A Letter to Our Teachers

Horace Mann is a name not unknown to public school educators. He was the first officer ever appointed to a public school board more than 175 years ago and an historian once wrote of him—

No one did more to establish in the minds of the American people the conception that education should be universal, non-sectarian, free, and that its aims should be social efficiency, civic virtue, and character, rather than mere learning or the advancement of education ends.

The connection between classroom and community is quite a legacy and one that is as meaningful and powerful today as it has been throughout human history.

photo courtesy of                                     Rob Garland, MoHS teacher

Locally, this is the week of our Golden Apple celebrations and nationally, it is a week devoted to the recognition of teachers in every one of the more than 13,500 school divisions across America.

 It has been a lifetime habit of mine when talking with people I’ve met from all walks of life to ask them the same question—who was your favorite teacher? It is one question that always gets answered and I always enjoy and learn from the stories that follow. The teachers are different; from all disciplines and from grade levels but they share in common the spark they ignited within the story-teller. Time may have blurred the recollections of many childhood experiences but everyone always remembers the teacher who changed their life.

I may be biased but I know Albemarle County Public Schools has more life-changers in the classroom per capita than any other school division in the country. Our teachers long have been champions of holistic education, transferring knowledge and skill development and also building among students a strong sense of respect and decency in how we treat one another; an unshakeable bond of friendship and support for all others and a desire to work together for a common purpose.

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Long before concepts such as student-centered learning and maker-infused curriculum entered our lexicon, teachers were practicing these principles and giving students stories to tell for the rest of their lives.

Our one strategic goal commits us to prepare students for lifelong success as learners, workers and…..citizens. The learning and working part of this has obvious import to quality of life but the citizen part, the values part, is deeper. Our administrators and our classified staff, and most of all, our teachers, are very good at understanding this.

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Mr. and Mrs. Nunley, Golden Apple Award sponsors with John Baran, MoHS teacher

Going back to Horace Mann, he was advocating for universal, non-sectarian and free public education at a time when our nation looked and was very different from what it is today. Yet, almost two centuries later, we remain the most successful, prosperous, compassionate and generous nation on earth.

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Director Jennings and Bearettes

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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.