Every generation inherits a world it never made; and, as it does so, it automatically becomes the trustee of that world for those who come after. In due course, each generation makes its own accounting to its children.” — Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, 1968
As I come to the end of 43 years working in public schools— 13 as superintendent — I still feel the power of this quote. I came to Albemarle County thirty-two years ago because I knew educators were doing great things for children and the community supported public education. During my years here, this shared value for educating children well has not faded. Our school division’s strengths reside in this community and in our historical commitment to education that does not stand still in time.
I thank each and every one of you for your work each day to create a safe and welcoming culture for our learners whether on the buses or in our cafeterias, classrooms, gyms, music and arts spaces, libraries as well as on playing fields and playgrounds. I thank each of you in our community who has volunteered in our schools. I appreciate the many who have partnered with us to support our young people though donations, tutoring, financial contributions, internships, and advocacy for our needs. And, I am grateful the parents who have supported our learners at home and in our classrooms, on stages and playing fields, on field trips, and as volunteers in our parent organizations.
In this post, my final one as superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools, I can say that it has been my privilege to work with as excellent a school system staff as I believe exists anywhere in America’s K-12 schools, public or private. That excellence is evident every time I visit a school or department and spend time with face to face and virtually with our educators, community members, and parents. Truly, the most important measure of the expertise our teachers bring to our children is found in the quality of work that the children we serve accomplish, their contributions to our greater community, and the paths they take in life after high school.
In a time when too many doubt that public schools can be excellent and relevant, diverse and successful, contemporary and a building block of citizenship, our community has created a school system that has become a global model of success. I have been fortunate to be a part of the process of developing the capacity of our school communities over time.
I walked into my first position here as coordinator of professional development in 1986 after ten years of teaching and administrative experience in another division. When the recession of 1987 resulted in reductions of staff, I assumed responsibility for gifted programs and K-12 science programs in addition to professional development. Despite the challenges of reduced funding that has ebbed and flowed over decades, our commitment to innovative, effective professional learning has remained. This is a critical part of our success.
I decided to return to a building position in 1990 and was selected to serve as principal of Stony Point Elementary where I stayed until 2000. During that time I had the opportunity to work with amazingly creative teachers who grounded the work of the school in a community of practice that integrated writing, the arts, and inquiry learning across curriculum. I learned so much from the teachers there about the power of relationships within a community to elevate the voice of learners, develop agency within them, and support their capability to influence their school community. The tools were different in that era but the spirit was the same — children thrived because of the opportunities afforded them inside and outside the school; performing plays on the outdoor amphitheater, creating gardens in every nook and cranny, and writing class anthologies documenting the world they explored.
The late 1990s were also a time when we educators entered a new world of standardization of expected learning across Virginia through the Virginia Standards of Learning testing program. I will never forget when “pilot” test results in 1998 were released and less than 2% of the state’s schools would have been fully accredited. I remember sitting with staff that year and discussing that we knew our children were far more advanced learners than the results showed. I said to the team, “we love the work our children do — their voices in poetry, their study of life on the nature trail, the plays they write and perform, and the I-search projects they complete — but we have to figure out how to get them over the SOL test hurdle or our work will be lessened.” The Stony Point staff aligned curriculum to standards and began to use data more effectively to inform intervention support. However, they did not abandon writing, inquiry, and arts integration. The next year, our school was fully accredited and teachers gave credit to our children’s engagement in arts, inquiry, and writing — all paths to knowledge acquisition, competency development, deep understanding, and love of learning.
In 2000, I became K-12 Director of Curriculum and Instruction under Superintendent Dr. Kevin Castner’s leadership. In less than three years, I stepped up to the role of Assistant Superintendent. And in 2002, we rolled out Design 2004, a request for proposals from school teams to create units using interdisciplinary curriculum, learning technologies, and performance assessments and the beginning of our journey to the work we do today in 2018. To paraphrase Dr. Castner it was essential that we not let the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 take over our classrooms and leave thinking and creativity out of learning. By the summer of 2004, the lifelong learning competencies still in use today had been identified by those original teams and the Framework for Quality Learning was established. We also added professional development focus on the Dufour professional learning community (PLC) model in 2004. Several of our schools piloted PLCs that year including Albemarle High through the leadership of the school’s new principal, Dr. Matt Haas, soon to be superintendent. Matt is ready to lead the division and under his leadership I fully expect our schools to flourish and our system to become better than it ever has been.
In 2005 when Dr. Castner decided to retire from the superintendency I served as acting superintendent at first, and then was appointed as the superintendent in January of 2006. Since that time I have had the opportunity to annually recommend the hiring of central and building level staff including many staff who have come to Albemarle since that time. They must ensure that our children entering school in August will be ready for the changing world of the rising Smart Machine Age. And, despite improvements we have made over many decades, we know that all our children, especially children living with economic disadvantages, do not meet the learning expectations essential to success in life after high school. We still have work to do.
Over the last 13 years I have observed our division’s vision and mission expand equity and opportunity for the students we serve. In doing so, we have worked hard to help each child find success while also refusing to allow children to become numbers in a spreadsheet. Our educators have kept the faces of our learners in front of them.
I am proud of our implementation of Responsive Classroom, AVID, standards-based, concept-centered curriculum, performance-based assessment, the instructional coaching and learning tech integrators models, the three high school academies, the community charter middle school, secondary mechatronics labs, 1:1 technology, Culturally Responsive Teaching, the Seven Pathways to Transform Learning, New Teacher Academy, and elementary language immersion. With the addition and extension of arts, physical education, counseling, intervention, and library staffing, we have together supported multiple and different pathways for our learners to find success in school. As educators in our school communities you have enriched the experiences of students through chorus, orchestra and band, musicals, sports activities, Destination Imagination and so much more.
As I pass the torch of the superintendency to Matt Haas, I know this. I will cherish memories of every department and school for the rest of my life — bus rides, concerts and musicals, reading with children, listening to teens present projects, eating an occasional school lunch, and dancing in kindergarten.
While my work in Albemarle’s schools draws to a close, the journey continues. Not every child finds success with us. Some get lost every year. The work to ensure that every child is treated justly and feels fully valued must continue, must evolve. Seeking the strengths inside each child is key. In our vision learning how to manage one’s own environment, own time, and own tools — the learning needs behind our systemic re-design — represent the skills most necessary in this century. High School 2022, elementary multi-age, and secondary learning labs help define the vision, our mission, and the actions needed to accomplish that.
As I pack up the hundreds of books in my office, take student art off my walls, clean out my desk, and go through files that may go all the way back to my first year of teaching, I am confident that our community of learners and learning is in good hands because all of you will continue to care deeply about our core values. In that, together, everyone who lives in this county holds the responsibility to create that next generation of respectful, effective, and inclusive school communities committed to excellence, and giving our young people the very best we can possibly offer.
After all, equipping our young people with competencies for life, not simply teaching so they pass tests is the greatest gift that we will provide them.