compelled to fly through a scope and sequence of standards so their students acquire information paced to cover what they need for a test one spring day. Teachers often feel compelled, if not required, to subtract from their teaching the very things that engage and entice children as learners – field trips, special guests, extended discussion of interesting topics, hands-on projects, inquiry activities, and interdisciplinary opportunities.  In subtracting school experiences that enrich and extend learning, opportunity gaps between middle class children and children living in economically disadvantaged homes only grow wider.

Leadership Academy

Leadership Academy

Why is it that big, huge corporations get beat by kids in garages? … because they’re inventing the future.”

Roger Martin, Dean                                                   Rotman School of Management                                        Design and Thinking, the Movie
                                                                                                                              

Making is a process, not a “one-right answer” end in mind. It’s a process of learning,  developing knowledge, pursuing interests, and developing the confidence and resilience that comes with making mistakes, too. It’s not a bottom line of just measuring what students know through standardized test results. Rather, it’s a bottom line in which lifelong learning is assessed when kids show what they can do with what they know on performance tasks that are far more demanding of both skill and knowledge.

Making is the fuel of America’s inventive spirit; its citizen-thinkers, workforce, entrepreneurs, artists, and solution-finders. It always has been. However, we are concerned about data indicated that the creativity of our nation’s youth is at an all time low. We are concerned that America has a three-year decline in patents filed at the US Patent Office and for the first time in history fewer patents filed than the rest of the world.

That’s why we value our kids spending time as active makers of their own learning – a competency built for a lifetime.

Irene is a graduate of AHS, a Duke University student, and a member of the first U.S. Maker Corps.

Learning by Doing for Students and Teachers Alike: Education for this Century

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May is one of the busiest school months in the year. It’s a time when the learning that has been growing all year comes together for young people and they have opportunities to show what they know, understand, and can do. Recently, I heard a medical professor who teaches at the University of Virginia comment that students need to “show what they can do – the know should be embedded in that.”  What this professor describes as learning represents far more than what can be measured in the new, more difficult multiple choice SOL tests being rolled out by the Virginia Department of Education.

IMG_3561Instead of focus upon standardized tests with limited response choices provided by outside “test examiners”, teachers across Albemarle are using more contextual opportunities for young people to show what they’ve learned through performance tasks, projects, portfolios and analytical writing and problem-solving that integrate content from curricula. This kind of deep learning represents competencies essential for young people to be successful after graduation, even though such learning can’t be easily or efficiently tabulated and converted into test score data.

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Educators and parents know that children are not “test scores,” and that traditional tests only capture a slice of what young people need to become adults who can draw upon lifelong learning competencies associated with excellent communication, sustained creativity, critical thought and actions, and collaboration within diverse teams – all of which are important in the contemporary workforce, communities, homes, and post-secondary education.

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 Young people create videos, blog, and build “livebinders” to share and show learning. They complete performance tasks and teachers use rubrics to assess their specific skills and knowledge. Learners ask questions, conduct research, and develop projects individually and collaboratively, using both creative and critical thought processes. Parents and teachers see evidence of students’ learning at Quest Fests, Inquiry and STEAM Fairs, History Expositions and Arts Festivals. Learning jumps out from musical and drama performances by elementary singers, middle school orchestra musicians, and thespians. They are not just performers, but also producers.

Monticello High Music Industry Class Writes Lyrics and Records Music

Young people who are inspired learners will search, connect, make, and communicate with passion and interest, not because of school compliance. It’s why educators in Albemarle County Public Schools believe that learning in this century must represent what students can do, not just remember. However, it takes time for teachers to redesign spaces, shift teaching, and learn to use technologies to promote interactive and engaged learning. That’s why educators at Red Hill Elementary are working in teams this year to collaboratively learn from each other. Principal Art Stow has flipped faculty meetings so that teachers have time to do the important work necessary to educate young people for their century, not the past.He sees this as an important shift for the teachers and for him. Here’s what he wrote in a recent post.

Red Hill Elementary – Principal’s Blog

How Teachers and Students Learn Alike

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Teachers and students learn and work using similar strategies. Principals are lucky people. We get to visit classrooms any time we want, so we get to see great things happening everyday we are at work! As a principal, I learn so much when I enter a classroom. I see the effective strategies that teachers use when grouping and creating work stations for students to develop skills, collaborate on projects and work through problem solving activities. So I’ve learned, if this approach works with kids, then it can certainly work with adults. As a result, at our faculty meetings, like today, there will be time for discussion and group input, but there will also be time set aside, in “work stations” for teachers to collaborate, choose, and check some things off that mile long to do list. It’s a great place to be when working together means learning together. Three cheers for SCHOOL!

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The Art and Science of Making: What Students Do to Create and Invent

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A few weeks ago, some of our young people reminded us that making is a mindset that can occur any time, any place.  On a snow day, a group of kids were co-opted by a local teenage video “maker” into creating and publishing a fabulous YouTube video, “Call Me Maybe, Josh Davis.” This video represented the inherent passion and joy that surfaces when young makers get together and intersect talents, skills, and interests in a collaborative venture. They learned from and with each other. They sparked ideas and inventive thinking. They showed our community what happens when kids exercise their spontaneous and creative genius, use technology tools in powerful ways to communicate, and leave their mark upon an authentic audience.

We also see inventive potential when our elementary children construct their own cardboard arcade games for their school carnival, test bending moment using chairs, tables, and Unifix cube bridges, and create engineering solutions to design challenges pitched to them. It’s in the creative genius of our teenagers who’ve built their own 3-D printer, designed quad-copters and musical instruments, produced their own studio music and made document camera projectors for less than $100 dollars.

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Navigating Lego Simple Machines at Meriwether Lewis Elementary

Making things is a natural learning state for humans. It offers a different way to see the world through the practical lenses of finding solutions to problems, conundrums, and perplexities embedded in daily life. Making opportunities stretch analytical, creative, and integrative thinking. Making creates multi-dimensional, hands-to-mind and mind-to-hands processing that engages together the mathematical and language centers of the brain.

Making offers integrated learning opportunities–the best of any century learning. We see it in the collaborative efforts of Destination Imagination teams to design-build solutions to challenges. We see it in the gardens created and nurtured as part of a school’s own “grow local” effort for their school cafeteria.

Measuring, Mixing, and Making Muffins at Red Hill Elementary

Measuring, Mixing, and Making Muffins at Red Hill Elementary

Making is not just about math, science, engineering and technology.

A focus on STEM content knowledge is great if we want our children to become the next generation of skilled technicians and workers.  But, for us, the hacker/maker movement is about creating the next generation of entrepreneurs, creators and inventors.  That’s what adding the “A” to STEM gets at–a necessary injection of the creative Arts into STEM as STEAM.

Monticello High Music Industry Class Writes Lyrics and Records Music

Monticello High Music Industry Class Writes Lyrics and Records Music

We believe whether it’s the advanced manufacturing spillover influence from the University of Virginia’s engineering school into our elementary school digital fabrication labs or our year-round Irish-influenced Coder Dojos where kids make games in MIT’s free Scratch programming language  create websites with HTML, or work with Java, our children are moving back through these experiences to the natural learning that’s fueled America’s inventors, patent-makers, backyard mechanics, studio artists, NASA engineers, and skyscraper designers and builders.

A number of our Albemarle schools have prototyped maker spaces in libraries, redesigned computer labs, hallway niches, and converted classrooms. We see the results in the energized work of young people to create, design, invent, engineer, and make.

WAHS physics students build a wind tunnel in a flipped classroom environment

WAHS physics students build a wind tunnel in a flipped classroom environment

 Next year we will open Design 2015 teacher-developed maker space projects in a number of schools. We want our children to learn to use manual tools, but also so much more, In today’s environment, digital tools (in most cases) are very necessary design tools in early stages of “making” — drawing or programming to make something else do something.  Consider the tools, materials, skills, and knowledge necessary to make something new that will meet a human need or want. How many people do we know with the skills to do “maker” work today – despite the idea that America’s economic future rests in the hands of designers, inventors, builders, engineers, and makers from artists to auto mechanics?

We see the connectivity of our partnership with the national MakerCorps summer project as an opportunity to work with children through a different kind of interactive professional development for teachers who will partner in this hands-on maker experience, using a variety of traditional and contemporary technologies. The MakerCorps offers us an opportunity to draw young people, high school graduates and local college students into a real-deal maker program where they will serve as mentors for both our children and the teachers with whom they will interact. This work will engage young learners in the same way that these MESA Academy students engaged in designing, making, and sharing their interdisciplinary work – integrating the arts, sciences, technologies, and mathematics with engineering principles.

We are at a turning point in human history, a rising tide of a culture of participation in global networks that open doors of which we humans have never dreamed. Remember, “making”, at its core, is about “teaching” kids to view the world (not just school) in a completely different way — it’s about empowerment and ownership of destiny— wondering is great but realizing that one has the power to “make something happen” is a powerful, powerful thing.

summer Coder Dojo

summer Coder Dojo

 Many of us talk about what’s wrong with the world (our work, our culture, etc.)—we chat about the need to change and wonder about something better—but very, very few of us actually do much of anything about it.  We tinker around the edges at best.  We are mostly admirers of problems and not solvers of them.  Public schools, very much by design, often perpetuate that.

So, moving kids from compliant listeners to curious learners is an awesome goal, but the ultimate goal must be to move learners from dreamers ….  to doers …. then, later in life, to change makers. Our nation, state, and local community depend upon it.

But, to make our own dream a reality — we’ll need to move ourselves and other adults along that continuum as well. That’s no small challenge. We educators, have much to consider and make happen.

Chad Ratliff and Pam Moran co-authored this post previously published at makered.org

 

Just the Facts: The 2013-14 School Board Funding Request

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If it’s February, it must be … Albemarle County’s budget development season.

The School Board has approved its funding request for 2013-14 and moved it forward to the Board of Supervisors for consideration. This “maintenance of effort” proposal, based on input and feedback from advisory groups and staff represents continued division work to meet the School Board’s Vision, Mission, Goals and Core Values for our young people.

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The School Board funding request includes a commitment to increasing staff so that class sizes remain low – despite the trending growth in the numbers of children enrolled in our schools.

It also represents the cost of doing business to address increased costs such as health insurance. 

Finally, it represents unfunded mandates from DC and Richmond such as the Governor’s mandated salary increase of 5% last year that offsets the pass-on cost to localities of the state-mandated public employee 5% contribution to the Virginia Retirement System. Such mandates add costs to the overall budget to implement federal and state initiatives, ones that often wouldn’t be the highest priorities of the community, educators, or the School Board.

Other facts associated with the 2013-14 School Board funding request

1. We are allocating less revenue per student now than five years ago, despite inflation in the cost of doing business. In the 2008-09 budget, we allocated $11,819. For 2013-14, we estimate allocating $11,691. 

2. Current projected revenues for 2013-14 are $154,077,551. The current projected expenses are $155,444,689. The funding gap is $ (1,367,138.)

3. Student enrollment is expected to grow by 203 students from 2012 to 2013-14. The  budget includes staffing needed to address increases in student population. This includes staffing to address:

  • increased staffing needed for programs such as elementary arts in larger elementary schools such as Brownsville and Cale to maintain parity of service
  • administrative staffing to account for growth at Henley Middle School
  • special education staff to support increased service needs across schools
  • ESOL staffing to support increased service needs across schools to second language learners
  • intervention staffing to restore at-risk tutoring services needed in middle and high schools due to increased numbers of at-risk students.

4.  We also match funds with the Police Dept. to restore a middle school resource officer.

5.  The only instructional initiative that is new also represents a mandate from the General Assembly that the ninth grade class of 2013-14 will be required to complete a virtual learning course before graduation. To implement this initiative, we will need to add instructional resources, train teachers, and support program development. The cost is estimated at $248,135. This initiative also represents how technologies will transform learning in the next five years through blended face-to-face and virtual learning.

6. Both the Board of Supervisors and the School Board have proposed a 2% raise for employees. This addresses both the Governor’s 2% salary initiative for educators and competitive market strategy adopted within joint Board personnel policy.

The Future

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We live in a time in which the increasing shifts in how technologies are used in every business sector and in homes and communities has more and more influence upon learning opportunities for young people. The quality of teaching, however, remains the most important factor that we can control inside our schools. Teaching quality is directly related to educators who develop and hone expertise in using new learning tools, teaching strategies, and use of space to create opportunities for contemporary learners to excel and embrace learning. Just as with employees in other business sectors, educators must be learning all the time to stay abreast of new tools and strategies for accomplishing their daily work.

In another five years, “one to one” technologies will be more ubiquitous across school districts nationally as textbooks and other paper print resources are eliminated, just as Encyclopedia Britannica no longer is for sale in a paper print version. The workforce our children will enter likely will be fueled by a new generation of American manufacturing advanced through the emerging technologies of 3-D printers and digital fabrication. There will be future changes we can’t even imagine today just as many of us couldn’t imagine just a few years ago the virtual shift to today’s online purchases and banking, social media communication, and vehicular navigation systems.

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Programming 3-D printers

Redesigning existing school facilities and designing new facilities is necessary along with creation of the infrastructure to support the technology applications that advance annually. A comprehensive professional development program for educators must be well-funded to ensure that teaching quality is sustained as the skills and competencies of teachers are critical for sustaining the best learning available to our students. Programs such as elementary world languages are important to ensure that our young people bring high level of competencies to sustain American competitiveness in a global economy.

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The current funding request under consideration in this budget cycle maintains the costs of doing business, meeting mandates, and addressing growth. However, it does not address the transition of today’s schools from a model for learning more suitable to the needs of 20th century learners to a model for children attending our schools in 2013. And, that’s a fact.

February is School Board Appreciation Month

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A 1960 graduate of Albemarle High School, Sherman Shifflett, sent the below message to me. Sherman serves on the Louisa County School Board and is a member of the Albemarle High School Alumni Association. I did not realize February is School Board Member Appreciation Month in Virginia. The article is correct, we do not recognize and thank enough, those individuals that serve. For the most part, it is a thankless position that makes so many important decisions and is an essential part of our educational system. I encourage you to put children first and politics last. I take this opportunity to say thank you for serving Albemarle county as a school board member.

Charles Crenshaw
AHS Alumni Association
Chairman

Thank Your School Board Members

When things get tough in a democracy, it’s easy to blame decision-makers. This reality makes one of our most valuable professional outlets – public service – an often thankless endeavor. As public servants on the hyper local level, school board members occupy a crucial role in our democracy. Frequently, they receive less than glowing coverage in the popular press, if they receive any at all. Too often, we ignore the value inherent in their existence, and we forget to acknowledge their efforts that are often vital in building a strong foundation for public schools in communities across the country. School board members form the largest democratic body in the United States and February 1, 2013, marks the beginning of Virginia’s “School Board Appreciation Month,” an opportunity for citizens from across the Commonwealth to celebrate their local school board members. Electing a good board may be the responsibility of the public, but the day-to-day responsibilities of school governance fall on the shoulders of those who are elected to serve.

As a country, we all celebrate the concept of local democratic representation and control. When it comes to ensuring high quality in our nation’s public schools, we depend on the intelligence, capacity and hard work of our local school board members – our democratically elected citizens. These individuals are responsible for major decisions affecting the lives of students across Virginia – and other states – from school lunches and budgeting to developing a shared vision for schools and the district. They hire the superintendent, manage labor contracts, and work to ensure students have a safe and healthy learning environment. When localities across the state boast vibrant, engaging and efficiently run institutions of learning, it is reason to sit up and take note. It is also a reason to celebrate.

There are almost 850 school board members across the Commonwealth, from Fairfax and Arlington to Norfolk, Richmond, Roanoke and Charlottesville who are working to prepare students for the 21st century, and to be college and career ready, to not just get by, but to thrive in the future full of uncertainty. This year’s theme “School Boards Speak Out for Public Education,” is intended to highlight the efforts of school board members to advocate for public education. This acknowledgment comes at a time when districts and schools are struggling to provide even more for their students with less than adequate resources. We celebrate their efforts to build partnerships with stakeholders in their communities, set the direction for public schools to ensure all students receive a high-quality education, and contribute to the excellence of the system as a whole.

In this month of February, we have an opportunity to celebrate all that school board members represent and do, as symbols of our local democracy and as tireless public servants. With so many boards in any given diverse state, some will shine above all others, while a handful will be in need of change and improvements. However, this month, take time to acknowledge your local school board representatives, with a phone call, email, letter, or through social media. Moving forward, we can show support of their work through increased participation, we can engage as citizens and offer our feedback and ideas, and we can continue to push for policies and outcomes that bolster our public schools. Sometime this month, consider taking a moment to raise a glass to public servants and toast democracy.

Tarsi Dunlop lives in Arlington, Virginia and serves as the Program and Operations Manager at the Learning First Alliance. As a Virginia resident, she would like to personally thank all school board members that work tirelessly to ensure that children in the Commonwealth have access to high-quality schools and equal opportunities.