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.