A Resolution for the New Year

January 1, 2012

Strings Duet

As a former teacher, elementary school principal, and currently as Superintendent, I’ve always found the time before and after winter break to be one of my favorite times of the year on our calendar.  Our schools use this season to organize concerts and special events, celebrate our community service organizations and support families in need in their local communities. When I received an email today about one of our student performance groups at First Night Virginia, I was reminded that our performing arts students work during the winter break to share their talents throughout the community.

We emphasize life-long learning skills in our mission statement and our teachers work very hard and creatively in the classroom to deliver core content that engages our students.  Just as important are those outside-the-textbook skills that were on such prominent display these past few weeks—caring for others, collaborating with teammates, fine-tuning performances until they were just right, and adapting to solve unanticipated problems.  Together, all of these capabilities shape success.

This also is a time of year for reflection upon the many contributions our students receive from our families and volunteers.  We are grateful for the suggestions and advice from our advisory councils and parent teacher organizations.  We appreciate all those in our community who come to our concerts, plays, sporting events and celebrations to encourage our students and cheer their achievements.  We benefit from the volunteers who assist teachers and students in the classroom.  In today’s highly demanding environment, every one of you makes a measureable difference in the lives of our students.

Finally, this also is the time of the year for resolutions.  Mine is to set the aspirational bar high for our students and  ourselves as educators, then work as hard and imaginatively as I can to provide the resources and support our teachers and students need to excel.   I’m hoping  you’ll join me in making a resolution of your own to participate in our school community—by devoting at least two hours a month to attending a school event, serving on a committee, volunteering in a school or offering your ideas for how we can improve a program.  Our students need you.

For more information about volunteer opportunities, please contact one of our schools or the Office of Community Engagement. Thank you for supporting our young people and the educators in our schools.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year.

Pam Moran


A Community Speaks

December 8, 2011

Among the most difficult decisions a school division has to make occurs when the trailers start going up and it’s obvious there no longer will be enough classrooms in the school building for all students.

Many of the options when enrollments exceed capacity can be costly.  Building additions or constructing a new school can impact a budget by millions of dollars.  No one welcomes more trailers or increases in class sizes.  Parents are reluctant to see their child shifted to another school that has space available even when their current school is overcrowded.

I’ve had the opportunity over the past few months to see all of these issues play out up close and personal in my role as the chair of a community advisory committee. Our committee has been looking at redistricting options that could affect four of our elementary schools.  The experience has been illuminating (I’ve learned a lot), rewarding (We’ve had some excellent ideas from parents) and enjoyable (We’ve become good friends and we’re making progress).

What’s impressed me the most is the willingness of our volunteers to resist the overwhelming temptation to look at redistricting strictly from their own interests. Our volunteers, instead, have been very serious about doing what’s best for students and families throughout the division.

Committee members have been industrious in developing hard data points for future enrollment; they have been thoughtful about the impact of various options on neighborhoods and they have been very empathetic about how the transfers of students would affect programs and services.

In short, the volunteers have us focused on what’s important.  That’s been proven in the public meetings we’ve held on whether and how we should redistrict families to different schools next fall.  Speakers have reminded us of the importance of maintaining services for special education students, of the value of after-school programs funded by local community service organizations that could be impacted and of how highly they value the teachers and staff in their current schools.

The committee will make its recommendations to the Superintendent this month and the School Board will make a decision early next year.  The good news is that all of our schools provide outstanding programs and services to students.  The even better news is that parent and community volunteers and speakers have brought tremendous value to the decision-making process.  I’m convinced we’ll find the right solutions for our students and their families as a result.

- Josh Davis, Chief Operating Officer


Celebrating Student and Family

November 23, 2011

As the Executive Director for our schools, I have plenty of opportunities to learn about how well our students are doing in the classroom.  Occasionally, though, I get the chance to experience some of the great traditions outside of the classroom that make our division even more special.

Not a week goes by without an event or two that highlights the camaraderie among students, families, and division staff. I had the privilege of attending several recent events that did just that.

Last week, for example, my dad and I joined my daughter at Agnor Hurt Elementary School’s annual Thanksgiving family meal.  And family on this day knew no biological boundaries.  I remember going to this event a few years ago and it was so popular, you had to wait in line for 45 minutes to get your food.  Today, the school holds this event over two days to accommodate the families who participate.

Later in the evening, Western Albemarle High School held their annual fall athletic celebration.  School officials, including the athletic coaches, spoke highly of their student-athletes and there was plenty of pride to go around.  WAHS had a terrific fall season, winning several district and regional titles and a state championship in golf.

The next morning, I was at the countywide theater festival, held at Monticello High School and saw our students’ original production of Play with Your Food.  It was funny, inventive, and highly crowd-pleasing.  The confidence and self-assurance of our students are life-long skills that will make them successful in whichever careers they chose.  Friday’s festival included adjudicated productions from all of the division’s middle and high schools.

During that afternoon, Jason Crutchfield, assistant principal at Henley Middle School, and I were invited by Mark Green to officiate the Murray Elementary Turkey Bowl.  Every year, the 5th graders take on the staff on the gridiron behind the school in spirited flag football competition. This year, the 5th graders handed the teaching staff a decisive loss, and as the referee, I can tell you it was all on the level.

Finally, on Saturday morning, my son and I joined many runners for the 7th annual Kelly Watt Memorial Run at Panorama Farms. In spite of the very chilly weather, over 200 students, parents, AHS and other school staff, and community members turned out to remember Kelly and to support the scholarship program in his name.

Quite a week.  And while the locations were different and the participants were not the same, there was a common theme at all of these events: the opportunity to celebrate so many outstanding young people and their families, teachers and staff, and the atmosphere of excellence they all create.

-Matt Haas, Executive Director


State of the Division

November 11, 2011

Our vision for Albemarle County Public Schools is for all students to believe in their power to embrace learning, to excel and to own their future.  The most effective way to achieve this vision is to establish a community of learners through rigor, relevance and relationships, built one student at a time.

These are inspiring words and it’s helpful from time to time to measure how we’re doing in moving closer to realizing our vision.  How well, for instance, are we preparing students to succeed as members of the global community?

One recent snapshot suggests we’re making progress although there continues to be plenty of room for improvement.

For the most recent academic year, Albemarle County students continued to outperform state and national averages.  Our on-time graduation rate of 92.9 percent is seven percent better than the average for all school divisions in the state.

Our Standards of Learning (SOL) test results are improving despite recent class size increases.  Our seventh grade math students, for example, scored 16.3 percentile points better than their Virginia peers and elementary school students are four percentile points better in the state in reading and writing test results.

Our students also are doing comparatively well on SAT tests, scoring eight percent above statewide averages and 10 percent ahead of students nationally.   The results are similar across the board for all portions of the test-verbal, math and written.

A well-rounded education is a significant contributor to being successful in a diverse, dynamic, highly competitive global community, and the strength of our students is not limited to academics.

We have had, for example, a 31 percent increase in student participation in the fine arts and during the past year, Albemarle County students delivered some 240 performances.  More than 600 of our students are members of band, choral, strings and drama programs.  The Virginia Theater Association and the Virginia High School League both recognized Albemarle High School students as the best in the state in competitions during 2010 and they added another state title this year.

In Career and Technical Education, our enrollment has increased by nearly 25 percent.  The percentage of students who complete studies in such areas as engineering and architectural drawing, information management, web design and Geospatial technology, and who graduate on time was 99.6 percent, 20 percentage points above the state average.  Students in these programs are earning college credits, working in internships and preparing themselves for opportunities in career categories where marketplace demand will remain strong.

Healthy minds and healthy bodies are a powerful combination and our students are measuring up well compared to their peers across the state.  The Virginia fitness-testing program provides students with health-related fitness assessments that link to overall quality-of-life.  Scientific research is used to determine Healthy Fitness Zones for several fitness and health indicators, including body composition.  In several grade levels, the percentage of students within the Healthy Fitness Zone far exceeds the state average.  For instance, 88 percent of our fourth grade girls were in this category compared to a 67 percent state average and 75 percent of our fourth grade boys were within the Healthy Fitness Zone compared to a 67 percent state average.  In high school, 82 percent of tenth grade boys were in the Healthy Fitness Zone compared to a 66 percent state average and for tenth grade girls the comparable results were 75 percent an 66 percent.

In competitive athletics, our athletic tams had some 4,000 participants, winning 17 district championships, 13 regional championships and one state title.

While these achievements are encouraging, they should be just the beginning of broader based and greater success stories in future years.  As parents and county residents who value education and the impact it has on the quality of life in our communities, there are several ways you can help us realize our highest aspirations:

  • Consider volunteering. Volunteerism is a civic virtue in America. We realize parents are busy people with their own jobs and activities, but when you can spare some time, it makes an outsized difference in the classroom.
  • There also are a number of specific ways you can offer your perspectives to the School Board and staff. Our Parent Council members represent each school community throughout the year in monthly meetings with the superintendent and central staff. Parent representatives share resources, work on joint programs, and discuss questions and concerns pertinent to the school division and schools in general. We also receive feedback from advisory groups that represent the interests of students, including our Special Education Advisory Committee(SEAC), Gifted Advisory Committee, and the Health Advisory Board.  To find out more about volunteerism, please visit our Community Engagement website or email Gloria Rockhold at grockhold@k12albemarle.org
  • If you have questions or concerns, don’t wait until those concerns become a bigger problem. Finding the right balance between waiting too long to contact the teacher and being a “helicopter” parent is important. Some things that should never wait include bullying of your child or another child, issues related to bus ridership, your child feeling overwhelmed with work at home or being upset about relationships with the teacher. If your instinct says something isn’t going well, reach out to your child’s teacher.
  • Thank an educator for helping your child- or other children – in some special way. There are so many fabulous educators in our schools who work hard and with uncommon devotion. They are up early and are late to bed because of their commitment to their students. I know many educators who enthusiastically donate time and money to help a child or an entire class. There is nothing as valued by an educator as a personal note, email, or call from you saying “I appreciated when……”

 

-Billy Hahn, Assistant Superintendent


Welcome to the 2011-12 School Year

August 14, 2011

Teachers at New Teacher Academy

The opening of school is just around the corner. Our new teachers, 110 strong as of August 1, have completed the New Teacher Academy, focusing on learning expectations held for Albemarle students. They will be joined by over a thousand other teachers in the coming week as we all join together to prepare to welcome over 13,000 students to classrooms in 4 high schools, 6 middle schools, and 16 elementary schools. To reach your school, please visit the division’s school site for phone numbers and websites.

Checking out a new bus in the fleet

The bus fleet is ready to roll. Bus drivers and students have been assigned to routes. The bus fleet travels close to 12,000 miles daily so it’s important that each bus has been thoroughly checked and signed off as meeting safety standards. School calendars and bus schedules have been mailed to homes. If you have questions about your route, you can call 434-973-5716 to reach staff at the Transportation Office.

Stone-Robinson parking area under construction

The schools are almost ready for teachers and students. Routine maintenance and renovations in our schools, on our grounds, and to parking lots have almost been completed.  Building services staff have cleaned floors and carpet, painted classrooms and hallways, and made repairs. Repair crews have completed 2070 work orders from June to early August.  Here are some of the photos from work that’s been underway this summer as shared by Building Services staff at a recent School Board meeting.

Now that our schools are almost ready for students to return, it’s time to help students to get ready for their return to the school day. Parents often talk about the time it takes for some children to adjust from the summer vacation back to the school schedule.

Here are six tips to support our learners make the transition back into school and to build good working relationships between school staff and parents.

  • If your child has been staying up later on summer evenings, begin this week to adjust his/her sleep schedule back to school year “bedtime” hours. A well-rested child is a more attentive child in school.  In fact, the symptoms of too little sleep and attention disorders are very similar. A good night of sleep pays off for your child in school.
  • Discuss breakfast and lunch choices for healthy meals that sustain energy and that are wellness friendly. Our kids today are characterized as the most unhealthy younger generation in decades and much of that is because of diet. Diet impacts body chemistry in a variety of ways – particularly a child’s sugar, salt, and fat intake. The USDA offers a number of website resources on healthy lifestyle choices for children that address diet, wellness and fitness. School menus and other information about the school lunch program can be found here.
  • Check your school calendars for info about Open House and Back to School activities.  For younger and older children and you, going to school with you to meet teachers sends a message from the start that you to be involved as a partner with the teacher in supporting your child(ren)’s education.

  • Consider volunteering in any way you can. It models responsibility to being a part of the solution to offering the best education we can for all children and volunteerism is a civic virtue in America. Plus, we educators need you and your help –even if it’s doing one thing that you can do. We realize parents are busy people who have their own jobs, but when you can help us out we appreciate it. To find out more about volunteerism, please visit our Community Engagement website or email Gloria Rockhold at grockhold@k12albemarle.org
  • If you have questions or concerns, don’t sit on those until there’s a big problem. While all of our workloads have increased because of email and voicemail, we want to know when something is a burning question or concern. Finding the balance between waiting too long to contact the teacher and being a “helicopter” parent is important. Some things that should not wait include bullying of your child or another child, bus problems, your child feeling overwhelmed with work at home or being upset about relationships with the teacher. If your inner instinct says that something isn’t going well, it’s better to at least reach out and check in with the teacher.
  • Lastly, thank an educator for helping your child- or other children – in some special way. The many fabulous educators in our schools, just as teachers before them, work a farmers’ schedule plus. They are up early and late to bed because of their commitment to their work. I know many educators- administrators and teachers alike- who pull their own money out to pick up the educational tab for an individual child or a class. There is nothing as valued by an educator as a personal note, email, or call from you saying “I appreciated when …..”

Finally, we need you in our schools and working with us. We have a number of ways that you can get involved or connected to offer your perspectives to the School Board and staff. Our Parent Council members represent each school community throughout the year in monthly meetings with the superintendent and central staff. At meetings, parent representatives share resources, work on joint programs, and discuss questions and concerns pertinent to the school division and schools in general. We also receive feedback from other advisory groups that represent the interests of children attending our schools. These include the Special Education Advisory Committee(SEAC),  Gifted Advisory Committee, and the Health Advisory Board.

It won’t be but just a little over a week before the big yellow buses are on the road. Please remind your neighbors and friends to watch out for all our children as they wait for buses or walk to school. We look forward to the start of school and appreciate your commitment to helping us sustain the excellence  of our schools.


Memorial Day 2011: In Remembrance

May 30, 2011

On this Memorial Day, I am reminded that while our young people remain home from school, it’s an opportunity for their first teachers, parents, to actively engage in sharing the significance of Memorial Day as a national holiday. Memorial Day, unlike Veterans Day, is a day of remembrance of those who gave up their lives in service to the United States of America.  Today, all of us who live as U.S. citizens, some who have fought for our nation, and many who have not, are called to remind ourselves and others that the supreme sacrifice of a few preserves liberty for the many.

Fifth Graders Raise Flag as a Daily Responsibility

America has been involved in a string of wars in our own country, on this continent, and abroad since the American Revolution launched us as a fledgling country into our fight for independence. Despite this first war of our nation and the second that followed in 1812, the United States became an ally of Great Britain and our soldiers alongside the Brits fought the two great wars of the 20th century, World Wars I and II. We have fought in wars that have been well supported by our citizenry and some that have engendered conflicts of note within that same citizenry.

Over the two and a half centuries of our existence as a nation, soldiers have gone into battle for people in distant countries of seeming insignificance to the United States. Soldiers have fought to protect the rights of Americans to oppose the very war in which they themselves serve.  They’ve laid down their lives in staggering numbers so that we may go safely to work each day, choose to worship or not, and speak a range of political opinions despite who is in power. We have celebrated U.S. Memorial Day since 1868 to honor those who have died in service of us.

Monticello High Air Force JROTC

It’s difficult to find a family in America, current immigrants included, that has not had or does not have a service member in their midst. I walk the cemetery where my father lies under a Veterans Administration memorial plaque and I think of his service today. My mother’s name is already imprinted on that same plaque in honor of her service as well. I learned from her that Memorial Day isn’t about opening up the local community swimming pool or picnicking at a local park with friends and family. It’s about honoring those who have died so that we can have the chance to do so.

I’m fortunate to have had a mother and father who valued their role as first teachers.  While they were both strong supporters of public education and valued every opportunity my brothers and I had to access learning in a very rural area of the Low Country, they never saw themselves as abdicating responsibility to teach us.

Memorial Day will ever remain an important remembrance for me; not because my parents expected my teachers to make that real for me, but rather because they believed it was their responsibility.  My mother will wear a red poppy today and she will likely recite a few lines from In Flanders Field, written by a Canadian during WWI and the reason we wear those poppies today. I know she will think today about some she knew in WWII who never had the chance to raise families, go to college, experience a long and rich life as she has, and who will remain in a distant land for all time.


The Masters in Reading: A Literacy Return on Investment

May 23, 2011

Educators know that reading serves as a gatekeeper for high school graduation and success in college. Literacy opens pathways in life that otherwise could not be traveled.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. 

The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”    

Dr. Seuss


Congratulations, Albemarle Teachers!

Since the 1980s, Albemarle County Public Schools has supported educators in our schools to enroll in the Master’s program in Reading at the University of Virginia. Teacher Laura Shifflett wrote the following piece to summarize the experiences of a cohort of fourteen educators who graduate in 2011 with an advanced degree in reading instruction from the Curry School of Education. Laura walked the full length of the Lawn on May 22 along with her Albemarle classmates.

By Laura Shifflett, secondary English educator:

I started this program as a high school English teacher who simply wanted to learn how to teach my 10th grade students how to read so they could pass their driver’s permit test.  However, in my adventures, I received so much more.  I got to meet, collaborate with, and learn from phenomenal teachers with expertise spanning from elementary through high school.  As I reflect on my journey, I wanted to pass along some numbers that went through my mind and I thought would be of interest:

75+ – The number of Albemarle County Public School teachers who attended the information session about the UVA Reading Program in the Spring of 2008.  The room at the ARC was standing room only.

30 – The original number of Albemarle County Public School teachers who commenced this degree program in Reading Instruction in August 2008.

14 – The final number of Albemarle County Public School teachers who persevered long enough to finish the degree program and will graduate in 2011.

9 – The number of those teachers graduating, who not only taught full time while pursuing this degree, but also left school at the end of the day to tend to their other full time job – as moms and a dad.  Furthermore, one of us is the mother to a handsome young boy with a big, bright smile, who also just happens to have cerebral palsy.

7 – The number of parking tickets we received from UVA!

100+ – The number of miles we walked from Barracks Road parking lot or Ivy Parking Garage to Curry School of Education and back, so we would not receive another parking ticket.

2 – The teachers who had never specifically taught reading to students upon starting this program; rather they introduce students to the excitement of physical education and the creativity of ceramics daily.  Now, reading and writing strategies are innately woven into their art and PE lessons.

1 – To represent the elementary school teacher who had her first child and returned to class just weeks after delivery.  She is now expecting her 2nd child in September.

14 – The number of teachers who are very appreciative of the opportunity to pursue this degree, an opportunity provided by ACPS. We will carry the literacy knowledge gained with us as we continue to work with students of all ages as well as teachers of all experience levels in our schools.

Comments follow from some of the teachers who graduated with Laura on May 22:

“I had such a feeling of pride and accomplishment today.  Receiving a degree from UVA is something I could not have afforded on my own.  I am so grateful to Albemarle County for funding this program.  Thank you so much.  I know my students will benefit from the knowledge I have gained.  I am a better teacher and a better person because of this program.”

“To say that we appreciate the county for giving us this opportunity would be an understatement!”

“I remember when the county offered the first information session about the masters opportunity.  The room was packed and people were standing and sitting on the floor.  It is such an honor to have gone through the program with the wonderful people that I did.  I made new friends with whom I am so proud to walk the Lawn! I am so grateful to the county for the gift of a Masters Degree from UVA!!!”

“We all are so lucky to have a school district that is willing to support us in our growth as teachers.  I have gained so much and I thank the county for letting me be a part of this cohort.”

The value added to our schools as a result of the lifelong learning work of these educators will accrue for years to come as they assist young people who are learning to read, both those who struggle with reading and those to whom literacy comes with more ease. Their work will provide a great return on our investment in them and their investment in the young people they serve. (Pam Moran)


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