Learning in Our Schools: Community Support is Essential

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Spring is one of the busiest times of the year in our schools. Competitions abound; regional and national science fairs, Destination Imagination, National History Day, athletic teams,wahs-hd-10 and so much more. Drama students are putting final touches on performances or smiling because their the performance is a wrap. Music students are preparing for spring performances and the Fine Arts Festival at Fashion Square Mall has been viewed by thousands of community members and finally taken down after a month-long exhibition.

 

 

Our elementary schools have many spring evening activities planned involving students; Art Shows, Quest Fests, STEAM fairs to Design and Make nights. It’s a time for field trips to museums and historical sites such as Washington, D.C., Richmond, and Williamsburg. The promahe-trip-8s are over and our seniors anticipate their final walk across the stage, a day when they are still Albemarle students in one moment and graduates of our schools in the next.

All of the fine work accomplished by our young people occurs because of partnerships that result in the enriched opportunities we support in our schools. We celebrate all the positive accomplishments of our young people and value the partnerships we have with parents, community volunteers in our schools, and business community contributors who help make our schools wonderful environments for our children.

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DAR volunteers at Stone Robinson Elem

Teachers work hard every day to engage our learners in activities that challenge them to think deeply as they problem-solve, plan and conduct research, defend arguments, communicate through a variety of forms of media, learn to live a fit and healthy lifestyle, create, and develop skills of logical and analytical reasoning. This does not happen by chance. This work occurs because of our division’s focus on Lifelong Learning Competencies, skills, dispositions, and knowledge work that will be useful not just in school but well after our young people have moved into adulthood.

beeteam-4 I’ve had the recent experience of watching a group of Monticello High School students research, develop, and implement a plan to bring bee hives to the school grounds as a part of their environmental sciences studies.

 

 

3-sre-projFourth graders at Stone-Robinson Elementary demonstrated a variety of projects they constructed from cardboard illustrating potential and kinetic energy.

 

 

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Just last week, National Society of Black Engineers Junior members from Burley Middle School recently showcased for parents and staff their projects to build robots and write app programs.

 

 

2-youth-summitThe capstone project for teen representatives from all of our regional high schools occurred during the TomTom Festival when students from city, county, and private schools attended a Youth Summit planned and run by students for students to share their talents, big ideas for the future of school, and entrepreneurial pitches for projects they dream to make come true.
catec-auto-5In a visit to CATEC, automotive students shared their work under the hood and talked about their futures. I listened as one senior, a young woman, described her enlistment in the Navy with hopes of becoming an aviation mechanic. She informed me that this would be a path to a wonderful career, one that she sees as a positive step in her life after high school.

In every visit I make to our schools, I have the pleasure of talking with students and teachers as they share their work with me. I am amazed at the performances, the art work, the challenging projects, and the competitive accomplishments of our students. They are doing so much more rigorous work than occurred in high school fifty or thirty or even fifteen years ago and our students graduate in greater numbers, attend more highly competitive colleges and universities, and provide community service through social good projects in higher numbers than ever recorded in our community.

This doesn’t happen by chance. It happens because education matters in Albemarle County. And, even as our community grows more diverse, our students continue to thrive with support from volunteers, excellent teaching staff, and their parents.  Not every school in America is fortunate to be situated in a such a community. We are and I do not take that for granted.

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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

 

 

 

 

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.

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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!

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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.