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)


The New Face of Learning: the UVa School of Medicine

May 7, 2011

Claude Moore Building: UVa School of Medicine

A few months ago, School Board member Eric Strucko shared that the Medical School staff of the University of Virginia had redesigned both learning spaces and approaches to teaching medical students. Later in the winter, the title of a blog post by Colorado high school educator, Karl Fisch, caught my attention. Karl co-produced the viral YouTube video series Did You Know? His post about the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine pointed out significant shifts in educational practice associated with its new Learning Studio.

A Google search surfaced more online information about the radical innovation occurring inside “our” local medical school. I also spoke with a first year medical student about his work as a learner. Much of what he described as learning experiences this year reminded me of ongoing development work by Albemarle’s staff to better serve contemporary learners in our schools.

Recently, several School Board members, all high school principals, some high school teachers, and central office staff toured the new facility and engage in an in-depth conversation with Dr. Randy Canterbury, M.D., Senior Associate Dean for Education and parent of graduates of Albemarle County Public Schools. In our tour, we also spoke with medical school staff responsible for working with students in the new learning spaces integral to the interior design of the Claude Moore Educational Building.

Changing 100 Years of Curricular Tradition: NxGen, Cells to Society

Ashby KIndler(Murray High) and Debbie Gannon (CATEC) check out a high tech mannequin

During the tour, we experienced the cutting edge of the near future of education. This next decade will bring significant changes to both higher education and secondary schooling that will likely parallel changes occurring in medical education today. Dr. Canterbury shared with the visiting team how one hundred years of medical education curriculum was redesigned and is in use for the first time this year with the class of 2014. The new curriculum represents Steven Covey’s concept of beginning with the “end in mind.”

The University of Virginia medical school planning team identified the “end in mind” as creating men and women who first and foremost are being trained to become capable physicians rather than discipline-based scientists. The fundamental shift in curriculum has moved from discipline-based teaching to both interdisciplinary and interactive learning of the knowledge and skills needed to become an effective physician. As Dr. Canterbury indicated, “We want to cull from disciplines the clinically relevant components that are important to take care of patients.”

The traditional coursework model has been turned upside down at UVa and stand-alone courses such as anatomy are no more. Instead, the new curriculum focuses on the critical nature of understanding and using integrated content relevant to working with patients. The curriculum no longer is a series of isolated content courses that lack important connections across disciplines. However, Dr. Canterbury noted that this wasn’t the only change that occurred as a result of program evaluation. Faculty planners realized that the entire medical education system needed to change to address the potential of contemporary learners as they prepare for future work in the medical field. This meant simultaneous changes in learning spaces, teaching, learning work, technology applications, assessment, and grading practices. As a result, the system has become focused on increasing learning engagement among the almost 200 students selected for the program from over 3500 applicants.

Erica Igbinoghene, first year medical student commented as she worked on her laptop, “Interactive learning here facilitates long-term learning. Applying our learning helps us take it to the next level.”

Round tables support team learning according to Dr. Canterbury.

Changing the Pedagogical Model: Using Case Study and Simulation, not Lecture

Dr. Keith Littlewood, Director of the Simulation Center, also spoke to critical changes in learning work, “During my first two years in medical school, all I learned was rote regurgitation of content. Today you will see different access to learning … When learners believe in their learning, they invest.” Beginning with this year’s entering class, the School of Medicine no longer uses a lecture-based teaching model to deliver primary content such as courses in anatomy or histology. Students also aren’t moving through the 2×2 schedule still used by most medical schools and which has been in existence since the early 1900s. Students in a traditional model take courses for two years, then enter a series of “clerkship” rotations with patients that last two more years. Unlike peers in most other medical schools, UVa’s entering medical students no longer wade through rote memorization of isolated content coursework as their predecessors did.

Instead, on the first day of medical school, this year’s class immediately was put to work in teams to analyze and problem-solve patient case studies. They’ve learned to pull relevant, interdisciplinary content into the case as they work, facilitated by a team of professors or a professor with responsibility for their half-day Learning Studio class. Learning digital content critical to the practice of medicine is assigned for homework and a daily five-minute “quick check” on that content occurs at the beginning of class.

Homework Completion and Class Attendance

Based on actual data from prior years, UVa faculty knew that medical students were more likely to skip lectures than attend them. We learned that this group of first-year medical students attend learning studio sessions at higher rates than their predecessors attended lectures. Dr. Canterbury attributes this to what’s become known as a “flipped classroom” approach to learning, a new concept applicable in both higher ed and PK-12 education. Learning through this model has made medical education classes more rigorous, but also more engaging as students work to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate relevant content in and outside of class.

This new model also seems already to be paying off in measures of academic performance. Teaching faculty and fourth year medical students notice that the first year med students ask more challenging questions than in past years. They see this as a result of merging clinical and content studies in the case-based interactive learning model that’s been used since day one with this class. A fourth-year medical student shared his observations with Dr. Canterbury about his work with first-year students in their anatomy lab noting, “The questions that these students ask blew me away. I would never have been able to formulate a question like they were asking when I was a first-year medical student.”

Standards-based Grading: Expectations for Learning

Erica Igbinoghene, first-year medical student

Over the course of a unit, students are formatively assessed every other week and with a final assessment against standards at the end of each unit. Assessments are all online and are completed over the weekend. Staff determines grades based on assessments, not other factors. Students who do not meet the standard relearn and retest for mastery. Dr. Canterbury speaks to the value of all learners mastering the work, “Ideally, you don’t want to stratify. We want them to all be at the same place. My goal is to have 100% above the 90th percentile. Why not? If anyone scores less than a satisfactory score on the standards, they study and retake the test.”

Under this system, students accumulate points from assessments over eighteen months. Missing a class could mean a student won’t acquire points for a quiz that might be worth five points out of a 1000 possible during the year. In shifting to a standards-based assessment system, the medical school staff has eliminated variables used for grading that have little to do with actual performance on assessments.

From 20th to 21st century Technologies: Ubiquitous, Real-Time Learning

The new program also represents a new generation of learning technology applications. These technologies are as relevant today to Pk-12 education as to higher education and post-graduate programs such a medicine, business and law. Students aren’t using paper textbooks in the new medical school program. They access digital content on laptops or mobile devices, using either publishers’ multimedia materials or digital content developed by the medical school staff. In their classes, they respond to questions as a group using interactive assessment technology, project their work onto one or more large screens, and work together simultaneously on team-based web content.

High Tech Mannequins Simulate Real Patient Situations

In the Simulation Center, students work in teams with full-body mannequins that can simulate real-life medical conditions or emergencies. Students can practice emergency skills, surgery skills, or routine diagnostic skills that parallel real conditions to such a degree that the “docs in training” physically respond with changes in heart rate and blood pressure just as they would in actual practice. New technologies also provide access to 3-D anatomy simulations that provide a more realistic point of view of the human anatomy than cadavers ever did. Students working together in the UVA Simulation Center can be observed from multiple screens and given guided feedback by the faculty during and after simulation work. The immediacy of such feedback allows students to improve performance in real-time.

The Clinical Skills Center, a companion to the Simulation Center, provides students the chance to work with standardized patients (living) to practice clinical skills and foundational interpersonal and communication skills so necessary to building and sustaining positive patient relationships. They receive feedback from clinical instructors as well as the patients, helping them hone skills necessary to working with patients of all ages – from pediatrics to geriatrics. This opportunity to practice clinical skills allows this generation of medical students to engage in what Dr. Canterbury describes as a medical routine of addressing “novel patient situations and conditions.”

Lecture Hall to Learning Studio

Before the new medical education building was constructed, the design team scoured the country to look at innovative learning spaces in higher education. The TEAL space established at MIT had become a model for changing the education game by redesigning learning spaces to drive a different kind of teaching and learning. Interestingly, MIT borrowed and refined this concept from NC State as a strategy to decrease the failure rate in freshman physics, dropping it from ten to one percent in one year after implementation.

The UVA School of Medicine has taken the TEAL concept one step further by creating a large space in which the entire first year class works together in team-based learning. Staff made key shifts including changes in lighting, furniture, and, most importantly, elimination of the dominant teaching wall that supports lecture-driven rote learning. The use of case analysis has emerged as a contemporary, best practice in highly competitive business, commerce and law schools as well as in some independent secondary schools. Rather than being anchored by a dominant teaching wall, the UVa Learning Studio utilizes multiple presentation spaces that allow faculty to cycle from small group case study to large group learning as appropriate. It’s a room filled with round tables wired into the presentation system, all surrounding a high-tech lectern in the middle of the room. Why such a team-driven focus?

Dr. Canterbury says, “The Admissions Committee started talking about the attributes of effective doctors. One is the ability to do independent learning and the other is to work in groups – both of those are required (in the profession.) Medicine today is practiced in teams, you see very few solo practitioners. Teams of people tend to take better care of patients, so we like to see our students come in with that as a skill.”

The Learning Studio in Action

Reflections on the Change Process: Status Quo to Innovation

Dr. Canterbury noted in his discussions with Albemarle staff that making changes of this magnitude occurs best when people are engaged in the work and direction is set clearly for the change. He spoke of the need to respect people in the process, but also that moving forward was essential once the direction had been researched and planned. He also noted that change occurs effectively only with significant investment in development of capacity among those responsible for implementing the changes. The faculty members working with the first-year medical students have been involved in no less than 160 hours of development and training in pedagogy to teach the newly designed curriculum using new technologies in a new learning space. The commitment of resources to the change process has been critical to implementation this year, although he noted that schools across the country use a range of technologies and spaces to create their version of Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) opportunities for learners. Dr. Canterbury also emphasized the importance of ongoing evaluation to assess the quality of implementation processes.

In this new School of Medicine, the Jeffersonian philosophy of learning is as relevant today as it was when the Academical Village was first established on the Lawn. It’s fitting that Dr. Canterbury left us with these words, “Here students, residents, practitioners, and teaching docs are all defined as learners.”

Implications for the Future of Education

UVA RX for Change

The School of Medicine of the University of Virginia is considered to be one of the most innovative learning programs for current medical students in the United States today. It’s an example of educational innovation in which current learning technologies, best-practice pedagogy, rigorous interdisciplinary content, project-based learning work, and contemporary learning space design are integrated to engage learners in interactive learning. Faculty leaders believe this new learning model will take students to higher levels of performance than ever before.

The medical school staff members leading for change are committed to realizing a dream to create a new generation of practitioners who serve patients with greater capability than was possible in the past. The rationale for the changes made by the planning committee parallels focused action to shift towards similar practices in Pk-16 education across the world.

The capability to learn independently, work in teams, demonstrate effective communication skills, problem-solve, and use technology as learning tools are considered basics by the business and medical community as well as in post-secondary education settings. These are today’s workforce basics, regardless of the position held. These college and workforce basics also are represented in the Lifelong Learning Standards for graduates of Albemarle County Public Schools. The visit to the School of Medicine reinforced the importance of the Lifelong Learning Standards and also provided a fresh perspective on what we need to consider to ensure our future graduates are ready for the changing environments of the workforce and colleges and universities as we continue forward into the 21st century.

We thank the University of Virginia School of Medicine staff, students, and Dr. Canterbury

for sharing their work with our Board members and staff.


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!