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.
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.
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.
Our Strategic Planning and Our Students
Our young people excel today, not because of chance, but through purposeful actions by the Board and staff. Because of strategic direction, the achievements of young people in Albemarle County Public Schools continue to rise. Today our young people represent:
- the highest percentage of on-time graduates and lowest dropout rate in the division’s history,
- the greatest number of students achieving the most advanced diplomas awarded in our history,
- an exponential increase in the numbers of students completing college credits in high schools,
- the greatest numbers of students participating in the arts, and
- a range of national and state awards and honors.
These achievements have resulted from a commitment to using our resources to create a variety of learning pathways accessible to all students. We know that what we do either opens or closes the door of opportunity leading to these pathways.
How our dollars are allocated and spent reflects a commitment by the School Board to swing the doors of learning opportunity open as wide as possible so that every child gains access to top-notch teachers, the learning tools they need, and challenging educational experiences.
Principals comment sometimes that a ‘rising tide floats all boats.” The successes of our young people reflect our educational community’s and our partners’ support for each student to extend their talents and capabilities as far as possible.
We know that we’ve made significant progress as a result of the decades of improvement efforts of our educational community. We also know we still have work to do.
Efforts in Our Schools
Our high schools have implemented more in-depth academic intervention support through programs such as Launch and Core+ for students at risk of not graduating on time. We offer the Acceleration Via Individual Determination (AVID) program beginning in middle school for students who likely will be the first generation in their family to go to college or who have unrealized college potential.
Murray High, the Middle School Community Public Charter, MESA, JROTC, CATEC and the proposed new Health and Medical Sciences Academy offer customized learning options to students in middle and high schools. The Board’s decade-long commitment to building a strings program has at last resulted in thriving orchestras in secondary schools. We offer non-European languages in all high schools, providing students with access to a career pathway grounded in world language offerings that did not exist six years ago.
Recently, I observed Crozet elementary students teach Parent Council members about their work with 3-D digital fabrication. This involves students learning how to use computer-assisted design processes to construct 3-D structures. Just a few days later I visited a high school engineering class in the MESA Academy where students shared a far more complex version of 3-D digital fabrication used in programming, design, and construction work they are doing. Learners’ development of sophisticated analysis and design skills and use of complex tools of learning across a broad range of instructional and extracurricular activities illustrates a key priority of the Board to ensure post-secondary and workforce readiness.
While other districts across the nation have reduced or eliminated commitments to guidance, library, physical education, fine and performing arts, gifted resource, special education, and services to English language learners, that has not happened in our schools. Students participated in 240 fine arts performances in 2010-11.
Activities such as Destination Imagination, National History Day, science, math, fine and performing arts and writing competitions, community service, internships, field trips, and independent study programming provide young people with a chance to excel in areas of interest and passion. Protection of these services from budget cuts in this difficult economy has not happened without forethought. It has happened because of the Board’s commitment to programs that offer young people a well-rounded education and differentiated learning support.
Our commitment to sustaining competitive market compensation, professional learning communities, a strong, local curriculum and a development-driven performance appraisal system has not occurred as a result of coincidence. The Board has sustained purpose-driven strategic development work, remaining true to Albemarle County Public Schools‘ Vision, Mission, and Goals while keeping young people at the core of the decision-making process.
Each year, the School Board and staff engage in disciplined analysis and evaluation during the budget processes. We know that an organization managed through scrutiny of visible numbers alone likely will not achieve all of its desired successes.
It’s why the Board and staff also engage together to think creatively about new possibilities that will help us meet the evolving needs of young people and those who serve them even as we are challenged to simply maintain service efforts.
Feedback from Stakeholders
We also must serve as responsible stewards of the community’s financial investments in our young people. To that end, we seek feedback from stakeholders to shape the budget process. Every advisory committee – teachers, administrators, parents, students, and classified staff – provides feedback to a budget advisory committee. The School Budget Advisory Council, a team of community members with financial expertise, advise staff on considerations for improvements to the budgeting process. We hear from the community through public hearings on the funding requests.
Stakeholders identify what’s important to sustain, initiate, or reduce in the budget consideration process.
Department and school staff analyze expenses from prior years and reduce, redirect, or eliminate expenses, a process akin to removing all the tools in the kitchen drawers and deciding which are still needed – or not.
Allocation of Funds
How we allocate available funds represents the core values of Albemarle County Public Schools.
We believe in our young people.
Our budget process begins with the premise that we will provide each learner with the best we have to offer. Our resources represent the core value inherent in building and sustaining learning communities. Despite the challenges we sometimes face in not being able to provide every service and resource that our stakeholders desire, we maintain that our budget must represent a commitment to excellence in both teaching and learning. Section A of the 2013 Superintendent’s Funding Request includes a portfolio of success across our schools.
There is no doubt that Albemarle County Public Schools faces the same challenges as other public, nonprofit, and for profit sectors as a result of economic downturns over the last four years. We also are educating more young people today than four years ago. We have less revenue today than was adopted four years ago. The per pupil allocation of revenues has dropped approximately $700 over that time frame.
If the educational story of this budget is about widening the doors of opportunity for young people, the financial story is about the impact of the exponential increase in funding needed to match the state’s initiative to narrow the funding gap in the Virginia Retirement System.
This one mandate alone adds $4.3 million dollars to the expenses of the division, at a time when the one-time funding provided by the federal government disappears. Board members know as they develop the Board’s funding request to the Board of Supervisors that an unbalanced, critical needs based budget means either more revenues must be forthcoming to offset increased expenses or expenses must be reduced.
This is the reality of the 2012-13 budget development cycle.
Keeping the Faces in Front of the Numbers
Keeping the faces of our children and teachers in front of budget numbers reminds us all of our priorities. We educate our young people today so that they may walk through the door of opportunity into their future. That’s the business of public education.