I’ve started a blog here so that I can reach out directly to our wonderful and diverse community about the things that seem most relevant in our mission as educators at ACPS of establishing a community of learners and learning, through relationships, relevance and rigor, one student at a time. While this mission might seem to be directed primarily to the “traditional” student, I think of myself as a lifelong student and I hope that other members of our community do as well.
In that spirit, I hope that this blog will serve as an opportunity to briefly share tidbits of what I learn as I engage with colleagues, students and the many other remarkable people I encounter in Albemarle County and beyond. And I want to learn from you! If you read something that piques your interest or that provokes questions, contact me. I believe that having these types of exchanges is how great organizations—and people—are made.
- Friday, October 16, 2020
- Tuesday, October 13, 2020
- Tuesday, October 6, 2020
- Monday, October 5, 2020
- Friday, September 25, 2020
- Friday, September 18, 2020
- Wednesday, October 28, 2020
I have had the opportunity to observe some incredible virtual teaching and learning this year. Last week, Agnor-Hurt fifth-grade teacher (and one of my wife Sheri’s former students) Layne Rickabaugh invited me to play King George III for his students as “colonists” as they took turns reading off a list of grievances against the School Superintendent (me), after which they declared independence from Albemarle County Public Schools.
Just yesterday, I visited Sue Zeanah’s kindergarten PE class via Zoom. Sue utilized so many best practices for engagement and deeper learning that it would take a page to list them all. My favorite activity was “Deal or No Deal.” With this, Mrs. Zeanah asked each student “Deal or no deal?” in deciding if the class will do a specified number of repetitions of an exercise, say push-ups. Of course, given the choice, a kindergartner almost always picks “no deal,” which leads to a game of rock, paper, scissors with Sue (a great fine motor skill developer). If Sue wins, the reps are doubled; if the student wins, they are halved. Mrs. Zeanah used this opportunity to teach multiplication and division as a form of addition and subtraction. And the students and Sue were moving the whole time. I only actually joined the class on camera when it was time to stretch.
Thank you Mr. Rickabaugh and Mrs. Zeanah for inviting me to class. You typify the empathy, creativity, and super-hard work all of our teachers are doing to make virtual learning work so well for our students. Thank you all!
In my role, I have the pleasure of hearing amazing stories about our employees frequently. I do not take our employees for granted; however, you are all so good at what you do, I—like most everyone else in our community—have come to depend on it. That is why I had to do a double-take when food services manager Richard McLernan reminded me that the staff at Western Albemarle High School have been preparing 700 lunches and 700 breakfasts daily for family pick-ups (and now bus stop deliveries) since mid-March. That is close to eight months of day-in and day-out work for good. It is a force for good.
We can do the math and figure out how many meals have been served and bellies filled and smiles sustained. Measuring the beneficial and exponential impact of our Child Nutrition employees and bus drivers preparing and delivering meals is just not possible. It is too great and too long lasting. I can imagine one day, decades from now, our current kindergartners telling their children and grandchildren about the pandemic school closures of 2020 and how ACPS educators, administrators, and support staff pulled them and their families through.
Pictured here in the WAHS kitchen are Annette Trombley, Richard McLernan, Diane Maupin, Karen Wood, Mildred Coffey, and Marie Marsh. Thank you all! And check out assistant principals Teresa Tyler and Reed Gillespie waiting for students to arrive out front. Both of these Warriors came from our other two high schools at one time. Teresa was a decades-long English teacher at AHS, and Reed has been an assistant principal at Monticello for several years. I hear a lot of positive remarks from staff and families about their work!
Here's a thought I have as I consider one of the updated approaches that our division will soon be taking regarding grading practices. I think our students should have an assessment bill of rights as part of the creation of our soon-to-be-developed division-wide grading guidelines. Further, I think that the bill of rights should be developed by students with support, resources and facilitation from educators. Finally, I think that the bill of rights should be presented to the School Board by our student representative to the School Board for approval. Our students have such a diverse set of skills and talents and they know what they need and want to see from their educators. This will give them some agency in the decisions that we make on their behalf, and it will also give them insight into the way that decisions are made in their schools.
ACPS School Board Chair Graham Paige and I had a terrific visit with assistant principal Tireese Lewis and the Walton staff last Monday. We really appreciate Tireese for taking time for a tour as well as the hospitality of all the staff. One thing I really liked seeing was the skylight installation project from this past summer. It is a part of our ongoing classroom modernization work in ACPS. If you are familiar with Walton, you know that there are blocks of interior rooms with no windows to access natural light. This summer, several of the rooms in the school had skylight installations to capture sunlight shining down on the school and to reflect it within the rooms until it is very bright! Monday was overcast, and the lights were still super bright!
Also, behind the school, Mr. Paige and I got to see a big improvement: a new, air-cooled chiller to help the school’s air stay dry and comfortable all year! I digress, but if you want to learn more about all the things we are doing to ensure your safety in the schools through modifications and improvements to the HVAC systems, check out our Health and Safety Practices page on the Return to School website.
All around the school, we met up with staff following safety protocols as well as students disembarking from buses to come in and learn. We even got to visit with students in the library as they logged in to be with their advisory teachers for morning meeting time. In fact, if you look closely at the student’s screen in the photo here, you can see Math Teacher Marissa Spurlock checking in! Hi, Ms. Spurlock!
I love sharing photos of staff. It is my way of saying, “We see you and appreciate you!” We see you, C-base teacher Ms. Prince! We see you, C-base TAs Ms. Hart and Ms. Carroll! We see you learning coach Jean Spradlin! We see you Ms. Curry, TA and learning coach! We see you, lead bus driver Ms. Geer! We see you A-base teacher Ms. Hoffman. And we see you, school nurse Daniela Marden!
I want to give a special shout-out to Lutrice Cooper-Simpson, Walton's outstanding office associate. I cannot think of any time over the years when I have visited Walton and not seen Ms. Cooper-Simpson in the front office, directing affairs and taking care of everyone's needs with a super positive approach. Thank you, Lutrice!
This week, School Board Vice-Chair Katrina Callsen and I visited Jack Jouett Middle School. I really appreciate principal Ashby Johnson and assistant principal Christie Isaiah taking time out of their Monday morning to host a visit with us, and I am so proud of Ashby, Jack Jouett’s instructional and support staff, and the transportation team for providing a safe learning environment for the 40 students attending at Jack Jouett in our Stage 2 of returning to school.
As students got off the buses outside, Ashby, Christie, and school nurse Crystal Jackson (pictured in her clinic office), checked them in by taking their temperatures and affirming their health status. I didn’t get pictures of custodians Clayton Gsell and Yves Kodjovi, but they passed me many times in the hallways in the process of cleaning and moving materials from one space to another. And, of course, we checked in with three learning coaches on Monday morning, Emily Uosseph, Joy Minor, and Jennifer Grazier, as they worked with students. Finally, I always say “Hi” to Chastity Clements, Office Manager for Jack Jouett!
Whenever I go to one of our schools, I learn something from our talented educators. Last Tuesday morning, I had a wonderful visit to Monticello High School. Our principals are top-notch, and I was amazed as I walked with Rick Vrhovac and he addressed every single person we came across by name. When I complimented him on this trait, he said, “It comes with decades of coaching athletes. If you want to get a person’s attention and have that person know you care, you have to address him or her by name. It makes all the difference in the world.”
When I hear a principal—someone charged with a responsibility for thousands of our students and hundreds of employees—say this, I know that he embodies our mission “to establish a community of learners and learning, through relationships, relevance and rigor, one student at a time.”
We had an especially amazing recognition for one of our elementary schools this fall, and I want to take one more pause to say that I am super proud of Baker-Butler Elementary School for being named a National Blue Ribbon School for closing achievement gaps!
Our division-level Leadership Team, a group of more than 100 building-level administrators, department heads, central office staff, and supervisors has a peer recognition award for excellent leadership in alignment with our four core values of excellence, young people, community, and respect. It is a four-foot long pencil that each recipient signs before deciding whom to pass it to after holding onto it for a month. Gwedette Crummie, principal of Crozet Elementary School, was recognized by her peers in September, and during our Leadership Team meeting this Wednesday, she awarded the “Leadership Pencil” to Steve Saunders, principal of Greer Elementary School and former principal of Baker-Butler Elementary School.
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes schools that have shown significant progress in closing these gaps. According to the Virginia Department of Education, of 1,833 schools in the state, 58, or three percent, met the criteria for the Blue Ribbon Program’s exemplary award. Baker-Butler is one of four schools in Virginia to receive the award this year.
When he was asked about it, Steve said that although the award was based on test scores, that was never his primary focus. “Closing achievement gaps, making it possible for every student to learn at a high level, has to be primarily about names, not numbers. What really made me proud about our Baker-Butler team was its collective vision around meeting this challenge. Our teachers truly care about every single child, they know the strengths and needs of every learner, and they develop strategies and relationships that fit each child. There is no way to do this without that heavy degree of personal investment.”