We Are Back in School!

IMG_4100Albemarle County Public Schools: One Student-Centered Goal ..

All Albemarle County Public Schools students will graduate having actively mastered the lifelong-learning skills they need to succeed as 21st century learners, workers and citizens.

Albemarle Schools Strategic Plan

sch-opening-boxThe 2017-18 School Year is well underway across all 25 Albemarle County Public Schools. I am always delighted each year to visit every school in the first week to see our teachers and students come together to form new communities of learning. It is a joy to watch as our youngest children enter school for the first time and are greeted by teachers who are ready to help them make the transition into preschool and kindergarten. They learn in kindergarten to work and play with others and to negotiate their way around their schools. In many ways, children begin to acquire the lifelong learning competencies that we value for our graduates on the first day of school.

sch-opening-cabelSimilar transitions occur in middle and high schools as sixth and ninth graders enter their schools, finding that their status as the school elders in elementary and middle schools has now shifted to being the youngest students again in new buildings in which they join peers from other schools to form even larger communities of learners and learning. Our middle and high schools set up structures to ease new students into school schedules, activities, and learning expectations. This can mean time with school counselors, discussions in advisory periods such as the Developmental Design model we use in middle schools, and informal and formal visits with administrators and teachers who help with individual learning or social-emotional needs.

This year, the School Board approved funding in its 2017-18 budget for one new initiative to address the social emotional and academic needs of students with risk factors. The SEAD team concept has been put in place in four urban elementary schools to support professional development of teachers in the schools to better equip them with competencies for working with students with learning challenges. The SEAD team is working with community agencies and non-profits to also better leverage local wrap around services for students with social, emotional, or academic needs.  Benchmark data across multiple indicators will be used to monitor effectiveness of the SEAD team concept and its impact on student learning, absenteeism, behavior, and social-emotional competencies.

Imagine driving up to fifty children to and from school every day…

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Since my first day as superintendent, I have ridden a school bus, often getting on the bus when light has just touched the morning sky. Watching the drivers check their manifest and listening to the chirrup of the drivers and dispatch over the bus radio reminds me that our drivers are professionally trained drivers, all with a CDL license, and hours behind the wheel learning not how to manage goods in a tractor-trailer but rather how to safely transport as many as 50 students to and from school each day. They watch for the drivers who are not watching for our buses to be sure our children stay safely until they can be waved to the bus. They eye their mirrors to be sure whether a passenger is 4 or 18 that they remain safely seated.

As our young people enter the bus on the first day, our drivers greet them with a smile, often by name. Parents entrusting their children for the first time to our drivers often linger at the bottom of the steps watching as their four- or five-year olds take their seats. Our buses drive upwards of 14,000 miles every day across the 726 square miles of Albemarle County Public Schools. At the beginning of this year, we celebrated well over 5 million miles of safe driving and maintained an on-time arrival rate of 98% or better, division-wide, throughout the entirety of the past school year. Our Transportation Department sees safe transportation of children as Job #1!

Bond referendum support makes new spaces and security entrances possible this year …

sch-openingThis past November, the bond referendum to modernize schools and add critically needed security entrances to several schools was approved by almost 75% of our county voters. This year, Jack Jouett and Walton Middle Schools have new science learning labs, Western has begun its planning for new science and academy lab spaces, and Baker-Butler and Scottsville Elementary Schools have new security entrances moving forward for completion in this school year. The Woodbrook Elementary addition and modernization of the existing school is underway to open in 2018-19. This modernization of facilities is long overdue given the age of schools across the division.

The added capacity at Woodbrook Elementary will offer some relief to growth occurring in Albemarle’s urban ring. However, the Long-range Planning Committee and School Board are closely monitoring growth in the northern corridor, at Pantops, along Avon and Fifth Street Extended, and in the Crozet growth areas. While our rural schools are in general projected for enrollment declines, we are experiencing growth in other areas of the county.

High school over-capacity enrollment at Albemarle High School has been a target for study this past year and a consultation team’s recommendation will be brought forward to the School Board for consideration of a strategy or strategies to address over-enrollment before November 2018.

Virginia’s Profile of the Graduate and High School 2022 Planning Advances …

sch-opening-rickThe Virginia Board of Education is poised to take action on changes to current regulations for high school graduates as well as school accreditation in general. For high school students, a reduction in state requirements for verified credits is proposed to impact the entering students entering high school in 2018 who will graduate in 2022. The intention of proposed changes is to increase opportunities for students to engage in work-based experiences, independent studies, and internships before exiting high school as well as coursework aligned to the competencies associated with the 5Cs: communication, critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, and citizenship. Information about proposed Profile of the Graduate model can be accessed by clicking here.

In anticipation of Virginia’s implementation of the Profile of the Graduate model, Albemarle County educators have spent two years in a team supplemented with advisory group feedback from representative parents, students, and business community members developing High School 2022, a program guide to proposed changes essential to implementing the state’s model. The current work to address high school capacity and modernization will align with the strategic work of our own high school community members.  For more information on High School 2022, click here.

Welcome to the 2017-18 School Year! To reach your child’s school, communication information can be found here.

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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.

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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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Teachers Matter: Relationships, Relevance and Rigor

What does passion for learning look like? As I visit schools, the high quality of teaching I observe provides opportunities for students to experience a passion for learning in our classrooms, libraries, gyms, art rooms, and performing arts spaces.

I recently observed middle school students in a Civics class energetically discussing personal perspectives on the difference between rights and privileges as they applied the concept to school dress codes. They found out about Supreme Court cases, law, and policy as they talked with each other and the teacher. Kindergarteners in another school bubbled with excitement as they learned together to read each others’ names sitting on a rug with the teacher. In both cases, teachers recognized that active learners are enthusiastic learners and that such enthusiasm results in contagion for further learning.

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When students work individually or together in project- and problem-based work, the level of active learning is high. While daily instruction represents a balance of activities including direct teaching, active learning brings to life our Vision that learners will “embrace learning, excel, and own their future.” Working together, students also acquire competencies they will need for adult citizenship, post-secondary education, and, ultimately, the work world.

From our own experience as students, we also know that great teaching makes learning irresistible. It’s no surprise to educators that quality teaching is the most important reason inside a school for a child’s success. (Of all factors inside and outside of school that affect achievement, family income makes the biggest difference.) Irresistible learning draws young people to others who share common interests and they dig deeper into content that otherwise might not be explored.

What leads to irresistible learning? A child’s relationship with teachers – and parents – influences his or her desire to learn. Teachers who create challenging activities provoke both a student’s curiosity and further thinking about problems, ideas, and knowledge. When learning becomes relevant to students, they’re better able to make real world sense of Virginia’s required Standards of Learning. Teachers who ground their work with young people through relationships, relevancy, and rigor create communities of learners in which young people acquire the competencies they need to be successful graduates of our high schools.

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Recently, I listened to a group of Cale Elementary children describe how they figured out the percentage of land mass and water on Earth by tossing a soft globe to each other and recording how many times a hand landed on land versus water. This activity supported a different kind of thinking than would occur from simply reading a textbook to find the answer. The students practiced data collection skills, estimation competency, and analytical thinking individually and as a team. The class percolated with enthusiasm as they applied geography, math, and science concepts and knowledge to figure out the earth’s land and water percentages. They took on the role of “experts” to teach me how they accomplished this performance task while the teacher smiled at their capability to make sense out of fractions and percentages as a function of the data they had collected. Their passion was evident.

What kinds of experiences kindle passion in our young people?

Third graders at Meriwether Lewis Elementary have already Skyped this year with schools in Australia and Egypt to ask questions and learn about those countries. A third grader said, “I don’t just like hearing and reading about a place, I love going to it using Skype.”

The School Board opened its regular meeting on September 8 with a beautiful and passionate rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by the Burley Bearettes – in remembrance of the tenth anniversary of “9/11.”

Walton Middle School students connected virtually with students in Godfrey-Lee School District in Michigan to share project work related to learning about the history of “9/11.”

"9/11" parent/student project

Parents and students at Jack Jouett Middle School participated in the “I will” campaign to make service pledges at 911day.org in memory of those who perished on that day or who were first responders.

Burley students also just finished a Constitutional Convention re-enactment as part of a Constitution unit underway as we approach national Constitution Week.

Irresistible learning occurs within all extracurricular and curricular areas, not just English, science, history, mathematics, and world languages. It’s in the art on display in hallways as students show what they “see”. It’s in the laughter of Henley’s choral students practicing rhythm as they learned each other’s names. It’s in the student-athletes, male and female, hard at work in fall sports competitions. It’s in young people creating and performing a variety of fall programs – band, strings, choral, and drama productions.

Passion also resides in the new Broadus Wood music teacher working with an expert mentor teacher to plan the first few weeks of school. Passion for learning is not just about our young people. It’s found within our entire community of professionals who also learn from each other and together.

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Education is a people business. When the Board, school staff, or I speak to the importance of student and teacher access to technology tools and other resources, it’s critical to remember that challenging and interesting learning comes from its planning and facilitation by teachers. As I have often said, technology cannot greet a child in the morning, listen, make eye contact, or offer advice. While all forms of technology – books, pencils, paper, and netbooks – have a place in our schools, technologies cannot replace the teacher. It’s teachers who make our Division’s core values come alive; expecting excellence in all we do, offering young people our very best, ensuring respect for self and others, and valuing our diverse school communities.

Every school community needs creative and thoughtful professionals with the expertise to choose from a “tool kit” of available instructional strategies, technologies, resources, and room arrangements to support learners to access what they need to accomplish the learning work they need to do. Every teacher needs contemporary resources and technologies to ensure children have access to the tools they need to accomplish contemporary learning work that prepares them for life after high school.

We’re fortunate in Albemarle County to employ teachers who know how to create contemporary learning opportunities for young people. They are committed to their own continuous development to extend and enhance their professional skills across their careers just as their counterparts in medicine, law, engineering, and other professions do. Our educators know that learning is about far more than scores on a multiple-choice test. They know they make a difference in whether young people will find learning irresistible.

Teachers matter.