Deputy Superintendent Debora Collins said she will retire on June 30. Collins served Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) for four decades, primarily in increasingly responsible executive leadership positions. Among her signature legacies is the division’s nationally renowned instructional coaching model, which has been the inspiration for similar programs in many other school divisions.
In 2016, as executive director of pre-K through grade 12 education, Collins was honored as the Commonwealth’s Curriculum Leader of the Year by the Virginia Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (VASCD). The organization chose Collins for contributions consistent with its support for “proactive and innovative education policies and programs that ensure lifelong learning for all.”
In 2017, Collins was named assistant superintendent for student learning, overseeing all curriculum staffing, budgeting, and special education and federal programs for the division’s 25 schools and more than 13,000 students. A year later, she became the division’s deputy superintendent, succeeding Dr. Matthew Haas, the current superintendent.
In a letter to the school board and to Haas, Collins wrote, “My time with ACPS has filled me with a sense of purpose and belonging that none other could offer. It’s been such a joy to work in an environment that has high expectations and calls educators to work together to reach all students.”
Collins has helped guide the division through some of the most transformational and turbulent times in public education. In the 1990s and the early part of this century, for example, Virginia instituted measures, for the first time, to annually assess student academic performance; Albemarle evolved into a much more diverse and complex school community, with students from 96 different birth countries; and the school division endured the Great Recession, and most recently, a worldwide pandemic.
One of the most effective proactive responses during the Great Recession was the formulation of the division’s instructional coaching model, led by Collins. At a time when many school divisions were laying off teachers and eliminating classroom programs, ACPS avoided such drastic measures by cutting back on administrative budgets, including central office staff, and reducing spending in areas such as professional development.
The coaching model was designed to assist teachers with their own professional learning in the face of the significant reductions in the professional development program. In the coaching model, classroom teachers work with instructional coaches on strategies and best practices that promote student academic achievement.
A 2011 article in The New Yorker compared the approach to how high-performance athletes and even medical professionals use coaching to help highly-skilled practitioners reach their highest potential. The article quoted one ACPS classroom teacher, who said, “I’d exhausted everything I knew to improve.” Coaching changed that. “My stress level is a lot less now,” she said. The reporter went on to say, “That might have been the best news for the students. They kept a great teacher and saw her get better.”
Kristen Williams, Woodbrook Elementary School’s principal and a former lead coach, said of Collins’ influence, “I learned first-hand not only of Debbie’s focused and compassionate approach to educational leadership, but also in the power of her mentorship skills. She pushes you to be your best, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable and always with the upmost of respect.”
Williams is one of seven alumni of the coaching program who now serve the division as principals of elementary, middle and high schools.
“The broad range of headline contributions that Debbie has made to our school community has had a profound effect on student learning,” said Haas. “As is the case with any act of great consequence, the improvements she made possible will continue to pay dividends far into the future. Having worked with Debbie for the past 19 years, I have learned so much. I will miss seeing her every day,” Haas said.
The superintendent noted, for example, Collins’ leadership in moving the division to become an early adopter among school divisions of Being a Reader, a comprehensive K–5 reading program that integrates the science of reading through foundational skills instruction, practice in reading comprehension strategies, and rich literacy experiences with explicit social skills instruction and activities.
The deputy superintendent also is on the task force that is working with an outside analytical firm on an audit of the division’s practices, policies, programs and resources for reading and math programs in the division’s elementary schools and for math instruction in secondary school. The audit will lead to recommendations for enhancements to instruction for all students, with a focus on shrinking achievement gaps among student demographic groups.
Throughout Collins’ tenure, first as the executive director of secondary education, then heading the instructional program as an assistant and deputy superintendent, the division’s on-time graduation rate has remained among the highest in the state, with nearly two out of every three graduates earning the state’s most rigorous academic diploma. Statewide, the average for an Advanced Studies Diploma is just over one out of two.
Collins began her career in public education in 1979 as a math teacher in Tazewell and then Orange counties. She joined ACPS as a math teacher at Henley Middle School in 1983. Prior to joining the division’s central leadership team, she was the principal of Greenbrier Elementary School for Charlottesville City Schools, and later, with the county, served as principal of Red Hill Elementary School and then Yancey Elementary School.
“I never dreamed I would have been with ACPS for 40 years. Our school division’s commitment to continuous improvement and its wholehearted dedication to teaching and learning at its core give me great confidence in the future of public education here in Albemarle County, “she said.
Pictured: Debora Collins
CONTACT: Phil Giaramita, Strategic Communications Officer