A Little Farewell History

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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 schools13 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.

 

The Class of 2018: They Open Our Windows to the Future

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The end of the school year is always a time for joy as we celebrate our high school graduates who leave us, some ready for adulthood and others a bit tenuous as they take first steps to try out a new freedom of life beyond school. However, as I sat on each graduation stage this year and watched our seniors approach the stage, I could only marvel at what they have accomplished to get to this point in their lives. On their last walk as seniors, some walked forward with ease, poising at the top of the steps before moving forward as their names were called. Others came forward, somewhat shyly as the principal beckoned them to their diplomas. Then there were the dancers who took a brief moment to show the audience a more personal side as they pirouetted to music only they could hear. And, finally, we all paused in respect for teens who came on crutches or in wheelchairs to make their way slowly across the stage.

“Honestly, we are just a tight-knit group. Our graduation isn’t an individual accomplishment, It’s an accomplishment as a whole.”  (A graduate)

All together, regardless of color or ethnicity, gender or sexual identity, socio-economic background or parents’ level of education, these graduates are Generation Z, unique in that they were mostly born in 2000, the Y2K year that many of us feared. They were born in a year when we feared that technology might fail the world, all over a software glitch defined by the use of two-digits rather than four-digit calendar data. But software engineers fixed the Millennium Bug and turn-of-the-century babies instead bounced into a world that changed rapidly and radically as a result of technological advances. They are the Smart-tech generation, defined by the emergence of apps such as YouTube which began when they were just five. At seven they handled their parents’ newly released iPhones, and by ten years of age, their photos were showing up in Instagram accounts. They’ve tweeted, facebooked, snapchatted, face-timed, and texted their way through high school.

“They approach projects with a level of complexity and they take pride in their work. They actually built a foosball table from scratch and had an almost Jumbotron attached to it.”  (A teacher)

Today they are defined by their speed of communication with anyone and everyone in their circle of friends and beyond as well as a willingness to adopt and adapt devices and apps as quickly as the next new one appears. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the next thing that will come after Netflix or a faster way to share information and images that makes Instagram obsolete, this generation will continue to show their generational counterparts – from baby boomers to Gen X and Y – what it means to be a digital native in its most authentic iteration since the term was coined. As one teen said, “adults need to stop calling us millennials – we are not that at all.”

Gen Z cares. I have heard over and over from their teachers, principals, and peers that recent graduates of our schools help each other out and are committed to others.

“They are empathetic and truly will go out of their way to support each other – in good and hard times.”  (A teacher)

They care about issues of significance in their community from mental health to the environment to school safety and beyond. They value their devices but they value adults more – teachers and principals alike – especially adults who have invested in developing positive and healthy relationships with them. These teens know the difference between teaching with quality and what they have come to refer to as “phoning it in.”

“They are lively, vibrant, determined leaders with strength and self-awareness. They get excited about being able to impact their community and they look at the world as opportunities.” (A teacher)

They understand the power of authentic community service that benefits others versus inauthentic service that simply gets them a check towards their diploma. They also know their voice matters at the ballot box as well as in making personal choices to walk or not in public support of different political points of view.

“They are varied and talented and passionate about their interests. They are serious about their music, the environment, and sciences.” (A teacher)

The Class of 2018 graduates have also accomplished a great deal in life before they walked across the stage these last few weeks. They already are accomplished musicians and singers online and in the local community venues. They’ve successfully lobbied for a law to support mental health services in schools across Virginia. Students in this cohort have a sense of voice and its evidence in those among them who have blogged, publicly spoken to the School Board and Board of Supervisors, written and performed a play of social activism, tutored peers and younger children, and created websites to give voice to issues of import.They’ve created, invented, and marketed start-up products that represent their entrepreneurial mindset. More of them are bilingual than at any other point in the history of our schools. They’re already on life’s journeys as artists and athletes, musicians and historians, designers and engineers. They’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over their collective years in schools for local community charities, individuals with health challenges, and national organizations of for common good such as the American Heart Association.

I am fortunate to have had thirteen years as a superintendent to watch this cohort of recent graduates grow up. I’ve watched them paint and build with blocks in kindergarten, tackle their early reading books in first grade, perform with Orff instruments in fourth grade, and rise up from fifth to sixth grade. They have demonstrated their creativity and critical thinking in Destination Imagination in middle school. I’ve watched them adopt a can do mindset in the AVID program as they head towards being a first generation college student in their families. I’ve observed them running student tech help desks in our libraries and working as auto mechanic interns in our bus garage.

This group of young people has created, made, designed, invented, engineered, and produced learning across all thirteen years of their K-12 education.

Our division is a better place today because of the Class of 2018.

They open our windows to the future…

 

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A New Year’s Resolution: Renewing Our Collective Commitment to Care

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Dear Colleagues:

This past week, Walton Middle School opened their doors to local residents to distribute food and toys to families in need. Students were part of the effort to collect these items, learning an important lesson about what it means to care about all the members of your community, even those who too often can be invisible in our thoughts.

Crozet Elem donates to Veterans Affairs Medical Center

What happened at Walton was not unique to that school of course; many of our students, staff and parents across our division come together at this and other times of the year to lend a hand to those who are in need. It is the most satisfying of expressions of our school division’s values.

This particularly is a year when such expressions reverberate with a higher voice. Even a casual observer of public events here and throughout our nation would acknowledge the importance of revisiting and strengthening our collective commitment to care about those whose life circumstances or beliefs differ from ours. Empathy is a difficult life skill to acquire and maintain under the best of circumstances much less in times of stress.

That’s why efforts such as the one at Walton, or programs such as Responsive Classroom, AVID, Culturally Responsive Teaching, Community Diversity Celebrations, Equity & Access, are so invaluable. They energize us to look beyond our own interests.

The Center for Public Education calls this An American Imperative. They note, “public schools are uniquely positioned to convey….such vital concepts in our civil society as integrity, individual responsibility, fairness, justice, patriotism, respect for others, doing a good job, being on time, working well with others, being a good citizen, and exercising democracy in government and other interactions.”

Conveying these values, the Center adds, “involves more than teachers lecturing or students reading about values. It involves day-to-day practices within the classroom that help students learn to recognize and exercise these values in everyday life.”

That’s why one of my favorite memories of 2017 was that of the Woodbrook third grader who wrote to her principal asking if the school could help students in Houston whose families had been victimized by Hurricane Harvey. With the help of her peers who gave up their ice cream money, Woodbrook’s students eventually sent nearly $1,000 to a heavily free-and-reduced lunch school in Houston, bringing tears to the eyes of the school’s principal.

Learning Civility Begins Early

Our strategic goal pledges us to prepare students for lifelong success as learners, workers and citizens. It is the citizen piece in particular where schools and their graduates will have the greatest long-term impact on the civility of our nation.

So especially in this season of giving, I want to thank each one of you for the selfless dedication you bring every day to your work with our students and families…. and for how well you model what it means to care deeply about one another and our community, to find satisfaction in working together to make each of us better and to find joy in seeing others overcome a hardship.

All the best to you and your family. Have a happy, healthy and rewarding holiday season.

Pam

Lifelong Learning through Environmental Sustainability

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Guest Blog by Lindsay Snoddy, Assistant Director for Environmental Health and Safety Albemarle County PUblic Schools

Environmental stewardship has a long history in Albemarle County Public Schools. The School Board formalized an environmental management policy in 2006 and honors their commitment to support programs for continual improvement. A program that began its focus on environmental compliance quickly grew to include sustainability and unique offerings for project-based learning, leading first to Crozet Elementary and then Stony Point Elementary School receiving US DOE Green Ribbon School Awards. Individual recognition of these schools was followed by the entire division being honored in 2017 with a district-wide US DOE Green Ribbon Schools District Sustainability Award.

Our Division’s sustainability program and environmental education programs also have led to our focus on energy efficiency and now 22 of our schools have earned the EPA ENERGY STAR label – a visible symbol to taxpayers that our schools are operating efficiently even as our students are learning to conserve energy in classrooms, cafeterias, bathrooms, and at home.

Environmental stewardship and sustainability programs allow us to provide opportunities to develop lifelong-learner skills while respecting and preserving natural resources and saving money. In addition to the US DOE Green Ribbon Award and the Energy Star Awards, the Division has also been recognized by the Virginia School Boards Association with a first place Go Green Virginia Challenge Award as well as the seventh annual Platinum recognition award as a division that, through policy and actions, practices conservation, sustainability, environmental education, and energy efficiency.

Many teachers and students have developed projects with an environmental focus – a few highlights follow.

Students recently designed and painting a storm drain mural at Monticello High School to educate all visitors on preventing storm water pollution.

 

 

 

 

Six schools (Agnor-Hurt, Stone-Robinson, Jouett, Monticello, Hollymead and Burley) are planning their designs for painting VDOT plows with environmental themes – the plows with student artwork will be seen around town throughout the winter storm season.

 

 

 

Students use the ambient air quality monitoring station at Albemarle High School to analyze particulate matter and ozone levels in our area. The station is operated by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and they offer operator tours of the sampling equipment.

Students also help with analysis of utility data from our school buildings and building site verification necessary to apply for the US Environmental Protection Agency ENERGY STAR label.

Students enjoy eating local menu items, like the hummus platter from The Farm at Red Hill, and learning from local farmers during Farm to School Week.

 

 

 

Teachers participated in a NEED solar workshop to learn about renewable energy technologies at our schools. Students can work with real-time data from solar photovoltaic systems at Henley, AHS, MHS, Brownsville, Baker-Butler, Greer, and Sutherland. These systems were put into place as the result of project work by students who lobbied at the state and local level to gain support for adding solar panels to our school roofs. 

 

Students can recharge as they relax at solar picnic tables at Albemarle High School, Western Albemarle High School, and Sutherland Middle School.

 

 

 

 

Western Albemarle High School students conduct an annual waste audit and created art work from recycled materials.

 

 

 

 

Some programs require frequent attention such as commercial composting in our cafeterias and recycling. Several schools tend their plants in vegetable gardens and greenhouses…and pollinator gardens. Students can see our resident pollinators at Monticello High School and Western Albemarle High School.

The MHS beekeeping club has been hard at work to establish their hives and tend to their bees. The School Board members have even sampled the honey from the first harvest at MHS. Future plans include turning the club into a small business for marketing and selling their honey to the community.

Our school facility operations contribute to learning directly and indirectly. We focus on indoor air quality and thermal comfort to create healthy learning environments. By utilizing an integrated pest management program, we monitor for pest activity and only utilize pesticides when other control methods have failed. To further improve the quality of our instructional environments, the School Board recently voted to proceed with new dimmable LED lighting in all classrooms that currently have fluorescent lighting. This project creates enough utility savings to pay for itself through an energy performance contract. The more energy-efficient lighting will reduce electricity consumption by over 6,000,000 kWh and 3,700 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

Our work to educate both students and our staff about their environmental impact and to make thoughtful decisions that lead to conservation of our natural resources represents our division’s commitment to sustainability and lifelong learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Are Back in School!

IMG_4100Albemarle County Public Schools: One Student-Centered Goal ..

All Albemarle County Public Schools students will graduate having actively mastered the lifelong-learning skills they need to succeed as 21st century learners, workers and citizens.

Albemarle Schools Strategic Plan

sch-opening-boxThe 2017-18 School Year is well underway across all 25 Albemarle County Public Schools. I am always delighted each year to visit every school in the first week to see our teachers and students come together to form new communities of learning. It is a joy to watch as our youngest children enter school for the first time and are greeted by teachers who are ready to help them make the transition into preschool and kindergarten. They learn in kindergarten to work and play with others and to negotiate their way around their schools. In many ways, children begin to acquire the lifelong learning competencies that we value for our graduates on the first day of school.

sch-opening-cabelSimilar transitions occur in middle and high schools as sixth and ninth graders enter their schools, finding that their status as the school elders in elementary and middle schools has now shifted to being the youngest students again in new buildings in which they join peers from other schools to form even larger communities of learners and learning. Our middle and high schools set up structures to ease new students into school schedules, activities, and learning expectations. This can mean time with school counselors, discussions in advisory periods such as the Developmental Design model we use in middle schools, and informal and formal visits with administrators and teachers who help with individual learning or social-emotional needs.

This year, the School Board approved funding in its 2017-18 budget for one new initiative to address the social emotional and academic needs of students with risk factors. The SEAD team concept has been put in place in four urban elementary schools to support professional development of teachers in the schools to better equip them with competencies for working with students with learning challenges. The SEAD team is working with community agencies and non-profits to also better leverage local wrap around services for students with social, emotional, or academic needs.  Benchmark data across multiple indicators will be used to monitor effectiveness of the SEAD team concept and its impact on student learning, absenteeism, behavior, and social-emotional competencies.

Imagine driving up to fifty children to and from school every day…

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Since my first day as superintendent, I have ridden a school bus, often getting on the bus when light has just touched the morning sky. Watching the drivers check their manifest and listening to the chirrup of the drivers and dispatch over the bus radio reminds me that our drivers are professionally trained drivers, all with a CDL license, and hours behind the wheel learning not how to manage goods in a tractor-trailer but rather how to safely transport as many as 50 students to and from school each day. They watch for the drivers who are not watching for our buses to be sure our children stay safely until they can be waved to the bus. They eye their mirrors to be sure whether a passenger is 4 or 18 that they remain safely seated.

As our young people enter the bus on the first day, our drivers greet them with a smile, often by name. Parents entrusting their children for the first time to our drivers often linger at the bottom of the steps watching as their four- or five-year olds take their seats. Our buses drive upwards of 14,000 miles every day across the 726 square miles of Albemarle County Public Schools. At the beginning of this year, we celebrated well over 5 million miles of safe driving and maintained an on-time arrival rate of 98% or better, division-wide, throughout the entirety of the past school year. Our Transportation Department sees safe transportation of children as Job #1!

Bond referendum support makes new spaces and security entrances possible this year …

sch-openingThis past November, the bond referendum to modernize schools and add critically needed security entrances to several schools was approved by almost 75% of our county voters. This year, Jack Jouett and Walton Middle Schools have new science learning labs, Western has begun its planning for new science and academy lab spaces, and Baker-Butler and Scottsville Elementary Schools have new security entrances moving forward for completion in this school year. The Woodbrook Elementary addition and modernization of the existing school is underway to open in 2018-19. This modernization of facilities is long overdue given the age of schools across the division.

The added capacity at Woodbrook Elementary will offer some relief to growth occurring in Albemarle’s urban ring. However, the Long-range Planning Committee and School Board are closely monitoring growth in the northern corridor, at Pantops, along Avon and Fifth Street Extended, and in the Crozet growth areas. While our rural schools are in general projected for enrollment declines, we are experiencing growth in other areas of the county.

High school over-capacity enrollment at Albemarle High School has been a target for study this past year and a consultation team’s recommendation will be brought forward to the School Board for consideration of a strategy or strategies to address over-enrollment before November 2018.

Virginia’s Profile of the Graduate and High School 2022 Planning Advances …

sch-opening-rickThe Virginia Board of Education is poised to take action on changes to current regulations for high school graduates as well as school accreditation in general. For high school students, a reduction in state requirements for verified credits is proposed to impact the entering students entering high school in 2018 who will graduate in 2022. The intention of proposed changes is to increase opportunities for students to engage in work-based experiences, independent studies, and internships before exiting high school as well as coursework aligned to the competencies associated with the 5Cs: communication, critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, and citizenship. Information about proposed Profile of the Graduate model can be accessed by clicking here.

In anticipation of Virginia’s implementation of the Profile of the Graduate model, Albemarle County educators have spent two years in a team supplemented with advisory group feedback from representative parents, students, and business community members developing High School 2022, a program guide to proposed changes essential to implementing the state’s model. The current work to address high school capacity and modernization will align with the strategic work of our own high school community members.  For more information on High School 2022, click here.

Welcome to the 2017-18 School Year! To reach your child’s school, communication information can be found here.

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A Letter to Our Albemarle and Charlottesville School Communities

Dear Members of our School Communities:

The events of this weekend were tragic beyond words, and as such events always do, they extracted a heavy price. A wonderful young lady was taken from us. Two brave and devoted public servants also lost their lives. Many of our neighbors suffered injuries and trauma, and all of us are sharing in the pain.

One national television reporter asked how Charlottesville will now feel to have its name linked in memory to other cities and towns across our country that have suffered from unspeakable crimes against humanity.

How will we feel and what will we do?

The memory of this weekend’s events should survive as a community that responded forcefully in overcoming the darkest impulses of those who traffic in hatred, intolerance, and brute force.

The message from Charlottesville to our nation must be stronger than ever before—that we are a community that values the safety of every person, the dignity of every resident, the respect of every background, the equality of every opportunity, and the strength of every collaboration that promotes the common good.

As they should be, the values of our communities are found in our public schools. Our schools, after all, are the source of our greatest dreams and aspirations for our children. It is where we learn about the power of ideas, the importance of history, the strength of community, and the right of every child to reach their highest potential.

Our schools are where we make acquaintance with civic responsibility. The work we do in our schools must always bring to life our nation’s most sacred promise—“to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

There is no room in this sacred promise for hatred, racism, violence and intolerance.

The answer to the question from the national media about how Charlottesville will be known is that we will be known as the community that rededicated itself to the promise of America and to those ideals that define our nation’s highest calling.

We will be known as a community whose teachers and staff will continue to do what the best educators always have done—stand tall in modeling these American ideals in their work every day.

Dr. Rosa S. Atkins, Superintendent
Mr. Juandiego R. Wade, Board Chair

Charlottesville City Schools

Dr. Pamela R. Moran, Superintendent
Dr. Katherine L. Acuff, Board Chair

Albemarle County Public Schools

A Letter to Our Teachers

Horace Mann is a name not unknown to public school educators. He was the first officer ever appointed to a public school board more than 175 years ago and an historian once wrote of him—

No one did more to establish in the minds of the American people the conception that education should be universal, non-sectarian, free, and that its aims should be social efficiency, civic virtue, and character, rather than mere learning or the advancement of education ends.

The connection between classroom and community is quite a legacy and one that is as meaningful and powerful today as it has been throughout human history.

photo courtesy of                                     Rob Garland, MoHS teacher

Locally, this is the week of our Golden Apple celebrations and nationally, it is a week devoted to the recognition of teachers in every one of the more than 13,500 school divisions across America.

 It has been a lifetime habit of mine when talking with people I’ve met from all walks of life to ask them the same question—who was your favorite teacher? It is one question that always gets answered and I always enjoy and learn from the stories that follow. The teachers are different; from all disciplines and from grade levels but they share in common the spark they ignited within the story-teller. Time may have blurred the recollections of many childhood experiences but everyone always remembers the teacher who changed their life.

I may be biased but I know Albemarle County Public Schools has more life-changers in the classroom per capita than any other school division in the country. Our teachers long have been champions of holistic education, transferring knowledge and skill development and also building among students a strong sense of respect and decency in how we treat one another; an unshakeable bond of friendship and support for all others and a desire to work together for a common purpose.

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Long before concepts such as student-centered learning and maker-infused curriculum entered our lexicon, teachers were practicing these principles and giving students stories to tell for the rest of their lives.

Our one strategic goal commits us to prepare students for lifelong success as learners, workers and…..citizens. The learning and working part of this has obvious import to quality of life but the citizen part, the values part, is deeper. Our administrators and our classified staff, and most of all, our teachers, are very good at understanding this.

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Mr. and Mrs. Nunley, Golden Apple Award sponsors with John Baran, MoHS teacher

Going back to Horace Mann, he was advocating for universal, non-sectarian and free public education at a time when our nation looked and was very different from what it is today. Yet, almost two centuries later, we remain the most successful, prosperous, compassionate and generous nation on earth.

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Director Jennings and Bearettes

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Learning in Our Schools: Community Support is Essential

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Spring is one of the busiest times of the year in our schools. Competitions abound; regional and national science fairs, Destination Imagination, National History Day, athletic teams,wahs-hd-10 and so much more. Drama students are putting final touches on performances or smiling because their the performance is a wrap. Music students are preparing for spring performances and the Fine Arts Festival at Fashion Square Mall has been viewed by thousands of community members and finally taken down after a month-long exhibition.

 

 

Our elementary schools have many spring evening activities planned involving students; Art Shows, Quest Fests, STEAM fairs to Design and Make nights. It’s a time for field trips to museums and historical sites such as Washington, D.C., Richmond, and Williamsburg. The promahe-trip-8s are over and our seniors anticipate their final walk across the stage, a day when they are still Albemarle students in one moment and graduates of our schools in the next.

All of the fine work accomplished by our young people occurs because of partnerships that result in the enriched opportunities we support in our schools. We celebrate all the positive accomplishments of our young people and value the partnerships we have with parents, community volunteers in our schools, and business community contributors who help make our schools wonderful environments for our children.

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DAR volunteers at Stone Robinson Elem

Teachers work hard every day to engage our learners in activities that challenge them to think deeply as they problem-solve, plan and conduct research, defend arguments, communicate through a variety of forms of media, learn to live a fit and healthy lifestyle, create, and develop skills of logical and analytical reasoning. This does not happen by chance. This work occurs because of our division’s focus on Lifelong Learning Competencies, skills, dispositions, and knowledge work that will be useful not just in school but well after our young people have moved into adulthood.

beeteam-4 I’ve had the recent experience of watching a group of Monticello High School students research, develop, and implement a plan to bring bee hives to the school grounds as a part of their environmental sciences studies.

 

 

3-sre-projFourth graders at Stone-Robinson Elementary demonstrated a variety of projects they constructed from cardboard illustrating potential and kinetic energy.

 

 

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Just last week, National Society of Black Engineers Junior members from Burley Middle School recently showcased for parents and staff their projects to build robots and write app programs.

 

 

2-youth-summitThe capstone project for teen representatives from all of our regional high schools occurred during the TomTom Festival when students from city, county, and private schools attended a Youth Summit planned and run by students for students to share their talents, big ideas for the future of school, and entrepreneurial pitches for projects they dream to make come true.
catec-auto-5In a visit to CATEC, automotive students shared their work under the hood and talked about their futures. I listened as one senior, a young woman, described her enlistment in the Navy with hopes of becoming an aviation mechanic. She informed me that this would be a path to a wonderful career, one that she sees as a positive step in her life after high school.

In every visit I make to our schools, I have the pleasure of talking with students and teachers as they share their work with me. I am amazed at the performances, the art work, the challenging projects, and the competitive accomplishments of our students. They are doing so much more rigorous work than occurred in high school fifty or thirty or even fifteen years ago and our students graduate in greater numbers, attend more highly competitive colleges and universities, and provide community service through social good projects in higher numbers than ever recorded in our community.

This doesn’t happen by chance. It happens because education matters in Albemarle County. And, even as our community grows more diverse, our students continue to thrive with support from volunteers, excellent teaching staff, and their parents.  Not every school in America is fortunate to be situated in a such a community. We are and I do not take that for granted.

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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