Spring Updates: From Homework to Henley’s New Fitness Center

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Stay Tuned: Homework Policy Under Consideration

Spring flies by in our schools as we begin the approach to the end of the school year. The days are longer and our learners are out on playing fields until dark and then heading home for family time and sometimes hours of homework.

Because of concerns about the time some students spend on homework, the School Board’s Health Advisory Board (parents and health professionals from our community) requested that the School Board consider changes in policy to more clearly regulate the amount of time students spend on homework on a weekly basis. The Health Advisory Board brought this recommendation forward because of their belief that our students’ overall health and wellness must be supported by adequate nightly sleep, family time, and down time away from school work.

As a result of this recommendation, school staff have been engaged in discussions about homework for well over a year using information homework research, surveys of parents, teachers, and students, and direct feedback from groups such as Parent Council and Teacher Advisory. As analysis of feedback and data are brought to closure, the School Board will consider final recommendations from staff and determine any changes to be made in its current homework policy.

Henley Middle School Fitness Center Opens

In the United States, anyone who follows mainstream media knows that many common adult diseases result from underlying causes that we can control.  As reported by the Presidential Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, many Americans do not lead a fit and healthy lifestyle and this begins at an early age. While a poor diet is a known culprit, lack of exercise is also a contributor to what some call lifestyle diseases.

Henley gym3On April 25, Henley Middle School celebrated the grand opening of its new “fit for life” fitness center which includes indoor and outdoor areas for gym activities, strengthening and conditioning, and aerobic workouts. After a ribbon cutting by two students, eighth graders demonstrated the different areas to School Board members, community members, staff and local media.

And, how do middle school students describe their new fitness center? Awesome … Challenging … fun … hard… love it ….. Great… really good .. amazing!

Hneley gymPhysical education teachers at Henley envisioned the fitness center as a more effective space in which to teach young people the competencies needed to lead a fit and healthy lifestyle into adulthood. Rather than requesting a second traditional gym to accommodate increased student enrollment, the PE teachers researched and recommended the fitness center concept to staff and architects charged by the Board to address the significant overcrowding of the school’s gym. The current gym has been used to serve the physical education needs of over 800 students even though it was constructed to serve many fewer students.

Henley gym2The Henley fitness center was created at no more cost than building a second gym but allows teachers to engage students in a variety of fitness activities that cannot be accomplished in a traditional gym environment.

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