Strong Academic Performances, Bold Initiatives Define 2017
The academic achievement of Albemarle County public school students continued to rank among the nation's best in 2016-17, led by an on-time graduation rate of 95 percent, well above both state and national averages. The county continues to have an on-time graduation rate higher than the statewide rate for all 50 states.
Albemarle County graduates also led in the percentage of students who earned an Advanced Studies Diploma. Of the division's 1,037 graduates in 2017, 64 percent received Advanced Studies Diplomas, compared to the statewide rate of 52 percent of students who earned this credential.
The drop-out rate among county high schools students declined to 2.8 percent, while statewide, 5.8 percent of high school students dropped out of school last year, similar to the most recently available national percentage of 5.9.
The school division moved up from fifth to third in a national organization's assessment of the highest performing school divisions in Virginia. That organization, Niche, evaluates more than 60 million school reviews and survey responses each year and includes an analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education and test scores to make their findings. In individual categories, Albemarle County Public Schools received the highest possible grades for its academics, teachers and college preparation.
Regarding college preparation, Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores for the county's high school seniors continued their strong upward trend, increasing by 32 points on the verbal portion of the test and by 15 points in math. Once again, the county's seniors outperformed their state and national peers.
On the College Board's college readiness score, 70 percent of Albemarle County high school seniors met the College Board benchmark, compared to 52 percent of all students in Virginia who met the benchmark and 43 percent of students across the country.
The division's emphasis on student-centered instruction, contemporary facilities, innovative technologies and project-based learning continued to bring education leaders from across the country to Albemarle to learn how to adapt our contemporary model to their divisions.
Bond Referendum Update
This model includes a division-wide program to modernize its classrooms across the county, which was one component of a school bond referendum approved by voters this past November. Progress is underway on all four projects in that referendum, which also included an expansion of Woodbrook Elementary School, security upgrades at two schools and the updating of several science laboratories. The Woodbrook addition is adding the equivalent of 16 classrooms, which will resolve overcapacity issues for all urban ring elementary schools for the next 10 years.
The school division also moved forward on reaching two of the most significant objectives that face all public school divisions in the nation — aligning curricula with skills needed to succeed in the current and future market environment, and the equalization of learning resources opportunities for all students.
The urgency for the first objective was captured in a study by a World Economic Forum researcher who found that the top ten jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004, forecasting that nearly 65 percent of today's elementary students will wind up in jobs not yet invented.
New Graduation Requirements
The public policy challenge around this trend led the Virginia General Assembly to direct the state Board of Education to develop and implement a Profile of a Virginia Graduate, which would identify the advanced knowledge and skills that high school students should attain upon graduation. These skills, which would encompass critical and creative thinking, collaboration, communication and citizenship, will become a high school graduation requirement for the Class of 2022, formally impacting students who entered school this year as eighth graders.
Specifically, the state guidelines called for more work-based experiences for students and opportunities around internships, independent studies, student projects and civic engagement that would allow students to demonstrate competencies in applied knowledge and learning.
This year, Albemarle County Public Schools became one of the first school divisions in the state to begin a formal planning process for its High School 2022 program. In preparation for the changes these new requirements will bring to learning experiences that eventually will impact all grade levels in the division, Albemarle County Public Schools began phase one of its three-phase process in January with a concept meeting with community members.
The division now is in phase two, which specifically addresses current and future student capacity needs and the infrastructure that would best support the new state guidelines. In the fall of 2017, the School Board will be receiving a study of various options, from building a new high school to adding on to an existing school to redesigning building use.
The third and final phase of the planning process is a finalization of the facility request in the spring of 2018.
Eliminating Opportunity Gaps
This year also saw the start of a new Equity and Access Initiative that will address the current opportunity gaps that exists in the county between different student demographic groups.
On one level our school division has changed little over the past several years. Students continue to excel in state and national academic measures. And the division that remains as committed as ever to its one strategic goal — that every student of Albemarle County Public Schools will graduate having actively mastered the lifelong-learning skills they need to succeed as 21st century learners, workers and citizens.
But at a deeper level, change has been dramatic. Over the past ten years, our overall pre-K through 12 student enrollment increased by 8.3 percent but the percentage of students from just one demographic group, students from economically disadvantaged homes, increased by more than 65 percent. These students have lower test scores, higher rates of unexcused absences and are much less frequently identified as gifted.
Underperformance relative to the entire division similarly exists in other demographic groups, including among minority populations, special education students and student s who are English language learners.
The Equity and Access Initiative is designed to eliminate opportunity gaps to learning for all students by:
- Removing the predictability of success or failures that correlate with social or cultural factors;
- Creating inclusive multicultural school environments for adults and children and
- Discovering and cultivating the unique gifts, talents and interests of every student.
This approach aligns with a core belief that an individualized, student-level focus will yield the most efficient and effective academic outcomes for each student.
To achieve these results, a Social Emotional Academic Development (SEAD) team under the direction of the division's senior leadership is closely working with school principals and staff in a pilot program at four urban ring elementary schools — Agnor-Hurt, Cale, Greer and Woodbrook. The team is comprised of experts who are targeting student needs in such areas as bilingual support, home and school counseling and assistance with technology learning resources.
The initiative also encompasses an expansion of professional development opportunities for teachers to increase their skill and impact in reaching at-risk students in the classroom each day and in removing the barriers to learning that often result from childhood trauma, family disruption, loss of confidence, and the scarcity of at-home resources.
Among some of the highlights of the 2016-17 school year:
- Albemarle County Public Schools was one of nine school divisions in the nation to earn the top environmental award from the U.S. Department of Education. Through such programs as the use of solar panels, wind turbines, energy efficient appliances and LED lighting, the division avoids as much as $230,000 in energy costs per year;
- A team of Jack Jouett Middle School students won a national championship in the KidWind Competition, in which students designed, developed and built a wind turbine to generate electricity. A second Jouett team, consisting of all females, won the national competition's wind siting challenge.
- A team of Walton Middle School students won a state championship in the SchoolsNEXT design competition by the Virginia Board of the Association for Learning Environments. The students developed a plan of what schools should look like in the future, focusing on functional design elements that also served to promote student health and wellness throughout the building.
- Students earned 75 awards at the Regional Science Fair, including both Best in Show Awards and 29 of 36 awards for first, second or third place in individual program categories;
- Superintendent Dr. Pamela Moran was one of 20 school superintendents from across the nation recognized for innovative leadership by Project Tomorrow, a national organization devoted to developing students as future leaders, innovators and engaged citizens.
- Assistant superintendent Debora Collins was selected as the Curriculum Leader of the Year by the Virginia Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Cale Elementary School principal, Lisa Jones, was chosen by the same organization for its Impact Award in recognition of the her leadership in bringing a Spanish immersion program to the school;
- Murray High School principal Chad Ratliff was named by the National School Board Association as one its "20 to Watch" education leaders for 2017. The Association selected leaders based upon their ability to use innovation technology solutions and instructional strategies to contribute to high-quality learning experiences for students.
- 58 students from elementary, middle and high schools qualified for and competed in the Global Finals for Destination Imagination, in which students utilize problem-solving, teamwork, creative and analytical skills in competitions with peers from around the world. Seven of the nine teams that represented the school division in the global competition won state championships.
- State Standards of Learning (SOL) tests scores were stronger across the division, with substantial improvements at Greer, Stone-Robinson, Jouett and Walton.