A Little Farewell History

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Every generation inherits a world it never made; and, as it does so, it automatically becomes the trustee of that world for those who come after. In due course, each generation makes its own accounting to its children.” — Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, 1968

As I come to the end of 43 years working in public schools13 as superintendent I still feel the power of this quote. I came to Albemarle County thirty-two years ago because I knew educators were doing great things for children and the community supported public education. During my years here, this shared value for educating children well has not faded. Our school division’s strengths reside in this community and in our historical commitment to education that does not stand still in time.

I thank each and every one of you for your work each day to create a safe and welcoming culture for our learners whether on the buses or in our cafeterias, classrooms, gyms, music and arts spaces, libraries as well as on playing fields and playgrounds. I thank each of you in our community who has volunteered in our schools. I appreciate the many who have partnered with us to support our young people though donations, tutoring, financial contributions, internships, and advocacy for our needs. And, I am grateful the parents who have supported our learners at home and in our classrooms, on stages and playing fields, on field trips, and as volunteers in our parent organizations.

In this post, my final one as superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools, I can say that it has been my privilege to work with as excellent a school system staff as I believe exists anywhere in America’s K-12 schools, public or private. That excellence is evident every time I visit a school or department and spend time with face to face and virtually with our educators, community members, and parents. Truly, the most important measure of the expertise our teachers bring to our children is found in the quality of work that the children we serve accomplish, their contributions to our greater community, and the paths they take in life after high school.

In a time when too many doubt that public schools can be excellent and relevant, diverse and successful, contemporary and a building block of citizenship, our community has created a school system that has become a global model of success. I have been fortunate to be a part of the process of developing the capacity of our school communities over time.

I walked into my first position here as coordinator of professional development in 1986 after ten years of teaching and administrative experience in another division. When the recession of 1987 resulted in reductions of staff, I assumed responsibility for gifted programs and K-12 science programs in addition to professional development.  Despite the challenges of reduced funding that has ebbed and flowed  over decades, our commitment to innovative, effective professional learning has remained. This is a critical part of our success.

I decided to return to a building position in 1990 and was selected to serve as principal of Stony Point Elementary where I stayed until 2000. During that time I had the opportunity to work with amazingly creative teachers who grounded the work of the school in a community of practice that integrated writing, the arts, and inquiry learning across curriculum. I learned so much from the teachers there about the power of relationships within a community to elevate the voice of learners, develop agency within them, and support their capability to influence their school community. The tools were different in that era but the spirit was the same children thrived because of the opportunities afforded them inside and outside the school; performing plays on the outdoor amphitheater, creating gardens in every nook and cranny, and writing class anthologies documenting the world they explored.

The late 1990s were also a time when we educators entered a new world of standardization of expected learning across Virginia through the Virginia Standards of Learning testing program. I will never forget when “pilot” test results in 1998 were released and less than 2% of the state’s schools would have been fully accredited. I remember sitting with staff that year and discussing that we knew our children were far more advanced learners than the results showed. I said to the team, “we love the work our children do their voices in poetry, their study of life on the nature trail, the plays they write and perform, and the I-search projects they complete but we have to figure out how to get them over the SOL test hurdle or our work will be lessened.” The Stony Point staff aligned curriculum to standards and began to use data more effectively to inform intervention support. However, they did not abandon writing, inquiry, and arts integration. The next year, our school was fully accredited and teachers gave credit to our children’s engagement in arts, inquiry, and writing — all paths to knowledge acquisition, competency development, deep understanding, and love of learning.

In 2000, I became K-12 Director of Curriculum and Instruction under Superintendent Dr. Kevin Castner’s leadership. In less than three years, I stepped up to the role of Assistant Superintendent. And in 2002, we rolled out Design 2004, a request for proposals from school teams to create units using interdisciplinary curriculum, learning technologies, and performance assessments and the beginning of our journey to the work we do today in 2018. To paraphrase Dr. Castner it was essential that we not let the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 take over our classrooms and leave thinking and creativity out of learning. By the summer of 2004, the lifelong learning competencies still in use today had been identified by those original teams and the Framework for Quality Learning was established. We also added professional development focus on the Dufour professional learning community (PLC) model in 2004. Several of our schools piloted PLCs that year including Albemarle High through the leadership of the school’s new principal, Dr. Matt Haas, soon to be superintendent. Matt is ready to lead the division and under his leadership I fully expect our schools to flourish and our system to become better than it ever has been.

In 2005 when Dr. Castner decided to retire from the superintendency I served as acting superintendent at first, and then was appointed as the superintendent in January of 2006. Since that time I have had the opportunity to annually recommend the hiring of central and building level staff including many staff who have come to Albemarle since that time. They must ensure that our children entering school in August will be ready for the changing world of the rising Smart Machine Age. And, despite improvements we have made over many decades, we know that all our children, especially children living with economic disadvantages, do not meet the learning expectations essential to success in life after high school. We still have work to do.

Over the last 13 years I have observed our division’s vision and mission expand equity and opportunity for the students we serve. In doing so, we have worked hard to help each child find success while also refusing to allow children to become numbers in a spreadsheet. Our educators have kept the faces of our learners in front of them.

I am proud of our implementation of Responsive Classroom, AVID, standards-based, concept-centered curriculum, performance-based assessment, the instructional coaching and learning tech integrators models, the three high school academies, the community charter middle school, secondary mechatronics labs, 1:1 technology, Culturally Responsive Teaching, the Seven Pathways to Transform Learning, New Teacher Academy, and elementary language immersion. With the addition and extension of arts, physical education, counseling, intervention, and library staffing, we have together supported multiple and different pathways for our learners to find success in school. As educators in our school communities you have enriched the experiences of students through chorus, orchestra and band, musicals, sports activities, Destination Imagination and so much more.

As I pass the torch of the superintendency to Matt Haas, I know this. I will cherish memories of every department and school for the rest of my life bus rides, concerts and musicals, reading with children, listening to teens present projects, eating an occasional school lunch, and dancing in kindergarten.

While my work in Albemarle’s schools draws to a close, the journey continues. Not every child finds success with us. Some get lost every year. The work to ensure that every child is treated justly and feels fully valued must continue, must evolve. Seeking the strengths inside each child is key. In our vision learning how to manage one’s own environment, own time, and own tools the learning needs behind our systemic re-design represent the skills most necessary in this century. High School 2022, elementary multi-age, and secondary learning labs help define the vision, our mission, and the actions needed to accomplish that.

As I pack up the hundreds of books in my office, take student art off my walls, clean out my desk, and go through files that may go all the way back to my first year of teaching, I am confident that our community of learners and learning is in good hands because all of you will continue to care deeply about our core values. In that, together, everyone who lives in this county holds the responsibility to create that next generation of respectful, effective, and inclusive school communities committed to excellence, and giving our young people the very best we can possibly offer.

After all, equipping our young people with competencies for life, not simply teaching so they pass tests is the greatest gift that we will provide them.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They open our windows to the future…

 

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