Lifelong Learning through Environmental Sustainability

Featured

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

golden-apple-3      golden-apple-6golden-apple-5

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.

golden-apple-1

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.

IMG_4100

Director Jennings and Bearettes

IMG_1474

Learning in Our Schools: Community Support is Essential

Featured

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.

dar11

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.

 

 

1-nsbe

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.

ahs-orch-7 wahs-play-6 art-6

 

2016: Congratulations Graduates

Featured

Graduation Days:

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

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

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

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

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

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

grad7

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

grad6

Teachers Matter Most

Featured

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.

dec blog 7dec blog 3dec blog 5

 

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

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

Schools matter. Learning tools matter. Teachers matter most.

IMG_1474

 

On Young People, Leaders, and Leadership

Featured

12 interns

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!

3 clarinets

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.

 

 

To Over 1000 Graduates: A Graduation Note of Reflection

Featured

“You make a living by what you get,

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

To the Class of 2015:

Live Stream Team

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

grad152

Mustang grad
Cale volunteer

 

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

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

  Here’s what I heard about you:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

grad158

Patriots’ selfie stick
camera shot

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

Smart technologies are everywhere.

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

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

You will shape that history through your own actions.

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

grad1523

Good Friends     Always Warriors

 

As you transition from your current to future communities,

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

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

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

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

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

grad1514

Murray Graduation
Relationships Matter

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

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

 

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

grad1516 grad1517 grad1518 grad1519 grad1520 grad1521

(A few notes from the class of 2015 graduation)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Performance Doesn’t Happen By Chance

Featured

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

robotics

 

 

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

Featured

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

An Introduction to the Student Teaching Experience

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

geniushour

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

Claire’s Classroom Experience

Ms. Cantrell’s blog profile:

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

Update: We Are Readers (Capital R)

claire3

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

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

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

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

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

claire4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Making the World’s History Real: China Past, Present, Future

Ms. Mulcahy

Elizabeth Mulcahy, Western Albemarle teacher, is one of those great educators and teacher leaders working in Albemarle County Public Schools who looks for ways to make the World History curriculum she teaches as relevant, interesting and challenging as possible for her students. She believes in project-based learning and is a supporter of the National History Day program as a tool for building great research and presentation skills in the young people she serves as a teacher. As a colleague says about Ms Mulcahy, “she brings history alive.” In a day and age when we hear media complaints about children not knowing their own nation’s or world history, teachers such as Ms. Mulcahy work daily to make our history/social studies program one that engages and interests our learners.

learning relevance and challenge is key

I heard a high school student who attended the Albemarle Leadership Academy this past summer comment recently to teachers in a Making Connections professional learning session that “It’s teachers who are passionate about their work and love what they are doing who create passion for learning in us.” Such teachers, as this young woman describes, build strong teaching relationships with students, learning relationships among students, and  a connection between the content they teach and the students in the class.

I had the chance to hear Ms. Mulcahy speak to regional superintendents recently about an educational trip she took over the summer to visit the People’s Republic of China through the University of Virginia School-University Partnership. She applied for and was awarded a merit scholarship to cover her expenses. In the session with superintendents, she noted that Chinese educators were asking our U.S. educators how to enhance creativity and thinking in their classes, rather than continuing the low-level test prep curricula that has dominated their instruction for decades. The Chinese understand it’s the inventors, idea-generators, designers, researchers, engineers, and builders who will own the future of the 21st century, not those who simply can do the factory work of present-day China. We educators know from Shift Happens that the top 15% of students in China or India exceeds the number of students in the entire United States. This is why we believe that every student in our schools has to graduate with the competitive competencies of lifelong learners and are ready to enter the workforce, post-secondary education, and adult citizenship; Goal I of our strategic planning.

Ms. Mulcahy also spoke about how she is both adding more relevant exploration and understanding of China topics into her world history program as the result of her trip.  At the November 8 School Board meeting, Ms. Mulcahy was “spotlighted” for her professional work and had the chance to share her experiences and expertise with the School Board.  Here’s a short  post at her blog about her trip and a video showing what the educators saw in China:

A Husband’s Dream

After returning from my first trip to Asia, I realized that one of my husband’s greatest dreams can be achieved in China.  He could have Kentucky Fried Chicken delivered to him at pretty much any time of day.  As I quickly took a picture of the KFC bike delivery guy I realized what a small world we really do live in.  For seven years I have been attempting to teach world history to high school students who have never seen the world.  US history is easier.  Students can pronounce the name George and they can walk on a Civil War battlefield with just a small drive.  By making their backyards the classroom they can experience history for themselves and are naturally more connected.  The same is not true for World History, especially when trying to describe the Sahara Desert or pronounce Qin ShiHuang.  It is up to the teacher to try and make the world small enough for students to create one history for them to experience and find their place within.  My goal as an educator is to help my students realize their dreams and passions even if it is a KFC delivery bike on the streets of Shanghai.

Posted by at 10:00 PM

Thank you Ms. Mulcahy for sharing your perspectives!