A New Year’s Resolution: Renewing Our Collective Commitment to Care

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Dear Colleagues:

This past week, Walton Middle School opened their doors to local residents to distribute food and toys to families in need. Students were part of the effort to collect these items, learning an important lesson about what it means to care about all the members of your community, even those who too often can be invisible in our thoughts.

Crozet Elem donates to Veterans Affairs Medical Center

What happened at Walton was not unique to that school of course; many of our students, staff and parents across our division come together at this and other times of the year to lend a hand to those who are in need. It is the most satisfying of expressions of our school division’s values.

This particularly is a year when such expressions reverberate with a higher voice. Even a casual observer of public events here and throughout our nation would acknowledge the importance of revisiting and strengthening our collective commitment to care about those whose life circumstances or beliefs differ from ours. Empathy is a difficult life skill to acquire and maintain under the best of circumstances much less in times of stress.

That’s why efforts such as the one at Walton, or programs such as Responsive Classroom, AVID, Culturally Responsive Teaching, Community Diversity Celebrations, Equity & Access, are so invaluable. They energize us to look beyond our own interests.

The Center for Public Education calls this An American Imperative. They note, “public schools are uniquely positioned to convey….such vital concepts in our civil society as integrity, individual responsibility, fairness, justice, patriotism, respect for others, doing a good job, being on time, working well with others, being a good citizen, and exercising democracy in government and other interactions.”

Conveying these values, the Center adds, “involves more than teachers lecturing or students reading about values. It involves day-to-day practices within the classroom that help students learn to recognize and exercise these values in everyday life.”

That’s why one of my favorite memories of 2017 was that of the Woodbrook third grader who wrote to her principal asking if the school could help students in Houston whose families had been victimized by Hurricane Harvey. With the help of her peers who gave up their ice cream money, Woodbrook’s students eventually sent nearly $1,000 to a heavily free-and-reduced lunch school in Houston, bringing tears to the eyes of the school’s principal.

Learning Civility Begins Early

Our strategic goal pledges us to prepare students for lifelong success as learners, workers and citizens. It is the citizen piece in particular where schools and their graduates will have the greatest long-term impact on the civility of our nation.

So especially in this season of giving, I want to thank each one of you for the selfless dedication you bring every day to your work with our students and families…. and for how well you model what it means to care deeply about one another and our community, to find satisfaction in working together to make each of us better and to find joy in seeing others overcome a hardship.

All the best to you and your family. Have a happy, healthy and rewarding holiday season.

Pam

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.

sch-opening-fish-tank

 

 

Partnerships Make a Difference: Woodbrook Reads and SPCA/SDV Dogs Listen

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Community Partners Make a Difference … 

Across our schools, we have documented over 300 partnerships that benefit our young people and the staff who work with them. Our schools connect with a variety of partners to support our learners: local businesses, faith-based organizations, nonprofits, and our local college and university volunteer associations. Partners aren’t just donors to us of time, expertise and resources but our young school communities also provide resources and services to our partners as well. For example, all high school seniors participate in a variety of community service activities to provide support to organizations in our community that also need an extra pair of hands to accomplish their work. This could mean helping package donated food with the Blue Ridge Food Bank volunteers, working with United Way and Good Will projects that serve the homeless and our less advantaged community members, reading to senior citizens at a local nursing home, participating in canned food drives, or tutoring younger students after school.

 

spca6When visiting Woodbrook Elementary this past week, I had the opportunity to interact with one of our Woodbrook partners who provides a unique service in several of our schools, an SPCA/SDV volunteer with trained therapy dogs. Here’s what one teacher at Woodbrook has to say about this volunteer service to her young readers:

“I can’t tell you how much your program means to our students! They will benefit so much. Today they are already asking when they get to do it again.” Allison Greene, reading specialist from Woodbrook Elementary.

I Learned something new, too …

While this particular activity brings trained therapy dogs to the school to be good listeners to our youngest readers, I also learned that this pair of beautiful and perfectly genteel collies also bring a credential for working with children with autism.

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It was quite wonderful to see our children so engaged as young readers but also their learning about the dogs from the owner. As they gently touched one of the dog’s foot pads, I could only think that these are the experiences that close children’s learning opportunity gaps as they discussed the roughness of a dog’s foot pads and why those exist to help a dog move essentially barefoot through a variety of environments.

Principal Lisa Molinaro and I were delighted to land in the library and spend time with children, the dogs, and their owner who is a regular volunteer in the school.

Partnerships with organizations are a win for our schools. But there’s also more!

The SPCA is a great partner with us because they also benefit from our student volunteers who go there to help with walking dogs waiting to finspca8d owners, cuddling with kittens to acclimate them to human touch, and assisting with other activities that benefit the SPCA.

This past summer, Woodbrook Elementary’s summer program children worked on a project to benefit their SPCA partner, making homemade dog biscuits and cat toys to take there as gifts to the animals while also spending time with a local vet learning about pet nutrition. Woodbrook’s partnership with the local SPCA represents a great story of what it means to educate children for life, not just school.

Our children learn as they move through our schools that community is important and that giving of ourselves to community makes a difference. Our vision for all learners incorporates more than just academic success as an outcome. We also want young people who develop and sustain empathy over time and a value for community. This matters in families, our community and ultimately when our high school graduates become young adults.

Partnerships matter and we appreciate all the many ways that our children learn through our community partnerships. Thank you, Woodbrook and our Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA for being a wonderful model of that.

To volunteer at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, email volunteer@cascpa.org