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.


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, 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!

An Open Letter of Thanks to Those Who Serve Our Young People

November 23, 2010

November 23, 2010

“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.”

~ George Augustus Moore, The Brook Kerith, Ch. 11 (1916)

Even though we Americans consume resources at an impressive rate, when asked what we value most, we identify our family, friends and communities. The traditions of Thanksgiving, a uniquely American holiday, remind us to offer thanks for all we value, which typically doesn’t include our cars, computers or televisions. Rather, we give thanks for our children, parents, friends, loved ones, colleagues, and those serving our country in far away lands.

Thanksgiving is also a time when we remind ourselves to reach out and help those less fortunate or with fewer resources than we possess. Despite the hardships of living in a time when we experience daily a struggling economy, a climate of political dissatisfaction, and work overloads on the job, we all take a break this week to express our gratitude to and for those around us. It’s a time when we remind ourselves that we humans are truly “all in this together.”

As we begin this week, my first thank you goes to those who serve the children of Albemarle County. Despite the fact that we serve more children with fewer resources than this time last year, you continue to dedicate yourselves to young people. You take money out of your own pockets to fill in gaps so that children will have what they need, including snacks, healthcare, and basic supplies. I recently spoke with the spouse of a teacher who said, “I don’t even ask about the snack receipts anymore. I know she’s just trying to help kids who might otherwise not have a snack.”

In many cases, you are teaching larger classes than we have seen since the mid-nineties. Funds for professional development have dropped dramatically in just three years. Teacher stipends have been cut. Mandates continue to flow from the federal and state governments. Salaries have been frozen for every one employed by Albemarle County. Out-of-pocket health costs have risen. Positions have been eliminated in every department and school without any expectation from our public that we stop providing any services. The national and local media do us no favors by focusing on stories that reflect negatively on public education rather than on the many accomplishments for which our nation, state and community should be thankful as we go into this holiday break.

Our young people attend schools that are some of the best maintained in the United States because of our Building Services staff. They ride safely on buses that travel more than 12,000 miles daily with only a very small chance of being in an accident. They are taught by educators who represent excellence as a teaching faculty— as good as any in the nation. Our principals do whatever it takes to provide support, from making sure that fees for field trips and extracurricular activities are available to those in need to standing in the rain and snow to greet learners when they arrive and leave each day. The work of our schools and Division runs smoothly because of employees, both clerical and administrative, who often may be the least visible—those who provide support so that paychecks get cut, personnel issues get resolved, instructional supplies get ordered, reports get filed, and phones get answered.

In a day and age when we expect every young person to graduate on-time with the highest quality education possible, it truly takes a community of educators and support staff to make that happen. I am proud of Albemarle County Public Schools. I am thankful to you for being the kind of employees who give your best every day, despite the challenges created by our current economic crisis. Our young people are fortunate that you are in their corner and on their side. When I sit down at this year’s Thanksgiving table to gather with family and friends, you will be on the list of those for whom I am most grateful.

Bullying Prevention Awareness Month

October 7, 2010

October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. The public schools of Albemarle County have a longstanding commitment to bullying prevention. The Board Policy regarding bullying can be read here. Albemarle was one of the first school divisions in the state to implement the Olweus Bullying Prevention program in elementary and middle schools. This year, our schools are fortunate to have support from the Safe Schools/Healthy Students program funded through a competitive grant from the U.S. Departments of Education, Health, and Justice. School staff participates in grant activities designed to help improve school climate, eliminate bullying behaviors, increase family support, and support mental health services for students with a need for those services. Parent education programs also are available to parent-school organizations through this grant and by contacting June Jenkins, grant project leader at 872-4567 or She is based at the regional Commission on Children and Families office.

We know that young people can be hurtful to others. Despite our best efforts, we know that our schools continue to have situations in which a child has been bullied by another. No young person deserves to be picked on, harassed, or teased by others, for any reason, ever. It’s not okay inside or outside of school, including cyber-space. It’s our job as adults, both parents and educators, to supervise and teach children to learn appropriate social behaviors including how to work through disagreements, address conflicts, and solve problems in ways that are productive and lasting. We need to teach young people that respect for others who may differ from them is an expectation in our schools. When this does not happen, our teachers and principals need to intervene. If your child reports behaviors towards them that appear to be bullying, I expect teachers, counselors, and principals to follow through on addressing your concerns.

Children learn from us how caring community members behave. We adults need to monitor our own behavior to ensure we model respectful behaviors towards our young people. We need to model regard for all others. That’s what teachers do. Please join the Albemarle County Public Schools and the nation in participating in Bullying Prevention Awareness this October.

For more information on bullying:

Albemarle School Counseling Website Resources

Pacer Center, Champions for Children with Disabilities

Anderson Cooper 360 Teen Town Hall on Bullying: No Escape

Virginia Youth Violence Project

A New Year in Albemarle’s Schools

September 2, 2010

One of our dedicated drivers with his bus

Nothing is more exciting than the start of a school year! On the first day of school, I was up early along with bus drivers, teachers, principals, central staff, parents, and learners; all of us anticipating the drive or walk to school. When I saw the first bus on Route 20N this year, I was reminded of my first day as superintendent several years ago. I feel every day the responsibility of running a school division with about 13,000 students in 26 schools that are spread over 726 square miles. However, the first day always feels important to me because it signifies the beginning, the turning over of a new leaf, a fresh start. Our teachers feel it. Our young people know it. Together, the entire community awakens when the hundreds of big “yellow” buses begin navigating our roads, transporting approximately 10,000 students during the school year. Daily, our buses drive in the neighborhood of 10,000+ miles each day. That’s almost the distance of driving back and forth to San Francisco twice in one day.

During the first two weeks of school, central staff and I each visit schools daily to be “boots on the ground” in support of our educators and learners. We check in with principals on general enrollment numbers and monitor this daily so that we know whether we will need to add staff or transfer staff after Labor Day. Enrollment patterns begin to stabilize in September and principals work to adjust schedules and staffing with central support. The School Board has an adopted methodology for use of emergency staffing to address needs in schools. This year, we knew we would see increased class sizes in grade 4-12 as a result of changing the student-teacher ratio as a budget strategy last year. However, we also are seeing increased growth across the division, particularly in several schools in the north end of the county.

musicians take a bow

We also walk with principals to meet and greet teachers new to Albemarle, check in with experienced educators, and observe our learners at work – even on the first day of school. I have been pleased to see learners active and engaged in every school I have visited. From second graders listening to and directing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to chemistry students working in their first lab, our students have begun the year with engaging work. The MESA (math,engineering, science academy) at AHS serves students from ninth to twelfth grade this year. In talking with the drama teacher at MoHS, I learned that the big musical production will be Hairspray. Henley Middle School’s strings class had instruments in hand and were making music the day I visited there. I’ve had a chance to learn to count to five in Chinese, to chat in Spanish, and observe students taking a virtual Japanese class. I’ve observed kindergarten children making beautiful patterns with pattern blocks and geometry students using SmartBoard technology. Children have been constructing art on computers, writing in their journals, throwing clay on the potter’s wheel, playing chess, dancing, playing a chase game in PE, creating video documentaries on how to use the library, and reading big books, novels, and picture books.

Our students are back in school and busy learning. The teachers have been planning for this year since last spring, They have attended workshops and taken courses over the summer to update skills. The division has a new social media outlet for information on Facebook : . Here, you can interact with other parents and with staff around topics of interest.

The School Board contemplates the appointment of a new School Board member to take the place of Brian Wheeler who resigned in August. They will be reviewing applications and making a decision soon. Public comment on the characteristics that the public would like to see in the new Board member will occur on September 9 at 7:30 p.m. in Lane Auditorium at the County Office Building.

I hope you will take the time to visit our schools this year. If you are interested in volunteering in our schools, please consider visiting a school near you to inquire about opportunities. Please join me in congratulating our bus drivers on a safe opening to the school year. If you see one of our custodians or maintenance workers, thank them for their hard work to put down a new shine on the floors and get our schools ready to open. We have excellent facilities thanks to these fine people. When you run into a teacher, visit your child’s school, or hear about the good work of our educators, please take the time to write a note of appreciation or simply just say “thank you for choosing to be a teacher. ”

Education provides the only pathway to a viable economic future for our country. We need more students earning college degrees, not fewer. We need inventors and problem-solvers in our workforce. We need an educated citizenry capable of making the difficult decisions we will face as the 21st century marches forward. Most of all, we need you to join us in our work to make Vision 2023 real – educating today’s learners for tomorrow’s workforce, colleges, and communities. The kindergarteners who entered our classes this year in 2010 will graduate in 2023. They will be our future doctors, legislators, teachers, auto mechanics, and journalists. We need them to get the best education we can provide. After all, somewhere out there is a future president and he or she may be in a classroom just next door.

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