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

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Community Partners Make a Difference … 

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

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

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

I Learned something new, too …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Teachers Matter Most

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLEkiIWV6oE]

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

Schools matter. Learning tools matter. Teachers matter most.

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On Young People, Leaders, and Leadership

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high school summer intern at work

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

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High school students engaged in their passion for music

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

 

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

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

Here are some perspectives I shared.

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, their voices do make a difference.