DATE: September 3, 2019
CONTACT: Phil Giaramita, Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Officer
Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Matthew Haas, Focuses Priorities for the New Year on Programs to Improve Student Performance, Career Planning & Community Participation
Dr. Matthew Haas
(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – In a sweeping call to action, Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Matthew Haas, told the division’s nearly 1,400 teachers that priorities this year include establishing multiple career pathways at each high school and student center; engaging the community in conversations on modernizing a “broken grading system”; bringing principals together to develop strategies and practices that will improve student performance on such measures as the state’s Standards of Learning (SOL) tests; and a new approach that will reduce out-of-school suspensions of middle schools students.
“A community of equity and excellence must define what we do every single day,” the superintendent said. “This requires strong relationships between teachers, support staff, and students—relationships that lead to learning activities relevant to students and that add honest challenge and feedback to the continuous improvement process,” he said.
Dr. Haas told faculty members, “You were put on this planet to do one thing: be a great teacher!”
Among specific goals, he said this year the school division is committed to:
- Making greater strides toward closing disparities in student opportunities and achievement;
- Establishing division-wide professional learning communities at the elementary, middle, and high school levels that will bring together principals, teachers, and academic coaches to review student performance data and develop strategies to meet the division’s expectations of high achievement for all students;
- Involving the community on planning to repair an inconsistent and imprecise grading system not oriented to the acquisition of lifelong skills; and
- Developing multiple career pathways at each high school and student center that are aligned with career clusters. Students would take special courses in their preferred field and add a related work-based learning experience, such as a capstone project, in their senior year.
There are 16 career clusters identified by the Virginia Department of Education, defined as “groupings of occupations and broad industries based on commonalities. Within each career cluster, there are multiple career pathways that represent a common set of skills and knowledge, both academic and technical, necessary to pursue a full range of career opportunities within that pathway—ranging from entry level to management, including technical and professional career specialties.”
“From pre-kindergarten through high school, let’s help students get to know their talents and interests. Throughout their academic lives with us, let’s do all we can to match learning with skills and career interest areas for students,” Haas told the educators.
One immediate emphasis, he said, is the creation of a talent development pool that will begin as early as second grade. The superintendent said community discussions will be a vital part of this process to re-envision the division’s Gifted Education program. Also involved will be community forums with guest speakers from outside the division, and support from teachers and principals.
Returning to his plan for continuing to narrow achievement gaps among students, Haas pointed to two pilot programs that are unfolding this year at the division’s six middle schools. One program requires students to put away their cell phones during the school day, either storing phones in their lockers or not bringing phones to school at all. The second program would reduce out-of-school suspensions for students who violate the division’s policy on drug or alcohol possession. Previously, these students were subject to a 10-day out-of-school suspension. This year, they will be suspended in school for three days. During this time, they will focus on their academic work and participate in a Region 10 substance abuse prevention counseling program, Teen Intervene.
Both of these pilots, the superintendent said, will be monitored closely for their impact and could lead to future expansion to students at the high school level.
“Across our country, suspending students out of school has had a disparate impact on diverse students of color, as well as special education students and students who come from economically disadvantaged homes,” Haas said. “Students belong in school, learning. Our new approach will strengthen the bond between teacher and student as we eliminate dozens of missed school days for some students,” he concluded.