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.

 

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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Beyond the Sky: Imagine That!

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Beyond the Sky … 

When kids get passionate about learning and they ask me to join them, I have to say yes. Even at 7 am on a Saturday morning.

It’s why I found myself getting up early to head off to a local park on a misty morning last June. When I arrived, the kids, a team of middle schoolers, were already there along with their teachers, the school principal, their parents, the media, and … me.

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Why? Because two eighth-grade girls at Sutherland Middle School decided they wanted to fly a high altitude balloon to the edge of the atmosphere. They’d enlisted adults, their teachers, and other interested students in their project. We were all gathered to see what would come of this year-long project.

I watched with my camera, capturing video and photos, as they worked to put all the final pieces together; the go-pro camera, an arduino-driven tracking system, and the balloon. They checked their tracker app on their cell phones and installed it on my phone, too.  Finally, after their final check, they called 4 different air traffic control centers from Charlottesville to DC.

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We adults stood back and watched the kids position the balloon and let it go.  It rose, and cheers went up. Then, in silence, it glided back to earth. Shoulders drooped a bit but the kids got to work. They figured out what parts of the apparatus could be ditched to lower the balloons weight and then they let it go again … this time it rose and rose –gliding out of sight and we all cheered.

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They checked their cell phone tracking apps over the weekend and into the early days of the week. These modern-day rocket kids began to wonder if their balloon had wandered too far afield and all their work was now lost. Then – an alert triggered. When the call came to central office that they were off to collect their balloon, we all cheered again. Our balloon chasers found it on the other side of Lake Anna , more than fifty miles away, and secured permission from a farmer to retrieve it out of a wood-lined pasture. Guess what?

Mission Accomplished!

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Who wouldn’t want this kind of learning passion for all kids? As superintendent I find my own passion in the work I do comes from helping educators create multiple pathways to learning so that all our young people find their way to pursuing hopes and dreams, to have as many choices as possible when they move into adulthood, and to gain an equity of access to rich, experiential, creative work that educates them for life, not school.

droneclubI think Julian captures this vision in his passion for making and flying drones – and through what he’s learned as he’s participated in the maker movement that brings passion alive in young people in our schools today. What started as an isolated passion in the Western Albemarle library maker space while making drones took Julian one day into the school cafeteria with his drones to see who else might be interested. As a result of Julian’s leadership, he’s now surrounded by a score of middle and high school student who share his interest.

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Bridge Building Camp (courtesy of NBC 29)

That passion also resides in Ayoade, a high school senior enrolled in the MESA academy, who believes that engineering is fun and a great career choice.  However, Ayoade believed that many young girls might not know that. So as a sophomore she took a startup idea to her engineering teacher who said, “why not?” As a result, she became a social entrepreneur, creating not just a bridge-building camp for middle school girls but one in which participants give back to our community by creating bridges that make our local walking trails accessible.

courtney1And, there’s Courtney who isn’t just a fabulous actress, choreographer, and dancer in the Monticello High drama program but also a script writer who just had her own award-winning, one-act play performed in state competition. What makes Courtney’s work unique? She believes that arts are a path to teaching communities about issues of social justice and her most recent script, Necessary Trouble (taken from a speech quote by Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis) pushes audiences to engage in discussion about what rights mean to students who find themselves on different sides of a civil rights issue.

Josh1.jpgFinally, there is Josh, a tenth-grader who speaks to his tough life experiences –foster parenting, many transitions in homes and schools, and his challenges with the greatest frankness. He has shared on the national stage how engaged, hands-on, project-based learning, along with support from his Albemarle High Team 19 peers, teachers, and his principal has changed his attitude about high school – going from a kid who thought he might not graduate when he entered high school to now dreaming of becoming a tech engineer. You might ask so how did Josh get to a White House podium? Last year, he participated in a focus group at his high school led by a member of Student Voice and Josh’s voice, filled with passion and authenticity, was noticed by the facilitator leading to an invitation to speak at the White House Summit on Next Generation High Schools.

These stories don’t happen by chance. They happen when educators see the future as adjacent to the possibilities we build inside our schools today. Courtney, Ayoade, Josh, Julian, and the balloon kids represent every child inside our schools – classrooms filled with poets, engineers, artists, nurses, programmers – and yes, I hope, future teachers, principals, and maybe a superintendent or two.

We don’t find our children’s passions or talents when they sit in rows facing a dominant teaching wall, listening hour after hour, day after day, year after year, taking test after test to prove what they know –  but with little chance to show us what they can do.  Yet, when our young people get hooked on learning and take that passion into life along with a sense of personal agency, their voices will influence first their schools, and then their communities, the nation, and the world.

Unleashing the potential of our young people so they can build agency as learners and find their voices through experiences that plumb their passions means the sky is no longer the limit. Beyond the sky becomes possible.

Imagine that.

Summer 2016

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It’s only a few days until the opening of the 2016-17 school year. Despite the hustle and bustle in a school during the summer to make sure halls, classrooms, and specialty areas are clean and ready for children and teachers, a school in summer just becomes empty real estate when emptied of the community it serves. That’s why we are building out rich summer experiences for our young people so that they can take advantage of year-round learning communities, not just for ten months.

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Getting Ready to Enter School at Woodbrook Elementary

This summer our programs ran in almost every school;  visual and performing arts, STEM, Maker Education summer school, Leadership and Entrepreneurship Academies, readiness programming for rising ninth graders  and children entering kindergarten, blended learning courses for summer high school, and both face-to-face and online physical education and personal finance courses.

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Rock and Rappers at AHS

In our second annual Rock and Rap Academy, students from county high schools formed music groups and bands to write, perform, and record their own music. They had the chance to work with music educators from our schools but also local musicians from across the region. Our young contemporary music performers put on a show at the Ix Building for parents and friends as a culminating concert.

Young citizen leaders from our high schools gathered at the annual Leadership Academy to practice the competencies of leaders, to hear the stories of leaders across our community, and to take on a project that represents citizen leadership action.

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Student agency and voice matters. This year a group of our young women from Albemarle High again sponsored a regional bridge-building camp so middle school girls could experience the power of engineering to make community improvements while learning the principles of math, science, and tech embedded in engineering. But, as founder Ayoade Balogun shared this with me last spring in an interview,  “I also want young girls to see engineering as fun.”

In the Entrepreneurship Academy offered to high school students with an interest in designing, making, and launching projects they’ve created from scratch, students worked with our high school mechatronics teachers – staff who combine traditional shop, programming, and engineering design in one class – to create their own products from innovative baseball bats with specialized grips to a couch desk for a classroom, bedroom, or office. They each gained career and technical education course credits as they created their projects.

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Coder Dojo kids working on Scratch – an MIT coding language

Most adults find computer science, programming or coding, to be a mystery. That’s not true of over 600 learners, ages 5-18, from our diverse school communities who participated in our fifth annual Cville Coder Dojo. The multiage coder dojo camp originated in Ireland as a way of engaging young people in coding. While most kids who learn to code will not pursue computer programming, they still learn to apply mathematical reasoning, logical thinking, and creative processes as they use code to program arduinos, raspberry Pi, and 3-D printers, build games in scratch, construct websites using HTML code, and make music with sonic Pi.

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Citizen scientists

Our children also participated in summer school programs where they spent time making all kinds of projects as a path to learning. Students at Woodbrook Elementary participated in activities to find the joy in inquiry learning as citizen scientists – and learned about worms, insects, gardening, and geology on the school grounds. They ended school with a showcase of their work from student-made podcasts to teach guests about science to student-constructed worm farms for sale.

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M-cubed learners at work

Math competency is a gateway for kids to pursue dreams. Without it, so much is not available or limited in reach. The nationally recognized M-cubed program brings middle school African-American males together to gain algebra readiness together as a community. The program goes far beyond just math, however, as the young men engage in dialogue with local mentors and leaders. If we want to mind learning gaps, opportunities such as M-cubed represent our commitment to diverse experiences for all children.

We don’t live on an agrarian calendar in our homes and communities anymore.

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Jazz Camp band performs in the Pavilion

Offering high quality learning experiences during the summer allows our parents and staff flexibility in family choices about work schedules and vacations while also offering a variety of enriching experiences for all children often at no cost, low-cost, or with scholarship support. Our enriched opportunities engage young people in applying literacy and mathematical reasoning competencies as well as in building academic background knowledge, key to avoiding the summer social and academic slides that can occur for at-risk learners.

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Kids from several elementary schools play the World Peace Game at Agnor-Hurt Elementary

When our schools fill with children and staff during the summer, it’s a return on community investment in educational facilities that remain in use rather than close for learning business. Using our schools year-round does create a challenge for our building services staff but I believe that it fulfills our mission to fully engage our full community of learners in learning, regardless of the calendar date.

Our summer programs support working families with options for high quality care with a learning focus. And, our summer programs allows us to engage staff in learning new instructional techniques and tools to take back with them into their regular year teaching. We see many benefits to our learners and families. Equity of access to top-notch summer programming is a design principle of our offerings. It’s an essential, not just nice to do.

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“Maker Me” project at Stone-Robinson Elementary

 

 

 

 

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

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Community Partners Make a Difference … 

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

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

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

I Learned something new, too …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Teachers Matter Most

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schools matter. Learning tools matter. Teachers matter most.

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On Young People, Leaders, and Leadership

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high school summer intern at work

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

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High school students engaged in their passion for music

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

 

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

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

Here are some perspectives I shared.

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, their voices do make a difference.

 

 

Just Around the Corner: A New School Year Begins

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3 clarinetsAll of a sudden, it’s time to begin school again. Our schools are almost ready. Floors shine. Open Houses are planned. Renovations and modernization work are coming to closure. Buses are washed, gassed and ready to roll. New teachers began last week and experienced teachers return this week. Athletes and band students have begun to practice for fall activities.

We are excited to welcome about 13,500 children to our 26 schools on August 19.

We Have an app for that!

acpsappTo keep track of school activities in our schools, school calendar activities, and updated announcements, consider downloading our Albemarle County Public Schools app  (Albemarle County PS) for your android or iPhone at Apple Apps Store or at Google play.

 

It’s been a busy summer across Albemarle County Public Schools for our teachers. 

School had barely ended in June and we convened almost 300 teachers and principals in school leadership teams to work on curricula, assessment, and instruction. Teachers explored multiple strategies to engage learners in active, deep learning. They worked on designing paths for children and teens to engage in problem-solving and project research that leads to hands-on and collaboration experiences. Teachers together across grade levels, content areas, and even schools created opportunities for students to design, create, engineer, build, and make when they start the 2015-16 School Year. Throughout July, almost all teachers participated in professional development and training to prepare for changes in curricular content, review assessments, extend tech skills, and build instructional units.

2 new teachersThen, our new teachers, 130 strong, arrived last week to get ready to work with our learners, build teams, and meet experienced mentor teachers, instructional coaches, and tech learning integration specialists.

 

 

Here’s one example of a unit two fourth teachers designed this summer. Imagine the teachers introducing their children to a variety of tools to help them research how insects benefit the planet. Consider the children completing research that leads them to plant flower beds at school that will attract insects.

using data

using data

Think about those fourth graders first collecting data and observations on insect visitors (especially bees) to their flowers; then making a communications plan to persuade families and our greater community to plant native plants that are bee-friendly. This teacher-designed unit supports fourth graders to acquire lifelong learning skills. Through interdisciplinary studies that integrate math, writing, reading, science, and geography, these young students will pursue questions and sustain curiosity culminating in projects designed to deepen their learning.

And, it’s been a busy summer across Albemarle County Public Schools for our students.4 leadership

Our principals have worked as if school never ended and that’s no surprise given the number of programs we’ve run for children throughout the summer. Even as they’ve worked on schedules, class assignments, and planning, they’ve been working with summer programming attended by students. As I’ve visited schools, it’s been wonderful to see how positive and supportive our young people are with each other, particularly given the multi-age nature of our summer activities.

  • 10 maker sewElementary and middle schools sponsored summer maker and project-based learning programs in every school.
  • Our first elementary arts “Sight and Sound” academy ran at Baker-Butler.
  • The Coder Dojo Academy again ran at AHS serving over 600 K-12 students participating in learning to code and create wearable LED art.
  • Teen leaders gathered in our Leadership Academy at the County Office Building to plan ways to empower student voices across our high schools. 8 coderdojo
  • Our regional Fine Arts Academy at Burley Middle School added a fourth jazz band this summer to meet student interest – and we ran full sessions in creative writing, drama, and visual arts.
  • Our newest Rock and Rap Academy at AHS overflowed with kids. 6th -12th grade, all set on one goal – to compose and perform pop music.
  • African-American middle school males in our M-Cubed Academy worked on algebra and geometry projects at Burley.6 rock and rap
  • Bridge building middle school girl geeks convened in the woods near the Rivanna River with MESA Academy support and spent a week engineering and constructing a bridge across the river.
  • Children in the English as Second Language Program participated in a Community Immersion program to visit historical sites across the region.
  • Special Education students had opportunities to participate in  support programs designed to sustain key skills across the summer. 9 PK camp
  • Kindergarteners, sixth graders, and ninth graders attended pre-school activities designed to help them make positive transitions into new schools.
  • Summer interns worked with our tech support staff to set up new laptops and re-image our existing student technologies.

 We’ve had a wonderful summer.

Now, the start of school is just around the corner. We look forward to a year of positive experiences for our students, their teachers, and our school communities. Welcome!

12 interns 11 build bench 5 jazz 7 car build

 

 

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To Over 1000 Graduates: A Graduation Note of Reflection

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“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.

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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.

 

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Patriots’ selfie stick
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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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

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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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