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

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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)


Hard Work and College Dreams: AVID Supports Both

March 1, 2011

Governor McDonnell says that Virginia needs 100,000 additional college degrees over the next fifteen years to develop and sustain a globally competitive workforce. Former Governor Tim Kaine and Former President Bush held a similar perspective. President Obama made this work a cornerstone of his most recent State of the Union speech.

Monticello High School Grads

If there’s one area of agreement among politicians, the business community, educators and community members, it’s that we need to educate all young learners to higher levels than ever. Unbelievably in the United States, this current generation of high school graduates will be the first in our nation’s educational history to be less educated than the generations ahead of them. At a time when we need to accelerate the numbers of students completing higher education, we are seeing a drop in the percentage of grads finishing college. The rest of the world is leaving the U.S. behind.

The opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to attend and successfully complete college provides young people with the chance to fulfill career dreams and aspirations. With that gift comes a learning responsibility to do the work necessary to successfully graduate from high school. The AVID program, Advancement Via Individual Determination, provides students who likely will be the first-generation in their families to attend college with the support they need to learn, practice, and use the skills they need to be college ready.

This nationally recognized program has been phased in as an elective course offering at Monticello, Western Albemarle and Albemarle High Schools and in four of five middle schools. It’s a priority to have AVID in place in all secondary schools within the next two years because we believe it’s important for all students to receive access to the school work that’s a prerequisite to college admission.  However, some ask why do we need to provide AVID electives to students?

Despite a parent’s desire that their child enter college, students whose parents did not attend college often lack the skills they need to demonstrate academic responsibility in school and at home. They don’t have the advantage of a parent who knows the ropes of what’s needed to be prepared for college. Tasks such as homework completion, note-taking capability and use of study skills are just the tip of the iceberg of what students need to be successful. AVID teachers reinforce and teach these basic skills, and many others, to students enrolled in the program.

AVID students must take higher levels of courses than they’ve ever been challenged to complete in school. They learn about colleges and universities all over the United States and the requirements for college acceptance. They visit local colleges and meet with counselors. When they approach their senior year, AVID students work on college essays, research potential scholarships, complete college applications, learn about federal loan applications, and study for SATs.  Their teachers expect AVID students to work hard; to do whatever it takes to reach success.

The Board and staff of Albemarle County Public Schools believe in the power of young people to achieve any dream they desire. We also know that attaining dreams takes effort and hard work. The AVID program teaches our learners how to dream of college and careers for the future. The teachers of AVID also teach students the skills they need to meet college expectations. They know dreams provide the reason for working hard and working hard helps learners fulfill their dreams.

Dreams and hard work – it’s the fuel that makes our community, our state, and our nation into what we label “the land of opportunity.”  Our first AVID seniors have begun to hear acceptances from colleges.  Every acceptance letter is a win for the student and a win for our investment in AVID. As our AVID students enter college, we plan to follow them to determine their success beyond high school.

According to www.avid.org, the AVID program serves about 400,000 students in nearly 4,500 schools in 47 states, the District of Columbia, and 16 countries and territories. While proof of the program’s effectiveness is supported by data, Albemarle County’s eighth grade AVID students from Jack Jouett Middle School say it best through poetry:

We are Advancing Via Individual Determination.

We believe that anything is possible if we apply ourselves.

We hear words of encouragement as we work towards reaching our full potential.

We see each other’s continuous growth towards a future that is promising.

We are Advancing Via Individual Determination.

We strive for perfection knowing that it is unattainable and understand that grades are not the only thing that determines our success.

We feel that we have the capacity to change not only ourselves but our families, our schools and our community.

We create an environment of trust and support for one another and know that AVID is a family.

We worry about not meeting our potential but realize that failure to do so is not an option.

We challenge each other to meet AVID’s expectations and to be positive role models for others.

We are Advancing Via Individual Determination.

We acknowledge that AVID is here to push us and provide us with support, but that true success takes individual effort and a lot of hard work.

We contribute to our society by knowing that we can positively influence the future.

We commit to focus on academics and growth even when faced with adversity.

We hope that we are planting the seeds of success and that AVID can be something that can help all students reach their goals.

We dream of the day that we will see the proud faces of our parents as we walk across the stage to receive our college degrees.

We are the 8th grade AVID class at Jack Jouett Middle School and we are Advancing Via Individual Determination.

UVA Graduation


Investing in … Our Children … Our Personnel … Our Community … Our Economy … Our Future.

February 13, 2011

Each winter, the School Board engages with staff, parents and community members in the annual budget development cycle for Albemarle County Public Schools. It’s a time to reflect upon the importance of specific resources and programs as well as the staff who serve our young people both directly and indirectly. The services provided to learners make a difference in the colleges our graduates attend, the careers they choose to pursue, and, even, their potential to graduate at all.

second grade artist at work

In the first decade of the 21st century, the school division’s budget increased because of multiple factors that are outlined below.

o   The price of fuel more than doubled from 2001 to 2008.

o    Increased square footage of school facilities due to school additions and opening of Baker-Butler  Elementary added maintenance costs

o   Additional federal and state legislative requirements added unfunded or partially funded mandates for staffing and programs. The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 significantly increased individual student testing and federal and state reports tied to those requirements.

o   Technology improvements to support and advance administrative and learning objectives resulted in expansion of hardware, infrastructure, and professional training.

o   Growth in student population required increased school staffing to support additional students as well as increased numbers of students with limited English proficiency.

However, the factor responsible for the single greatest percentage of increase to the division’s budget in the first decade of the 21st century has been increasing compensation and benefits for staff so that our school division could recruit and retain staff within a competitive market. This initiative occurred for both Albemarle’s local government and schools between 2004 and 2007.

Over the past four years, the School Board has also worked with building level staff, department heads, and community stakeholders including parents to determine and implement strategies to contain costs. In 2007, an intensive audit of resource deployment and efficiency by Dr. William Bosher of the Commonwealth Education Policy Institute and an external review team was conducted resulting in over 100 recommendations that have been subsequently implemented to reduce operational costs, particularly in support services departments and the Office of Instruction.

This Resource Utilization Study has served as a road map for resource use as the school division and local government have faced significant downward trending of revenues over the past three years. Almost double digit cuts, close to $10M in expenses has occurred to match revenue reductions to our school division’s operational budget.  Our School Board and staff also have significant concerns about the impact of the economical downturn on funds for capital improvements. Some of the key areas of reductions and eliminations over three years that resulted in operational cost savings follow.

o   Purchase of a GPS system and time-clock technologies resulted in efficiencies netting reductions in the transportation department budget of well over $1 M.

o   Energy reduction strategies that have contained utility costs, resulted in reductions of several hundred thousand dollars in building services budget.

o   Departmental administrative staff and school-based support staff reductions have helped preserve classroom teaching positions in schools.

o   Operational reductions have been made to departmental and school budgets.

o   Downsizing of instructional support staff positions in schools and central office to meet the minimum for Standards of Quality requirements set by the General Assembly has resulted in cost savings in personnel expenses.

o   Increasing class size in grades 4-12 and reducing secondary staffing with a change in schedule to an 8-period day.

o   Freezing of salaries for the past two years for all school division employees has contained personnel expenses for salaries and benefits.

Other budget process strategies implemented by the School Board and staff are used to increase the capability of the Board to forecast future needs and potential reductions or redirection of fiscal resources.

o   The Board now uses a biennial budgeting plan (since 2008) rather than an annual plan.

o   Staff has put departmental audits in place to determine where cost efficiency measures can be implemented. The Resource Utilization Study led to this process.

o   An external School Financial Advisory Council has been implemented to provide an external review and ongoing fiscal impact focus for the school division budget. The council is composed of members from the business field and private sector (see page A-12 in budget request executive summary)

o   A program evaluation process will be implemented in the next budget cycle to determine further efficiencies in fiscal resource use.

o   The school division now is included in local government’s five-year planning process and projections.

Our community doesn’t expect Albemarle County Public Schools to be average. No one expects our schools or division to be a  “C” achiever when it comes to comparing our performance against our competitive market, the state, or nation.  Representatives of the business community shared the importance of strong public schools with the School Board in October 2010. They clearly said that the quality of our schools and the depth of our programs make a difference in their capability to recruit, hire and retain employees. The Board of Supervisors has noted in its economic development plan that strong public schools contribute to the economic vitality and quality of life of the community. The Charlottesville- Albemarle Association of Realtors (CAAR) has indicated that the quality of public schools influences the property values and resale turnaround of homes in our county. The public has indicated that public schools represent one of the top investments of the Board of Supervisors in our community and it’s our taxpayers top ranked quality service priority according to local government’s Citizen Survey.

Middle schoolers work on testing wind generator propeller models

Albemarle is one of the most highly educated communities in the United States. Parents who live here or who move here expect top-notch school programs, services, and educators. Our community expects  “A+” schools and our staff bring A+ work to our young people every day. Our graduates go to the very best colleges in the United States (p.A-7 and 8.)  We are top tier in the state in the percentage of students graduating with a college-ready, advanced studies diploma. Our young performing artists are some of the best in the Commonwealth. However, Governor McDonnell has established through the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education that Virginia’s Pk-20 “schooling” status quo is no longer good enough. To secure Virginia’s economic future, our public schools, Pk-20, must continue to increase the competency and numbers of high school graduates as a prerequisite to increasing college graduates by 100,000 in the next fifteen years.

Excellent public schools are a matter of national security, the economic future of the nation, and our democratic way of life.Unfortunately, we are losing ground in supporting our top quality programs as a result of increasing numbers of students and decreasing revenues over the past three years, mostly as a result of budget actions by the Commonwealth.  No one wants to see our schools as average- not our Board of Supervisors, our School Board, our business community, our citizens, our parents, or our educators. We all want the best we can offer our young people. We know their future depends on it.  We know our future depends on it.

Mastering Algebra


Great Schools: Good for Business

January 3, 2011

Albemarle County community members and local employers serve as outstanding partners to our schools. Our community provides support through local revenues essential to running our schools. Financial donations make additional resources available for students and volunteers provide thousands of hours to assist educators and the young people served by them. Our schools also give back a return on the investments made by community partners.

Community members including parents, senior citizens and business employers take great pride in the accomplishments of our young people, their teachers, and the schools. Supporting our local public schools is a top priority for those who live and work in this community. In the 2009 Community Survey sponsored by local government, newer residents ranked quality of schools as a key reason they chose to live in our community. Overall, quality education was ranked by residents as the #1 important service in Albemarle County.

UVA Head Football Coach Mike London, Hundred Black Men of Central Virginia Volunteer, Speaks to Young Men

Providing excellent schools isn’t just about serving our young people well.

It’s about serving our entire community well.


Tony Wayne, AHS physics teacher, receiving award at the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council Banquet

 

At an October work session, School Board members talked with representatives from local businesses about ways to strengthen partnerships to help forge an even stronger community.

Consider the following:

  • Well-established employers such as the University of Virginia and State Farm Insurance, as well as new employers such as the Defense Intelligence Agency, say emphatically that excellent schools are important to recruiting and keeping employees. Their employees want first-rate schools that allow children to thrive as learners. They value programs that provide opportunities for young people to excel in academics, arts, and sports as well as to become leaders and good citizens who provide service to their community.
Patrick Bond MoHS Eagle Scout led a project to build an amphitheater at Walton Middle
  • The directors of the Chamber of Commerce and the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development indicate that excellent schools are a key attractor for private sector companies and small businesses that are investigating relocation or start-up in our community.

    Chamber President and CEO Tim Hulbert Visits MESA at AHS

  • The director of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Association of Realtors reports that excellent, well-maintained schools lead to higher home values, ease of real estate sales, and the attractiveness of the community in which schools are located.
  • Local businesses and private sector service providers such as Union Bank and Trust and Martha Jefferson Hospital know that investing in the public education of our community’s young people makes sense. They see numerous graduates of our high schools who’ve become excellent local employees often after successful degree completion from Piedmont Virginia Community College or a four-year university.

2010 MoHS Graduation Ceremony

  • Researchers from the Weldon-Cooper Center of the University of Virginia know from their 2009 survey of Virginia’s employers that employers want employees who have a great work ethic, can work as members of teams, see the big picture of the business in which they work, appreciate diversity in the workplace, and figure out solutions to problems.  These are just a few of the 21st century workforce skills needed along with technological and basic learning skills.

 

Henley students work in teams to test different wind generator propellers

  • Albemarle County Public Schools does business to the greatest degree possible in our community with local contractors, small businesses, and service providers.  Our schools provide jobs to over 1500 families. We are a member of the business community and a contributor to the economic vitality of the county.

Baker-Butler Educator Trains Service Dogs

Fifth graders raise the flags each day at Stony Point School

An excellent school division is a hallmark of Albemarle County. Excellence is reflected in the workforce we employ, the performance of the young people we serve, and the good citizenship of staff who also volunteer and serve as leaders in non-profit organizations throughout Albemarle County.

We appreciate your past support. We need your continued support in 2011 to provide our young people with the best public education we can offer.

Thank you for taking pride in our schools and best wishes for a wonderful New Year!