A Letter to Our Albemarle and Charlottesville School Communities

Dear Members of our School Communities:

The events of this weekend were tragic beyond words, and as such events always do, they extracted a heavy price. A wonderful young lady was taken from us. Two brave and devoted public servants also lost their lives. Many of our neighbors suffered injuries and trauma, and all of us are sharing in the pain.

One national television reporter asked how Charlottesville will now feel to have its name linked in memory to other cities and towns across our country that have suffered from unspeakable crimes against humanity.

How will we feel and what will we do?

The memory of this weekend’s events should survive as a community that responded forcefully in overcoming the darkest impulses of those who traffic in hatred, intolerance, and brute force.

The message from Charlottesville to our nation must be stronger than ever before—that we are a community that values the safety of every person, the dignity of every resident, the respect of every background, the equality of every opportunity, and the strength of every collaboration that promotes the common good.

As they should be, the values of our communities are found in our public schools. Our schools, after all, are the source of our greatest dreams and aspirations for our children. It is where we learn about the power of ideas, the importance of history, the strength of community, and the right of every child to reach their highest potential.

Our schools are where we make acquaintance with civic responsibility. The work we do in our schools must always bring to life our nation’s most sacred promise—“to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

There is no room in this sacred promise for hatred, racism, violence and intolerance.

The answer to the question from the national media about how Charlottesville will be known is that we will be known as the community that rededicated itself to the promise of America and to those ideals that define our nation’s highest calling.

We will be known as a community whose teachers and staff will continue to do what the best educators always have done—stand tall in modeling these American ideals in their work every day.

Dr. Rosa S. Atkins, Superintendent
Mr. Juandiego R. Wade, Board Chair

Charlottesville City Schools

Dr. Pamela R. Moran, Superintendent
Dr. Katherine L. Acuff, Board Chair

Albemarle County Public Schools

Welcome to 2016 – It’s beginning to feel a lot like winter!

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IMG_1254Welcome to 2016! I hope everyone experienced a relaxing holiday season with family and friends. We asked our staff and students to take time away from school and homework over the winter break to spend time with their families, read a good book, visit relatives, or simply do those things that families accomplish together – cleaning out a closet or repairing something around the home.

Now it’s time to get back to school and re-engage with our learners as we head toward the end of the first semester.

January also heralds two important processes for our community – inclement weather decisions and budget season engagement

Anyone who’s experienced what it means to close or delay schools is well aware of all the frustrations that snow and ice bring to our lives here in Albemarle County. We work hard to keep our schools open but if we have ice or a snow storm, it often means school closures occur even after roads are clear in the urban areas. Albemarle still is a very rural county and many roads that our buses travel are unpaved, mountainous and narrow once beyond of the urban ring and off our main highways.

I am often asked how the decision is made to close schools in winter and what helps guide the final decision. Chief operations officer, Dean Tistadt, explains the division’s school-closing decision-making process in response to winter weather in this video.

We also know that child care, work schedules, and school closures collide to create frustration for parents and employees alike even as our children sing “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” That’s why school closing communication is so important during the winter.

To communicate clearly, we use every media outlet possible including notifying parents as soon as possible through our electronic communications system.This can mean a late evening or early morning wake-up call communication from the school division.If you haven’t signed up for the system and wish to do so, please contact your school’s office staff as soon as possible.

Sometimes, we don’t have enough information to make an evening call. In that case, we need  spend all night monitoring multiple weather system services as well as contacting state and local public safety, VDOT, and surrounding division transportation teams. We also put our own school transportation road assessment team “boots on the ground” to assess road conditions and report in prior to a decision being made.

Around 5 am, I receive a call from Transportation Director Jim Foley and Dean Tistadt in operations and we go through the checklist of data related current and potential weather and road conditions – not just in Albemarle but also in surrounding counties (on the first day of school, I road a Stone-Robinson Elementary bus that crossed into both Fluvanna and Louisa counties. This also can happen with Nelson, Green, Orange, and Buckingham.) We together use the checklist data to make our best analysis of the potential for inclement weather, Mr. Foley makes a well thought out recommendation and only then do I decide to open or close schools.

The worst case scenario occurs when bad weather arrives after buses are on the road (drivers begin leaving to start routes often by 5:00-5:30 am) or a storm system changes course at the last moment. That’s when our team sometimes makes an early morning decision that isn’t in sync with the incoming weather despite our best deliberations. Overall, our calls have a high rate of being on target. However, we know that snow and ice sometimes defy the best meteorologists’ forecasts and we get our decision wrong as a result. However, our entire team appreciates that parents know and support that our job #1 is to always keep children. Sometimes that means we need to close school due to snow or ice.

Some important reminders:

  • Please update your child’s childcare plans after school in the event of an early closing if those have changed since the beginning of the school year. You can contact your school’s office staff to do this.
  • Make sure your child knows the current early closing plan as well as your child’s after school care provider.
  • If your child’s plans need to change after school due to an early closing, please call school office staff as soon as possible to communicate plan changes. Office phone lines stay very busy on a snow day but do not rely on email to communicate a change in plans since it may not be read in time.
  • Review transportation plans with your teen driver in the event of inclement weather. One of my greatest concerns is the accident potential associated with inexperienced teen drivers on our highways in bad weather.
  • School buses are safe transportation vehicles and our drivers routinely go through required training and each driver holds CDL commercial driver’s licenses. Our drivers are prepared to drive in bad weather.

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  • Follow us on Facebook and twitter @k12albemarle.org

 

 

 

Budget work has been in progress for months and I will do my official presentation of the 2016-17 funding request to the School Board on Tuesday, January 19. More information will be provided here in the coming weeks. Here’s a link to the budget calendar.  

 

 

 

February is School Board Appreciation Month

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A 1960 graduate of Albemarle High School, Sherman Shifflett, sent the below message to me. Sherman serves on the Louisa County School Board and is a member of the Albemarle High School Alumni Association. I did not realize February is School Board Member Appreciation Month in Virginia. The article is correct, we do not recognize and thank enough, those individuals that serve. For the most part, it is a thankless position that makes so many important decisions and is an essential part of our educational system. I encourage you to put children first and politics last. I take this opportunity to say thank you for serving Albemarle county as a school board member.

Charles Crenshaw
AHS Alumni Association
Chairman

Thank Your School Board Members

When things get tough in a democracy, it’s easy to blame decision-makers. This reality makes one of our most valuable professional outlets – public service – an often thankless endeavor. As public servants on the hyper local level, school board members occupy a crucial role in our democracy. Frequently, they receive less than glowing coverage in the popular press, if they receive any at all. Too often, we ignore the value inherent in their existence, and we forget to acknowledge their efforts that are often vital in building a strong foundation for public schools in communities across the country. School board members form the largest democratic body in the United States and February 1, 2013, marks the beginning of Virginia’s “School Board Appreciation Month,” an opportunity for citizens from across the Commonwealth to celebrate their local school board members. Electing a good board may be the responsibility of the public, but the day-to-day responsibilities of school governance fall on the shoulders of those who are elected to serve.

As a country, we all celebrate the concept of local democratic representation and control. When it comes to ensuring high quality in our nation’s public schools, we depend on the intelligence, capacity and hard work of our local school board members – our democratically elected citizens. These individuals are responsible for major decisions affecting the lives of students across Virginia – and other states – from school lunches and budgeting to developing a shared vision for schools and the district. They hire the superintendent, manage labor contracts, and work to ensure students have a safe and healthy learning environment. When localities across the state boast vibrant, engaging and efficiently run institutions of learning, it is reason to sit up and take note. It is also a reason to celebrate.

There are almost 850 school board members across the Commonwealth, from Fairfax and Arlington to Norfolk, Richmond, Roanoke and Charlottesville who are working to prepare students for the 21st century, and to be college and career ready, to not just get by, but to thrive in the future full of uncertainty. This year’s theme “School Boards Speak Out for Public Education,” is intended to highlight the efforts of school board members to advocate for public education. This acknowledgment comes at a time when districts and schools are struggling to provide even more for their students with less than adequate resources. We celebrate their efforts to build partnerships with stakeholders in their communities, set the direction for public schools to ensure all students receive a high-quality education, and contribute to the excellence of the system as a whole.

In this month of February, we have an opportunity to celebrate all that school board members represent and do, as symbols of our local democracy and as tireless public servants. With so many boards in any given diverse state, some will shine above all others, while a handful will be in need of change and improvements. However, this month, take time to acknowledge your local school board representatives, with a phone call, email, letter, or through social media. Moving forward, we can show support of their work through increased participation, we can engage as citizens and offer our feedback and ideas, and we can continue to push for policies and outcomes that bolster our public schools. Sometime this month, consider taking a moment to raise a glass to public servants and toast democracy.

Tarsi Dunlop lives in Arlington, Virginia and serves as the Program and Operations Manager at the Learning First Alliance. As a Virginia resident, she would like to personally thank all school board members that work tirelessly to ensure that children in the Commonwealth have access to high-quality schools and equal opportunities.