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

 

 

A Season to Remember: The Gift of Teachers

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103This moment in time, with our shortest days, important holidays, and the changing of seasons, brings us to memory and reflection. It has been a bittersweet year in Albemarle County with the ongoing successes of our children mixed with tragedies in our schools and in our community. This has been very difficult for those in our very human-centered occupations. I have been remembering and reflecting, especially on the lives and passing of two of our beloved educators this month, teachers who touched the lives of children, parents and peers over their teaching careers.

At our recent School Board meeting, I described Robin Aldridge, Hollymead teacher, as a “Child Whisperer.” She was the teacher every parent wanted in their child’s corner and every teacher valued as a colleague. Board Chair Ned Galloway shared a few words about Sue Pasternack, Agnor-Hurt teacher, who leaves all who knew her with an imprint on our hearts as we remember her humor, passion, dedication and compassion for everyone she encountered. Both of these educators were warm and loving toward each child whom they served so faithfully.

Prior to a moment of silence for both of these remarkable educators, the best way I can explain their impact upon so many children and families over many years is to say that they personified our values for respect, community, excellence, and young people. They epitomized the master teacher I hope every young teacher aspires to become one day.

It was not Robin or Sue who chose their careers; it was the profession that chose them. They had a gift to offer to children and families in our community that could never have been purchased. It was a gift priced not in numbers, but in faces—the faces of children with excitement in their eyes, smiles in their voices, and the unbridled confidence that comes with making new friends and new discoveries.

What truly is special about our Albemarle community is that our students reach their welcomed destinations with the support and encouragement of not just the professionals who educate them, but also, through the efforts of those who transport them, feed them, keep them safe and healthy, and provide them with learning environments that are anything but ordinary.

You serve as a model for our nation, and what a gift that is. We receive accolades every week for the exemplary performance of learners, employees, departments and schools. Our students distinguish our community through arts, athletics, academics, community service, and leadership. This does not happen by chance; it happens because of each of you. No matter your role in working with children, you all are teachers, and our children learn from the words you use, the smiles you share, and the care you provide.

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In the past two weeks, more than one of you has said to me that a casualty of our hugely productive but overcrowded professional lives is that we do not sufficiently take the time to tell those with whom we work how much we value and appreciate each other. So as we prepare for a much-deserved winter break, I want you to know how much I admire your selfless devotion to our students and to our colleagues, and most of all, your contributions to making our community and nation a better place.

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Thank you for your commitment to the young people we serve together, and please have a safe, enjoyable and restful holiday season with family and friends.

Mathematical Thinking Matters

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IMG_5496Whether buying a new car, working in a research lab, applying the Pythagorean theorem on a construction site, or using spreadsheet formulas to plan how to pay off student loans most efficiently, mathematical thinking is a basic for graduates of our schools. What students must learn today goes well beyond the work of yesteryear’s arithmetic textbooks when members of earlier generations used to memorize rote fact families, repeat procedural recipes from long division to geometry theorems, and solve basic word problems.

It’s an expectation in Virginia that contemporary students take three or more years of high school math – a requirement far beyond the “just” Algebra I requirement of thirty years ago. That’s why developing critical reasoning skills in math is a key focus for today’s educators to make sure young people acquire the competencies they need for a lifetime of mathematical thinking.

This kind of mathematical learning does not happen by chance in schools. It demands teachers who deeply understand a range of mathematical disciplines and who skillfully use multiple teaching strategies to help learners of different competency levels learn to think mathematically as they solve complex math problems.

A high school principal recently shared that learners who once struggled with math are having significant success this year in Algebra I – by any measure. If a student can’t pass Algebra I and then take two more math courses beyond Algebra, they won’t graduate with a standard Virginia diploma. For an advanced diploma, the college admissions gold standard, four math courses are required.

When I met the lead teacher for the successful high school algebra team (a course in which parents and students routinely ask teachers, “when will I ever use algebra in life?”), she said three things which stood out to me: algebra problems must be real, multiple problem-solving strategies must be learned, and positive relationships between the teacher and learner are vital.

My conversation with her reminded me of a recent blog post by Walton Middle School math teacher Bill Doar who works to make sure every student in his class learns math concepts and competencies well. Teachers such as Mr. Doar create learning experiences so students learn math well and find themselves actually liking math.

Here’s a post from Mr. Doar on how he teaches middle school students to see math as a positive part of their day as they learn Virginia’s more rigorous standards.

Teaching for Perplexity by Mr. Bill Doar,
seventh grade math teacher

Walton MIddle School

The past two months have flown by.  On October 11th, my wife and I welcomed our first child – Will into the world.  It feels like September was just a short while ago and we were in Virginia Beach enjoying Labor Day.  Will is starting to smile, make cute baby ‘coo-ing’ and sleep for solid four-hour chunks at a time.  Those luxurious four-hour segments were not always the norm.  Sleep during the first month was scarce and I would often find myself watching Sportscenter or listening to sermons at 3 a.m. to pass the time while Will fell asleep.
One night several weeks ago I stumbled across a YouTube channel run by a math teacher I admire greatly – Dan Meyer.  I initially heard of Dan during my first year teaching in the Mississippi Delta and watched one of his more famous videos – ‘Math Class Needs a Makeover’.  I could immediately relate to his struggle of making math engaging.  In it he describes the math teacher – student relationship as follows:
“I sell a product to a market that doesn’t want it but is forced by law to buy it…”
I distinctly remember the moment during that first year when I realized, many of my students don’t like math, believe they can’t do it and don’t see any practical application of the workbook problems tdoarpic2hey’ve encountered since kindergarten. In the past five years of teaching I’ve worked hard to make math standards meaningful, engaging and applicable to real life. Through technology infusion in the classroom, the ‘maker curriculum’ and the push to make teaching more than just preparing for the SOL, I’ve tried to make my classroom one where the work we do has application that reaches beyond the annual standardized test.
A recent challenge posed while watching one of Dan Meyer’s videos at 3 a.m. holding Will was to change the progression of each lesson.  About 98% of the time I would start with a standard, students would take notes, work out problems, ask questions then try an enrichment/application level activity.  In Dan’s video ‘Teaching for Perplexity’ he challenges educators to start with a real life, engaging, thought-provoking question and embed the standards in the question.

Today in class, I handed my Core + students the 7th grade VDOE formula sheet when they walked in and told them to create the six shapes on the formula sheet and record the dimensions on a graphic organizer I created.  It’s been amazing to see the change in student engagement transitioning from the traditional ‘sage on stage’ teaching model to challenging students to create and ask probing questions along the way.  I’ve found that with this new model students can learn at their own pace and they genuinely want to ‘complete the challenge’ set before them. It also allows me to circulate the room and give more individualized attention.

The most astonishing aspect to this change though was that during our 40 minudoarpic1te activity today we were able to discuss evaluating expressions, order of operations, exponents, nets of 3D shapes, area, perimeter, volume and surface area.  When I am teaching in front of the class and students are working on a worksheet, it is incredibly difficult to teach more than one or two skills at a time.  This may prove to be the most important benefit to the change in classroom model.

In all honesty, I do not use this model everyday but am trying to implement it more and more each week.  I will leave you with a challenge Mr. Meyer posed during a recent TED talk.  Study the graph below that shows water consumption during the Olympic Gold Medal Hockey Game.

doargraph What caused the highs and lows?  Where is the math in this graph?  What standards could this graph be used to teach?

You can follow Bill Doar on twitter @MrDoarAtWalton

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As you can see from his post, Bill Doar works on students’ attitudes toward math, not just their math competencies. He knows students need both confidence and competence to advance their math knowledge and skills.

In the United States we tend to project a belief that some students are “good” in math –  but most aren’t. Boys are better at math. Girls aren’t. These beliefs play out at home and in school. We know from research families and educators around the world have a different mindset about the capability of children to learn to think mathematically. Adult beliefs about learners impact children’s beliefs about themselves as learners. Negative beliefs about some children’s potential to learn can become their destiny.

Math is a case in point. Let’s change that.

 

Thanksgiving 2014 Reflections

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While watching flakes fall yesterday, I spent some time in the morning cleaning up meeting rooms in the office area where I work. IMG_1103I was thankful our schools were closed for Thanksgiving. Based on prior weather reports, we superintendents in the area knew it would have been one of those iffy “five o’clock in the morning” school closing calls that could have been a good one – or not.

Three Stories

In the afternoon, I ran a few errands and, as often happens, ran into people connected to my work in schools, past and present. It’s a time to chat, catch up on family news, and reminisce about educators who have touched young people’s lives. It’s a time to share our thankfulness for moving through hard times and our good fortune in better times.

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Jamestown still life by 4th grader

On this afternoon in Thanksgiving week, I listen to a father grateful his young son is home for the holiday after being deployed in aerial missions over Iraq. I remember his child’s big brown eyes and quiet demeanor from early days in elementary school, a child with a seriousness about him that belied his age. I’m not surprised to hear that he has chosen to serve his country. His family has always been a family with an ethos of service to others from their work in a local church to volunteerism with local youth.

I admire a sleeping puppy lounging in a store cart under the watchful eye of its new five-year-old owner. Her mom, who I also knew as a student a long time ago, tells me that school is just wonderful and that her daughter comes home every day talking about how much she loves her teacher. Her mother and I reconnected on the first day of school this year when I recognized her and offered to take a phone picture of her daughter and her together in front of school. She tells me this week how grateful she is that her daughter has had such a wonderful kindergarten experience in our elementary school. I look into the face of this young mother and can’t help but remember the day her father died as the result of a tragic car accident.  Our rural school community rallied around her family, devastated at the loss of a good man, a wonderful father, and a faithful volunteer at our school and in the community. Now she reminds me of him – active, positive, and engaged with her children.

Walking across a parking lot in front of a 29 N store, a pickup truck horn honks and I stop, worried that I’m in his way. Instead, the driver rolls down his window and says, “How are you doing, Pam?” It’s the dad of another Albemarle county graduate, a young man who works in management in a local sports arena. His dad speaks with pride of his son’s accomplishments and his delight at his son’s success just shines from the pickup truck. He shares how much his son loved a particular teacher who kindled his passion for learning long ago.

Not every conversation I have in stores, parking lots or a local fitness center goes this way. Schools are a reflection of what it means to be human. Humans make mistakes. Adults don’t always get it right. Kids don’t always get it right. Educators don’t always get it right. When we don’t, it’s our job to figure out how to fix the problem so we can make our community a better place for all concerned.

My Gratitude

However, this Thanksgiving week, I am privileged to hear a series of stories about young people with overall excellent experiences in our schools. This is truly more of the norm than exception in my work. In fact, I think it’s more of the norm than exception in my life. So, I write today about my gratitude for living in a great nation and wonderful community, being a part of the most important profession in the world, and routinely hearing stories of how educators make a difference in the lives of families and children.

The Power of Thank you

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Finally, I end with a story about visiting school as students were winding down for this break. Nothing makes me more grateful than spending time in schools with educators and children. On this day, I listen to a teacher reading a Thanksgiving story to second graders. I chat with parents and children finishing a feast in another room. I hear about a community service project in another.

Thanksgiving is uniquely American as a remembrance of what it means to overcome adversity and achieve success as a community. However, we don’t just share the history of Thanksgiving in our work with children that leads up to the break. We also share something with our children that’s incredibly important to happiness and success in life – taking the time every day to help others, share, pause and say thank you.

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Why Arts? A Learning Commitment to Our Young People

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balloons2I had an opportunity to spend time in Stephanie Helvin’s room recently at Stone-Robinson Elementary. Stephanie teaches art. Watching her second graders as they began work on creating line drawings of hot air balloons, I noted that she introduced them to science, math, and new vocabulary as she shared with them how to turn overlapping circles into dimensional drawings.

Why arts education? In a day and age when conversations about the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in pK-16 curricula and workforce preparation dominate education, what makes the arts still relevant? In many public schools across the United States, art room doors have closed, teachers have been let go, and art time has shifted to academic time.

Why then have we worked in Albemarle Schools to purposefully sustain a budget commitment to the arts despite current trends across the United States to slash arts from schools’ offerings?

As Kai Kight, Stanford graduate, says, “Innovation happens at intersections.” The capability to innovate directly affects our potential to ensure a thriving economy and culture across our communities. Arts education builds innovative thinking.

Our division has a critical commitment to educating young people well so they will be ready for their future as citizens, lifelong learners, and employers and employees. We believe this  comes from a well-rounded education to sustain learners’ creativity as well as to build their analytical skills across the curricula. Arts do both.

For example, a recent video shared with me by Albemarle High orchestra teacher Carrie Finnegan captured the neuroscience underpinnings of how playing a musical instrument benefits your brain and impacts both linguistic and mathematical functions:

We also understand that learning through arts will build deep cognitive learning in young students:

“The arts are not just expressive and affective, they are deeply cognitive. They develop essential thinking tools — pattern recognition and development; mental representations of what is observed or imagined; symbolic, allegorical and metaphorical representations; careful observation of the world; and abstraction from complexity.” (How the Arts Develop the Young Brain, Sousa)

Our fabulous arts teachers across the county’s schools understand the importance of their role to build this deep learning among children by keeping creativity alive as our learners move through school. Andrew Sherogan, Meriwether Lewis Elementary, and Molly Foster, Hollymead Elementary, are two of our visual arts teachers who routinely share that message in their blogs as they profile children engaging in our arts programs through project-based learning.

stem2We are not alone in our commitment to putting the A from arts into our contemporary focus on STEM.  We see the value in STEAM just as top universities do, including our own University of Virginia.

President Teresa Sullivan and actor Kevin Spacey described this  at the recent UVA President’s Speaker Series for the Arts:

“The University’s arts curriculum inspires creativity, innovation and discovery, while giving our students across all disciplines opportunities to integrate the arts into their U.Va. experience.” (Sullivan)

“We have this system that we call STEM, to teach sciences and technologies. Now there are a lot of schools who are adding an ‘A’ and calling it ‘STEAM.’ ‘A’ is for arts,” Spacey said. “I think it’s incredibly important because while math, science and technology are hugely important, if we leave behind a young person’s imagination or creativity, I think they won’t have as full a life.” (Spacey)

We realize in Albemarle that young people draw upon arts skills to help them design, build, engineer, produce as well as use math, science, engineering and technology competencies – whether creating an electric guitar or 3-D printing a prosthetic hand. The renowned WAHS robotics teams use a multitude of integrated skills essential to their design process. It’s not just their engineering minds at work. There’s a wealth of creativity embedded throughout their design decisions.

Kai Kight, graduate of of Stanford University, certainly understands the value of integrating the arts across the curricula while sustaining a passion for “arts for arts sake.” So do engineering professors. One said to me recently on a tour of our schools that a keen grasp .. of “spatial thinking helps our young people excel as they enter higher levels of math from trigonometry to advanced calculus.”

Arts are as important today as they have ever been in human history. Arts opportunities engage learners’ interests and inspire careers as well as a lifetime of personal enjoyment. It’s why I’m committed to arts education for all students we serve in our schools.

 

 

An Inside View from a Student Teacher: Starting the School Year

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How do new professionals learn a set of skills, routines, and knowledge necessary to success? 

Whether it’s the field of medicine, banking, automotive maintenance or teaching, students in those fields learn as much or more on the job in intern or residency experiences with experts as they do sitting in classrooms. The apprenticeship always has been a key way that expertise is transmitted forward from one generation to the next.

Student teachers learn on the job as apprentices with Albemarle’s top teachers. Here’s one example of many.

Yarden Batson, student teacher at Meriwether Lewis Elementary with master teacher Anne Straume, shares her perspective on what she learned as she watched and assisted Mrs. Straume in the first week of school.

First Week of School

by Yarden Batson, University of Virginia student teacher

This week of school was one in which I learned how to set-up the classroom, h“>ow to become a part of a professional learning community (PLC), how to start establishing a community of   learners, and how to create authentic lessons that motivate students to have high expectations for themselves.community (PLC), how to start establishing a community of learners, and how to create authentic lessons that motivate students to have high expectations for themselves.

After almost a week of planning I was excited to meet the students. They walked in on the first day of school ready to learn. Many of the students were excited to see friends they haven’t seen in a while as well as meet students who are new to the school.These first few days of school required a lot of planning and creativity. My teacher and I want to design authentic learning experiences for the students as well as create a community in which all students’ strengths are used. We want to motivate all of our students to work their hardest and learn that they have the power to achieve great things and make positive changes in the world around them.I taught my first few lessons this week as well as observed as the teacher encouraged struggling students, went over expectations, and modeled appropriate classroom behavior. I feel so lucky to have a teacher, who is so well-loved and so enthusiastic about her students, model and guide me through this experience.I am looking forward to a wonderful semester of student teaching!

Below are some pictures from “Open House” and a sneak peek into what we are planning for the semester.

A Year of Extraordinary Learning

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It has been an extraordinary year of learning for the more than 13,200 students who attended our schools in 2013-14!

14collageWhen I visited classrooms this year, I saw young people building and sustaining creativity, engaging in critical thinking, working collaboratively and communicating effectively, acquiring learning competencies that will serve them for a lifetime.  The breadth of these student experiences is beyond remarkable.  This only was possible through the contributions of people who believe that our young people deserve our best work–in every department, at every grade level and within every work area that serves young people.

Every adult counted.

It’s not a coincidence that when our County Student Council solicited “We Notice” recognition nominations, we received hundreds of responses from students. They celebrated teachers and cafeteria staff, custodians and teaching assistants, nurses, and office staff, bus drivers, coaches and administrators.

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They reminded us of something we already knew.  Our “behind the scenes” professionals clearly made a difference every day in the lives of our students and families and deserved to be spotlighted.

Technology and building services staff members often worked long after everyone left our buildings – making sure repairs were made, upgrades occurred, and the power worked. Cafeteria workers were in place early, accepting deliveries, sanitizing work areas and preparing food for the day.  In transportation, staff members serviced buses, ordered parts, scheduled routes, and updated parents about buses unavoidably late.  They also retrieved “lost” items, reassured parents about school being opened– or school being closed – on bad weather days. IMG_0883In the classroom, it was inspiring to see young people engaged in the practical application of their learning, moving far beyond simply memorizing information for state tests.  Across content areas and grade levels, I saw young people eagerly demonstrating that when teachers engage and empower them, learning accelerates. Students experienced learning at its highest levels because teachers created multiple pathways to knowledge and discovery.

During the year, students:

  • constructed and launched rockets and engineered robots, 
  • choreographed dance routines, wrote lyrics, and produced songs,
  • kicked, tossed, ran, and jumped their way to a fit lifestyle,
  • learned Japanese, French, Spanish, German, and English too,
  • scripted and created award-winning videos,
  • programmed and printed innovative technology 3-D solutions to support handicapped classmates,
  • researched, designed and secured funding and built outdoor learning gardens, a wetlands discovery area and a wildlife center,
  • recycled cardboard into marble roller coasters and demonstrated how changing slope changes speed,
  • participated in mock United Nations and Model Congress activities,
  • performed complex musical pieces, dramatic performances, scientific and historical research, competing at the top level of state and national championships,
  • volunteered thousands of community service hours to support schools, community organizations and service facilities and,
  • so much more it’s impossible to begin to share it all.

We know success in life demands far more than a proficient score on an SOL test, a high SAT or AP score or even a superior grade point average. It also requires the ability to solve problems, create products, debate answers to challenging questions, work effectively with diverse peers and persuasively communicate face-to-face and in multiple media. This road to success opens as soon as children enter our doors, some coming with all the resources a family might dream of providing their children and others with far less.

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Yet, every one of our learners from our high school graduates to pre-schoolers were the beneficiaries of the work of an extraordinarily dedicated and skilled team of professionals……professionals with many different titles and responsibilities, work locations and backgrounds.  

 

 

 

Because of the unity of our educational communities – all twenty-six schools, operational departments, and instructional support – we are able to offer our young people our very best.

Thank you, Albemarle educators, for doing such an important job and doing it so incredibly well.


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

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

An Introduction to the Student Teaching Experience

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

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

Claire’s Classroom Experience

Ms. Cantrell’s blog profile:

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

Update: We Are Readers (Capital R)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A New Year Begins

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The opening of a new school year always brings joy, passion, and excitement to our educators’ work with young people. As I visit each school across Albemarle County, I see brightness captured in our children’s eyes, a quickness to their step as they enter new classrooms, and enthusiasm in their voices as they embrace interesting ideas and questions that challenge them to think. Albemarle educators value our children acquiring the competencies of lifelong learning readiness. When our current pre-schoolers graduate in 2027, we want them to be ready for a world that will be different than the one we know today.

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Kindergarten Spanish Lesson

If any one variable has changed the world over the last decade, most people would say it is technological advances. Whether considering the workforce, the home and community, politics, the economy, or communication media, technology advances have changed the way we cook, drive, work, communicate, entertain, vote, travel, purchase, pay, and learn. From agri-business to engineering, no sector is unchanged.

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Parents and educators alike want our children to be well educated for their century.  We know that despite the advances of technology as learning tools, the quality of teaching remains a vital factor to achieving our dream to unleash the learning potential of every child enrolled in our schools. This means investing in the training educators need to continue to advance and develop skills and expertise.  This summer and on work days before school started, teachers participated in professional training to deepen content knowledge, focus on new curricular standards, and refine performance assessments for use with students during the year.

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Agnor-Hurt Educators Welcome Back Young Learners

This year, four schools – Monticello High and Walton, Burley and Jouett Middle Schools – are using 1:1 learning technologies with certain grade levels. Elementary school educators in every school are working to incorporate “hands-on” learning experiences across the curricula so that young learners have opportunities to create, build, design, and make using traditional and contemporary learning tools.  Cale Elementary continues to pilot bilingual language learning as a pilot in anticipation of expanding second language learning in more elementary schools in the future. Four middle schools – Henley, Sutherland, Walton, and Jouett –  have new learning labs where students will explore topics including advanced manufacturing and project based learning in math. Western Albemarle staff are working this year to design and develop a third academy to be made available to our county high school learners next year – an environmental studies center. Every school has renovated spaces – libraries, cafeterias, art rooms, inquiry labs, technical education, project areas – designed for contemporary learners and learning. At Albemarle High a new writing studio was created as part of the library suite, a space where students can work with peers to improve writing skills and pursue interests in personal writing.

CATEC builders

CATEC Design/Builders

This renewed focus on active learning by our students emerges from the Board’s revised strategic plan, Horizon 2020, which sets in place the Division’s next steps in determining the optimal use of resources, implementation of balanced assessments, expansion of partnerships, and improvement of opportunity and achievement among all learners.

 

In identifying new strategic objectives, the Board, educators, parents and community partners who participated in development of Horizon 2020 believe that our young people must graduate from our schools capable and competent to embrace learning across a lifetime, unleashing their potential to pursue career options, post-secondary education, and adult citizenship with all the enthusiasm and excitement they brought with them when they first entered our schools.

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