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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Spring Updates: From Homework to Henley’s New Fitness Center

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Stay Tuned: Homework Policy Under Consideration

Spring flies by in our schools as we begin the approach to the end of the school year. The days are longer and our learners are out on playing fields until dark and then heading home for family time and sometimes hours of homework.

Because of concerns about the time some students spend on homework, the School Board’s Health Advisory Board (parents and health professionals from our community) requested that the School Board consider changes in policy to more clearly regulate the amount of time students spend on homework on a weekly basis. The Health Advisory Board brought this recommendation forward because of their belief that our students’ overall health and wellness must be supported by adequate nightly sleep, family time, and down time away from school work.

As a result of this recommendation, school staff have been engaged in discussions about homework for well over a year using information homework research, surveys of parents, teachers, and students, and direct feedback from groups such as Parent Council and Teacher Advisory. As analysis of feedback and data are brought to closure, the School Board will consider final recommendations from staff and determine any changes to be made in its current homework policy.

Henley Middle School Fitness Center Opens

In the United States, anyone who follows mainstream media knows that many common adult diseases result from underlying causes that we can control.  As reported by the Presidential Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, many Americans do not lead a fit and healthy lifestyle and this begins at an early age. While a poor diet is a known culprit, lack of exercise is also a contributor to what some call lifestyle diseases.

Henley gym3On April 25, Henley Middle School celebrated the grand opening of its new “fit for life” fitness center which includes indoor and outdoor areas for gym activities, strengthening and conditioning, and aerobic workouts. After a ribbon cutting by two students, eighth graders demonstrated the different areas to School Board members, community members, staff and local media.

And, how do middle school students describe their new fitness center? Awesome … Challenging … fun … hard… love it ….. Great… really good .. amazing!

Hneley gymPhysical education teachers at Henley envisioned the fitness center as a more effective space in which to teach young people the competencies needed to lead a fit and healthy lifestyle into adulthood. Rather than requesting a second traditional gym to accommodate increased student enrollment, the PE teachers researched and recommended the fitness center concept to staff and architects charged by the Board to address the significant overcrowding of the school’s gym. The current gym has been used to serve the physical education needs of over 800 students even though it was constructed to serve many fewer students.

Henley gym2The Henley fitness center was created at no more cost than building a second gym but allows teachers to engage students in a variety of fitness activities that cannot be accomplished in a traditional gym environment.

Top Performance Doesn’t Happen By Chance

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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.

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The Funding Challenge: Sustaining Our Portfolio of Educational Excellence

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Funding from the Commonwealth for K-12 education has dropped over the past seven years. This drop has shifted the burden of responsibility for education in Albemarle and other localities to local taxpayers’ property taxes. If per pupil revenues from the state had remained flat over this time period, Albemarle County Public Schools would have no funding gap in the 2015-16 funding request because we would receive $3.8 million in additional state revenues for FY16. This is not the case. The current revenue gap for the school division is $2.7 million. This creates a challenge for the Board to sustain commitments to quality programming, growth needs, and excellent staff to serve the 13,500 students enrolled in our schools.

Past Board investments in a Portfolio of Educational Excellence have allowed us to sustain commitments to programs, staff, and students so that we didn’t fall behind either market-competitive compensation or program services to students. Today, Pk-12 programs serve young people well because of past investments to recruit and retain a top-notch workforce.

However, the current FY16 funding request challenges our capability to both keep up with market-driven staff compensation while continuing to sustain and enhance the educational services that our community values and supports. This means that past cuts and reductions in funding allocations impact to such an extent that we are faced with the need to catch up in these areas :

  • salary compensation and benefits coverage,

  • purchase of learning resources,

  • facilities and classroom modernization in areas such as science labs,

  • professional development and training to develop and extend content and teaching expertise.

It’s important to realize that we cannot keep up current services when revenues do not move apace with the costs of inflation, compensation and benefit expenses, growth, and directed/mandated services.

Sustaining the Board’s market-compensation commitment to staff is the top priority expressed by every demographic group surveyed earlier in the school year. Due to revenue gaps, staff likely will not receive Human Resources’ recommended market-competitive salary increase – unless more funding becomes available. Instead, a phased-in raise during the 2015-16 School Year is the likely action.

Take home pay is less today than it was five years ago for teachers and other staff including those working in local government. Like others experiencing wage stagnation, our educators are finding it difficult to make ends meet as health insurance costs rise, Virginia Retirement System changes have taken a big bite out of paychecks, and cost of living adjustments remain nonexistent. This isn’t just a problem here. It’s occurring all over the United States. The recession has impacted education. Today, fewer college students are choosing to major in education, practitioners are switching to more lucrative careers, and the boomers are exiting the profession to retirement. While this might not impact today or tomorrow, this trend has deep implications for the future of a strong educational workforce here in our community.

Why should we ALL care about sustaining commitment to excellent schools, to supporting breadth of programs that serve young people, and hiring the best educators we can find?

Our Portfolio of Educational Excellence represents the core values of a premier community with one of the overall highest educational levels in the United States. The capability of higher education and the business community to attract top employees and develop the local economy is dependent upon excellent public schools. The quality of our schools impacts Albemarle real estate values. However, the most important reason why we need to sustain our programs, services, class sizes, and competitive market walks through our school doors every day.

Our children.

What have past Boards and our community considered as valuable investments in our Portfolio of Educational Excellence over the last two decades?

  • We have implemented a competitive market strategy to recruit and retain excellent Albemarle teachers by paying at the bottom of the top quartile of a competitive market which includes contiguous counties and selected counties in northern, Tidewater, Richmond area, and southwest Virginia.
  • Our schools have some of the smallest average class sizes in Virginia – ranking us in the top tier of small class sizes among the elite northern Virginia divisions and the Charlottesville City Schools that represent the highest per pupil expenses in the state. For comparison, Albemarle County Schools rank 1st in elementary, fourth in middle school, and third in high school class sizes despite per pupil expenses that are the third lowest in this cohort performance benchmark group.

IMG_0682Students take advantage of a comprehensive K-12 arts program that is recognized at the local, state and national level as one of the best, including the addition of a new secondary summer fine arts academy in 2014. While many divisions have reduced arts commitments, Albemarle’s School Board has sustained visual and performing programs.

 

  • The K-12 physical education program taught by licensed PE staff represents both the time and activities necessary for young people to build lifelong wellness and fitness knowledge and skills.

IMG_41006-12 AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) services supports over 300 students who will be first generation college students, providing courses to build skills, knowledge and strategies essential to performing at high levels in college preparatory classes with mentoring support typical among college-educated families.

wahsDifferentiated high school academy options allow young people to pursue specific interests such as health and medical sciences, engineering, and environmental studies during the regular year and visual/fine arts, computer programming, and leadership during the summer.

  • Comprehensive college curricula includes a broad offering of advanced placement and dual enrollment courses open to students who wish to pursue college credits in high school.

DI robotsNumerous gifted and talented and general enrichment options include robotics, Destination Imagination, National History Day, Westinghouse Science Fair, UVA Writers’ Eye, Governors’ Schools, VHSL competitive activities from drama to athletics, and so much more.

 

  • Nationally recognized K-12 library programs and facilities offer contemporary access to research, communication resources, and activities that allow libraries to be open and accessible to students and staff to search, connect, communicate and make learning.

IMG_9532A  6-12 contemporary Career and Technical Education lab program addresses both the interests and needs of students who will enter future workforces – with focus on developing transportable life skills that are important in school, at home, and at work. A lab school partnership with UVa, the Smithsonian, and Charlottesville City Schools offers middle school students an interdisciplinary STEM curricula.

  • The division’s nationally recognized instructional coaching model provides pedagogical and content development support directly to teachers with particular focus on mentoring and assisting novice teachers. This program is part of a package of strategies to help recruit, develop and retain excellent teachers, a return on investment.

  • The Board’s commitment sustains a value for community schools so children are educated as close to where they live as possible.
  • The Division values its partnership with local government as we together capture efficiencies through shared services and activities in Human Resources, Finance, Transportation, Technology, Pre-Kindergarten, the Comprehensive Services Act for special education, and Legal Services to the Board.

CATEC buildersSustained community partnerships offer extended learning opportunities for students through Piedmont Virginia Community College, the University of Virginia, the Charlottesville- Albemarle Tech Ed Center (Charlottesville Schools), private sector businesses and corporations, and community agencies.

 

  • A pilot elementary world languages program at Cale Elementary adds depth to the opportunities for young children to learn a second language when their brains are most receptive to developing language competencies.
  • Pk-12 intervention and prevention services address economically disadvantaged children who may enter school with learning gaps, English as Second Language Learners, handicapped learners, potential dropouts, and students with mental health and emotional needs.

Monticello High Music Industry Class Writes Lyrics and Records Music

Top performance by Albemarle students in arts, academics, and athletics has led to a graduates who excel by any measure. The total drop out rate for students in the class of 2014 of 2.3% represents a total of just twenty-three students who dropped out of school between ninth and twelfth grade. Our recent graduates were accepted at close to 300 different colleges and universities including 20 of the 25 top private and 21 of the top 25 public colleges and universities in the nation.

Excellence is a hallmark of our community’s public schools, representing the investments of generations who have lived here in Albemarle County. Public education is a heritage for our community going back to its roots in the earliest decades of United States history. Mr. Jefferson saw the need for public education and he influenced the state and nation to embrace public schooling. Why? He knew that public education was essential to a strong and thriving citizenry.

Here in a county that set in motion the birth of the United States of America, it seems only appropriate that today we should be a model for educating all of our young people well – boys, girls, children of color, the handicapped, the immigrants.

Monticello Jan. 14. 18.

“A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens, from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest, of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest.”  Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C, Cabell

 

 

Educational Excellence: A Community Commitment to Our Future

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Excellence in education is how any society prepares for a successful future. Whether we look near – the Virginia public education ideas pioneered by Thomas Jefferson – or further – the economic success in the 1950s and 1960s of states with large investments in education – or much further – nations such as Ireland which transformed their economies through education – we understand that great schools, and a commitment to education for all, are the pathway to both prosperity and democracy.

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Fifth Graders Raise the U.S. Flag Each Morning

Here in Albemarle County we have always known this as true, and we have consistently chosen to make such a community commitment to our future. That’s found in decisions to build new regional high schools in the 1970s and 1990s, to the aggressive replacement of aging elementary schools over past decades, to the wide support for our top quality programs including gifted programs, special education, English-language education, art, music, library services, physical education, world languages, and career-technical education. It’s also represented in a community belief in our customized programs such as our two charter schools, 3 STEM academies, CATEC, AVID (a program to prepare first generation college students), and Bright Stars pre-kindergarten programs.

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400 Student Musicians Now Play Strings in Albemarle County Schools

These commitments, joined to our promise of the kind of individualized support possible because of small class sizes and community schools, and linked to the continuous innovation which provides our students with contemporary skills, have led Albemarle County into a position of educational leadership which has supported this area becoming the most economically successful community in all of Central Virginia.

Albemarle County parents, educators, and our business community share a high standard of excellence in our educational aspirations for all Albemarle’s children, just as we share high expectations for our community’s future. That expected educational excellence means not just all those programs already mentioned, but also a broad range of top-notch extracurricular opportunities across athletics, arts, academics and clubs.

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Analytical Thinkers   At Work

It means keeping elementary and secondary students on separate buses and on separate start and end schedules in our schools. It means teachers being highly competent in not just their content areas but also in their expertise to work with every learner who enters our schools. It means competitive market compensation and professional training to recruit and retain top-notch employees. It means availability of the best learning resources in every classroom and library, both traditional and contemporary. It means maintaining our buildings and grounds so that we avert the high cost of maintenance when repairs are deferred and so that when people enter our schools they know that our taxpayers’ investments in infrastructure are valued through our care.

Excellence means that our educators work with our young people every day to meet community expectations for high performance benchmarked not just against Virginia’s standards but also compared to the top performing schools across the United States – the schools that graduate the young people our children will compete with for college admissions and for jobs as they move through their adult lives. And, excellence means that we support our educators so that they are sure to meet those performance benchmarks year after year in arts, academics, athletics, community service, and leadership.

The success of our schools – on every measure – is well documented. The honors for our work come continuously. But of most importance, we know that our commitment to excellence represents our community’s values – values which have been held dear despite a long season of recession over the past five years.

We know this because our community and business leaders have made it clear.

Our realtors know our Division adds value to real estate portfolios.  Just go to their websites.

“Add the gorgeous environment, more commercial development…, fabulous public school reputations at all three levels, and lack of development elsewhere in the county, Crozet became attractive to even folks commuting up 29N for NGIC and DIA positions.”

“Do better schools increase house prices? From my perspective as a Realtor in the Charlottesville area, the answer is yes. I have never had buyers tell me that they wanted to live in a bad school district; but virtually every single one – whether they have kids or not – wants to be in a good school district. Frankly, I don’t need metrics or analysis or data to support my conclusion; I know that people buying homes in Charlottesville and Albemarle want good schools.”

Our growing BioTech community and Charlottesville Business Innovation Council members support school programs and value our educators’ work that helps a regional tech economy grow.

Solution Finding

Solution Finding

Our local higher education and business community in general want to sustain public school excellence because great schools are an asset to the entire community, whether in recruiting employees or ensuring that families have access to excellent educational opportunities for their children.

“At the University of Virginia, it’s important to our faculty and staff to have strong local schools for their families. The University is also engaged in various partnership programs with local schools, and these partnerships have had a long-standing, mutually beneficial effect in our community.”   

                                 -President Teresa Sullivan, University of Virginia                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Our citizens, including the growing number of retirees locating here, want to sustain a highly successful and crime free community, one that provides a rich and vibrant culture in Mr. Jefferson’s home county. Rather than adding to a community’s social services and criminal justice costs, they know a well-educated workforce benefits a community’s quality of life. Because of our community’s commitment to educational excellence, rather than aspiring to average, the school division is touted as significant to why this county ranks as one of the best places to live, work, raise families, and retire in the United States.   
Educational excellence is the gold standard for top communities in the United States. Albemarle’s citizens know that. It’s why they support devoting resources to provide quality learning opportunities for all our children. And, that’s a legacy from Mr. Jefferson that still resonates today. 
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Welcome 2014!

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It’s hard to believe that we’ve flipped the calendar page to 2014. As some researchers suggest, the older you are the faster that time appears to fly, a bit like the changes in technology we now experience annually in our lives. Yet, educational pundits sometimes say that if Rip Van Winkle awoke and dropped into the modern world, the one place that wouldn’t seem much changed to him would be a school. Now I know our Albemarle schools haven’t stood still here, but over the winter break I’ve thought about where we were in 1999, where we are now and what comes next …

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multi-age coders in summer Coder Dojo

Remember Y2K?

It seems as if just yesterday, the newspapers and news channels were full of stories about the potential crash of the world as we entered a new century. Some were convinced that technology would fail and the world would end as we had known it in the 20th century. Water bottles and non-perishable foods flew off the shelves as people prepared for power grids, banks, phone service, and communication networks to stop functioning.

Yet, here we are. We’ve made it almost halfway through the second decade of the 21st century and the computing speed of technology follows Moore’s Law, changing with rapidity since we worried about surviving “1999 to 2000.” In ’99, most people only vicariously understood the power of evolving technologies to change the world.Today, the experience of using powerful technologies is ubiquitous. In fact, the number of cell phones will exceed the total world human population in 2014.

Today we are learning to integrate new tech language, devices, virtual tools, communication networks, and learning options inside and outside the walls of places we call school. Day by day, new modes of communicating, seeking, constructing and creating knowledge change the world’s stock of what people understand and can do. Some research even supports that use of contemporary technologies may wire our brains differently, adults and children.

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Third Grader using mobile device to create portfolio link for parent conference

Consumer Changes

Mobile computing devices that most of us carry in our pockets are more powerful than the computer systems responsible for navigating the first astronauts to the Moon and back. Our current purchases aren’t determined by the reach of transportation to stores in our local community or catalogs from which we can order. We surf the web to find and order what we want from eBay, chain stores, and even obscure internet “storefronts’ in other nations.

We once lamented that bookstore chains such as Barnes and Noble would put small independent book sellers out of business. Today, we hear that online merchants such as Amazon may put Barnes and Noble out of business. We once were limited mostly to medical access and availability of health interventions within a regional service area.Today, medical services and consultation have become part of a medical delivery model spanning states and nations. For example, the University of Virginia Medical Center offers a vast of array of telemedicine services including teleconference support to physicians for outreach and educational consultation purposes. And if home deliveries by drone seem like a pipe dream, the FAA just commissioned testing of drones by six public sites including Virginia Tech.

Workforce Changes

Over the last fourteen years, new technologies have changed just about every current career that a high school graduate may choose to pursue. For example, the contemporary Automotive Mechanic, according to the Virginia.Gov career guide must be able to exhibit (along with skills and aptitudes) knowledge of tools that are quite advanced beyond those of the 20th century mechanic:

  • Machines and tools, including their designs, uses, repair, and maintenance.

  • Circuit boards, processors, chips, electronic equipment, and computer hardware and software, including applications and programming.

  • Practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.

Educational Changes

Our children are growing up in a world where they are surrounded by evolving technologies. The expectations for workforce entry, community and citizen engagement, and post-secondary learning all involve new competencies of technology literacy and applications. Yet, much of the time young people spend with new technologies often seems more for entertainment purposes than for learning. However, we also know that these technologies can become powerful learning tools when used with learning purposes in mind and when adults understand how to create those pathways.

Over break, I’ve witnessed children reading on e-readers, solving interesting problems in Minecraft, writing code as shared in a parent-posted video, searching the web for science info, and skyping with a grandparent in another state.  Technology opens pathways for learning that didn’t exist just ten years ago and while I don’t know an educator who doesn’t value their capability to support learners face to face, I also know many teachers who see integration of new technologies as advancing educational opportunities as significantly as the printing press technology did in 1450.

 If forced to pick one grand challenge facing education communities today, I believe it’s figuring out how to appropriately transition to uses of contemporary technologies that advance access and opportunity for learners, without losing the basic social nature of human learning.

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Band director working with students in a music industry lab

After all, it’s the interactions among learners and with teachers that power up the learning potential of technologies whether in writing poetry, composing music, coding in Java, or repairing cars. We know that humans exert a mediating influence upon each other to consider different solutions to problems, to scaffold knowledge and experiences into new learning, to stimulate curiosity and interests, and to connect ideas. We humans have always networked to learn from campfires to the Internet. We have always been storytellers and makers.

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Constructing buildings (measurement and geometry)

As we move forward through 2014, confronted by old challenges of funding educational resources (remember a box of pencils for a class in 1999 cost about $2.60 vs. one mobile computing device which will range from $250-$900 depending upon application) and recruiting and retaining excellent educators, I know that we are in a turning point to figure out how technology will be used by educators to effectively and appropriately support learners and learning, not just serve up the newest tech tool.

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Collaboration on physics problem solving

The grand challenge associated with making investments in contemporary learning resources while sustaining viable face-to-face learning communities won’t be figured out by any one school board member, superintendent, principal, teacher, technology specialist, or parent. Instead, this challenge demands that we all work together to make sense of what’s in the best learning interests of our young people as they make their way into a future that will be very different from the 18th century of Rip Van Winkle or the 20th century in which I was schooled. It’s definitely time to do that work.

Happy New Year!

Just the Facts: The 2013-14 School Board Funding Request

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If it’s February, it must be … Albemarle County’s budget development season.

The School Board has approved its funding request for 2013-14 and moved it forward to the Board of Supervisors for consideration. This “maintenance of effort” proposal, based on input and feedback from advisory groups and staff represents continued division work to meet the School Board’s Vision, Mission, Goals and Core Values for our young people.

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The School Board funding request includes a commitment to increasing staff so that class sizes remain low – despite the trending growth in the numbers of children enrolled in our schools.

It also represents the cost of doing business to address increased costs such as health insurance. 

Finally, it represents unfunded mandates from DC and Richmond such as the Governor’s mandated salary increase of 5% last year that offsets the pass-on cost to localities of the state-mandated public employee 5% contribution to the Virginia Retirement System. Such mandates add costs to the overall budget to implement federal and state initiatives, ones that often wouldn’t be the highest priorities of the community, educators, or the School Board.

Other facts associated with the 2013-14 School Board funding request

1. We are allocating less revenue per student now than five years ago, despite inflation in the cost of doing business. In the 2008-09 budget, we allocated $11,819. For 2013-14, we estimate allocating $11,691. 

2. Current projected revenues for 2013-14 are $154,077,551. The current projected expenses are $155,444,689. The funding gap is $ (1,367,138.)

3. Student enrollment is expected to grow by 203 students from 2012 to 2013-14. The  budget includes staffing needed to address increases in student population. This includes staffing to address:

  • increased staffing needed for programs such as elementary arts in larger elementary schools such as Brownsville and Cale to maintain parity of service
  • administrative staffing to account for growth at Henley Middle School
  • special education staff to support increased service needs across schools
  • ESOL staffing to support increased service needs across schools to second language learners
  • intervention staffing to restore at-risk tutoring services needed in middle and high schools due to increased numbers of at-risk students.

4.  We also match funds with the Police Dept. to restore a middle school resource officer.

5.  The only instructional initiative that is new also represents a mandate from the General Assembly that the ninth grade class of 2013-14 will be required to complete a virtual learning course before graduation. To implement this initiative, we will need to add instructional resources, train teachers, and support program development. The cost is estimated at $248,135. This initiative also represents how technologies will transform learning in the next five years through blended face-to-face and virtual learning.

6. Both the Board of Supervisors and the School Board have proposed a 2% raise for employees. This addresses both the Governor’s 2% salary initiative for educators and competitive market strategy adopted within joint Board personnel policy.

The Future

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We live in a time in which the increasing shifts in how technologies are used in every business sector and in homes and communities has more and more influence upon learning opportunities for young people. The quality of teaching, however, remains the most important factor that we can control inside our schools. Teaching quality is directly related to educators who develop and hone expertise in using new learning tools, teaching strategies, and use of space to create opportunities for contemporary learners to excel and embrace learning. Just as with employees in other business sectors, educators must be learning all the time to stay abreast of new tools and strategies for accomplishing their daily work.

In another five years, “one to one” technologies will be more ubiquitous across school districts nationally as textbooks and other paper print resources are eliminated, just as Encyclopedia Britannica no longer is for sale in a paper print version. The workforce our children will enter likely will be fueled by a new generation of American manufacturing advanced through the emerging technologies of 3-D printers and digital fabrication. There will be future changes we can’t even imagine today just as many of us couldn’t imagine just a few years ago the virtual shift to today’s online purchases and banking, social media communication, and vehicular navigation systems.

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Programming 3-D printers

Redesigning existing school facilities and designing new facilities is necessary along with creation of the infrastructure to support the technology applications that advance annually. A comprehensive professional development program for educators must be well-funded to ensure that teaching quality is sustained as the skills and competencies of teachers are critical for sustaining the best learning available to our students. Programs such as elementary world languages are important to ensure that our young people bring high level of competencies to sustain American competitiveness in a global economy.

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The current funding request under consideration in this budget cycle maintains the costs of doing business, meeting mandates, and addressing growth. However, it does not address the transition of today’s schools from a model for learning more suitable to the needs of 20th century learners to a model for children attending our schools in 2013. And, that’s a fact.

Learning Beyond the Walls: Skype Comes to Band Class

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At Henley Middle School, band director Kate Meier has worked with band director Andrew LaPrade at Burley Middle School to use Skype to “live” broadcast young musicians’ practice of concert pieces –  with the purpose of sharing music feedback with each other. It’s professional learning for the band directors but also a learning opportunity for their middle school students.

In his most recent blog post, Henley principal Dr. Pat McLaughlin describes an administrative observation of how Ms. Meier has taken her young musicians’ practice sessions beyond the band room walls – virtually.

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Lessons We Loved from Henley Middle School 

 Each week in our internal staff newsletter, Jason Crutchfield, our assistant principal, and I try to highlight a staff member who we observed teaching a great lesson.  I think it’s important to begin sharing those lessons out with the community via this blog so that all of you can help us celebrate our incredible staff.  We’ll be starting that this week and hopefully continuing it quite often in the coming year.

Today’s lesson write up comes from Mr. Crutchfield:

“Smile, We See You”

No more poor behavior in band class; students are being watched. That is because Kate Meier and Richard Baritaud have been collaborating in their district wide PLCs’ (Professional Learning Communities) to “broadcast” their performances for each other.

This work began in CAI (the division’s Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction professional development institute) with the development of performance tasks for music groups. Music directors in Albemarle thought it would be a good idea to have their groups perform pieces for each other using sites like SKYPE to observe performances. Students would have a selection to play that they haven’t seen before while another band/orchestra watches remotely from their own school.  The plan is to have students observe and document their assessments of each other using the precise terminology the judges will use during district band assessments.

I was able to observe the trial run in Mrs. Meier’s classroom this past month. She collaborated with the band director at Burley Middle and their symphonic band. Our students were highly energized by the prospects of this lesson. They waited patiently as Mrs. Meier worked out technicalities of the hardware. As they experienced minor tech delays, Mrs. Meier’s patience was the hero of this lesson. Once SKYPE was up and running, Henley’s Symphonic band played their piece. Once complete, Burley’s band members were able to come to the microphone and give feedback using the precise language that their district judges will be using next semester. The process was reciprocated and our students were able to provide accurate and constructive feedback as well.

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… And now more on Virginia’s and Albemarle’s focus on virtual learning development

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Virtual learning often is thought of as a student sitting in front of a computer working through screen pages to read and respond to course content. This may have been true ten years ago, but Albemarle’s contemporary educators are using a variety of virtual learning tools to extend learning connectivity with other educators as well as other young learners inside and outside the school division.

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Skyping with an educational purpose in mind offers such opportunities for learning and our pioneering teachers are trying out these tools.

Last year, students in a Modern Issues in the World course at AHS Skyped with an Egyptologist to engage in dialogue about the push there to democratize Egypt. They compared and contrasted his reactions to how early American revolutionaries might have felt as the American Revolution unfolded. Kindergarteners at Greer, Broadus Wood, and Meriwether Lewis Elementary Schools routinely Skype with each other to share their work in class – their artwork, building structures, math, favorite picture books, and writing.

A New Virtual Requirement: Va High School Students

The Commonwealth of Virginia will require all students entering ninth grade in 2013-14 to graduate with at least one virtual, or online, course on their transcript. Most of our young people already live in a world of virtual social communication and entertainment. Shifting students’ to see and value purposeful learning uses of technologies means educators have to learn to use such technologies for learning as well. This requirement means our Division must training for teachers, tools and access for students, and information to help parents support their children to be successful in such courses, a budget initiative for 2013-14.

Using virtual technologies and tools for learning may challenge some of today’s educators, particularly given the rapid evolution of such technologies. We here in Albemarle County Public Schools are fortunate to have teachers such as Ms. Meiers and Mr. LaPrade helping to lead the way.

Swinging Open the Door to Opportunity for Each Learner: 2012-13 Budget Process

Awaken the Possibilities

In our elementary school classes, children often write down what their “hopes and dreams” are for learning at the beginning of the school year. Dreams are not just about the distant future, but also about the here and now. While walking with a principal in the fall, this “dream” for learning posted by a fourth grader caught our attention:

I want to be a computer creator when I grow up. I want to learn how to draw, and use technology, and do long division really well.

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As educators, we want our young people to graduate ready for any opportunity they choose to pursue. We also want our graduates to enter adult citizenship with a commitment to contributing to their communities.

While visiting Brownsville Elementary, I ran into a Western Albemarle junior who shared his dreams for his future with me. Already a committed community volunteer, he has assisted teachers at Brownsville weekly since sixth grade. He said to me, “I’ve wanted to be a teacher for as long as I remember.” This young man can describe choices of excellent teaching programs in Virginia’s colleges and the path he intends to take to become a teacher.

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Every dollar of our budget should help each child get closer to making his or her learning dreams become reality whether it is to become a “computer creator” or a teacher.

Our young people’s stories remind us to keep their faces in front of the numbers in the division’s budget. Educators own the key responsibility of public education in America: to keep doors open as wide as possible for learners to pursue and realize their dreams. By making learning accessible, we help each young person develop the knowledge and skills needed to optimize a range of opportunities available after graduation.

Education Opens Doors to Opportunities

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