- Superintendent's Blog Archive 2007-08
April 11 – Tight times, tough choices
April 10 –“Algebra for All” is opportunity for all
Feb. 22 – Closing schools
Feb. 9 – Offering freshmen a fresh start
Jan. 28 – Design for Excellence strengthened by audit recommendations
Jan. 18 – Safe schools are successful schools
Jan. 10 ― Working to prevent bullying
Jan. 2, 2008 ― A full agenda for the new year
Dec. 5, 2007 — High expectations for all students
Oct. 29, 2007 — Elections and education
Oct. 7, 2007 — Balance
Sept. 28, 2007 — Looking with new eyes
Sept. 4, 2007 — A great start
Aug. 29, 2007 — Hope and encouragement
Aug. 23, 2007 — Time for reflection
The School Board faces some tough decisions in the coming days, as it grapples
with how to reduce its approved FY2009 operating budget by approximately $9 million. Budget cuts are necessitated after reductions in expected state and local revenue. The reduction in funding will have a negative impact on Chesterfield County Public Schools.
The school division has been fortunate in the past to receive state and local funding that has allowed it to become what U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings recently described as a “model” for high-achieving school divisions. While there is competition for local funding and a limited amount of resources, the School Board
and administration have remained disciplined to operate within the funding formulas established by the county and state. The revenue we receive seems to fall below the agreed upon funding formula, but we continue to use tax dollars efficiently and effectively:
- In recent years, state calculations show that our per-pupil expenditure has been one of the 15 lowest among the state’s 132 school divisions.
- According to a Standard and Poor’s comparison of reading and math achievement based on money spent, Chesterfield County Public Schools ranked third compared to similar sized localities. That’s an outstanding achievement when you remember our low ranking on per-pupil expenditures.
The county has benefited from the services the school division provides its students. With the recently approved tax-rate cut, we’ll have to look at how we do business and what services we provide. That could mean instructional and communications programs that have proven to increase student achievement. That could mean teacher’s salaries, which could impact student achievement. That could mean cuts to requested safety personnel, and we all want our children to be safe in school. That could mean major maintenance projects at older schools that won’t be completed.
We’re going to take time now to study areas that could be cut. We will try to make cuts in our budget that minimize any negative impact on student learning. However, actions that reduced the School Board’s adopted budget present a serious challenge to our abilities to sustain current levels of service to a growing population.
In its final report, the National Mathematics Advisory Panel recently noted that algebra is a “demonstrable gateway to later achievement.” Numerous studies have found that students who take higher-level mathematics courses in high school are likely to be more successful in college and will reap the benefits in the form of future income.
In an effort to increase mathematics opportunities for all students and decrease achievement gaps between students, Chesterfield County Public Schools is moving quickly to provide algebra instruction to every student by eighth grade. Providing algebra instruction at the middle school level instead of in high school frees up students to explore other mathematics opportunities.
The goal of Chesterfield’s “Algebra for All” initiative is to have all eighth-grade students enrolled in an algebra class by the start of the 2008-09 school year. Five middle schools – Carver, Chester, Falling Creek, Providence and Swift Creek – have nearly 100 percent of their eighth graders enrolled in an algebra, geometry or Algebra II class this year. Divisionwide the eighth-grade enrollment rate for algebra for the 2007-08 school year is 61.8 percent, which is up from 33 percent in previous years.
To achieve its goal of 100 percent enrollment, the Instructional Department made several changes in its middle school curriculum. Students in sixth and seventh graders were enrolled in Middle School Math I and Middle School Math II. Teaching time was nearly doubled for math, and course content was streamlined by overlapping and combing similar mathematic skills and concepts. Doing so prepares eighth-grade students for some level of algebra.
To find out more about our efforts and successes in Algebra, visit http://chesterfield.k12.va.us/CCPS/news/0708news_releases/Algebra.htm.
Many factors play into decisions to close schools or open them late. One factor, however, is constant: The safety and well-being of our students is at the forefront any time I consider such decisions.
During weather conditions such as this morning’s, we rely on reports from many area officials. Because some of our buses are on the road as early as 5:30 a.m., our staff begins reviewing conditions throughout the county as early as 3 a.m. Transportation Department employees check bus routes throughout the county and monitor weather reports for changes that could affect road conditions. We also are in contact with the Chesterfield County police and the Virginia Department of Transportation for the latest information on road conditions and potential problem areas.
The reports we received this morning gave us no reason to believe it was not safe to open schools on time. Surrounding school divisions include neighborhoods that are 45-50 minutes north of Chesterfield County. It is entirely possible that their weather or road conditions are completely unlike those in Chesterfield County, making it necessary for those districts to have delayed openings.
Chesterfield County Public Schools takes seriously the health, safety and well-being of all students who are entrusted to our care. Our decisions are made with their best interests in mind.
February 8, 2008
Offering freshmen a fresh start
Our FY2008 and the proposed FY2009 budgets include funds for safety nets that focus on creating a nurturing learning environment and building relationships that support academic success, promote positive attitudes and work habits and monitor overall well-being for students who may be at risk of dropping out of school.
Spring Forward is an initiative designed to help students make the transition to high school, historically one of the most difficult transitions for students to make. During the 2006-07 school year, 4 percent of Chesterfield freshmen failed five or more classes during their first semester. Spring Forward will allow a freshman who did not have a positive academic beginning to his/her high school career the opportunity to restart at second semester and earn four credits in an alternative academic setting.
The program, which began this week, is housed at the Chesterfield Technical Center. Students take ninth-grade English, history, physical education and an elective focused on building trades. Students also have the opportunity to attend summer school and take a fifth subject – most likely math or science. With five credits in hand, they will be 10th graders next year.
Spring Forward supports Goal 1 (academic excellence for all) and Goal 2 (safe, supportive and nurturing learning environments) of our new Design for Excellence: Six-Year Improvement Plan. For more information about Spring Forward, contact coordinator Jim Hoover at 381-1607.
As a leader in education, Chesterfield County Public Schools’ employees are committed to continuous improvement. We work daily to create a safe, nurturing and dynamic learning environment that produces self-directed learners prepared to succeed in the 21st century. A responsibility of a strong school system is working with partners and being held accountable for the tax dollars we are entrusted to spend for educating our children.
Continuous improvement and accountability are two reasons CCPS recently underwent a curriculum management audit by Phi Delta Kappa. Most school systems are reluctant to conduct a curriculum audit. We are neither reluctant nor will we rest on our accomplishments.
The School Board received Phi Delta Kappa’s audit report on January 22. Many of the recommendations in the audit can be addressed immediately. In fact, many of the items already are being implemented through our newly adopted Design for Excellence six-year strategic plan.
The future is tomorrow, but the time to act is today. To find out more about the Design for Excellence, visit http://chesterfield.k12.va.us/CCPS/About_CCPS/Six-yearplan.htm. Working together, we will build on our successes. Working together, we will take Chesterfield County Public Schools from good to great!
January 18, 2008
Safe schools are successful schools
Our community expects its schools to be a safe haven where children are provided the best educational opportunities available. That expectation is one of the reasons for Goal No. 2 of our new strategic plan: a safe, secure and nurturing learning environment for every school.
Our school division has always been committed to providing an environment conducive to learning, and we remain thankful that all of our schools are deemed safe according to data compiled by the Virginia Department of Education. We have been successful by conducting bullying-prevention training, crisis prevention and management training and annual safety reviews of our facilities. However, we realize that as society changes, so must our efforts to provide the safest school environment possible. With that in mind, CCPS last year created a task force of school employees and law enforcement representatives to develop an in-house safety audit that exceeded the requirements of the audit already mandated by the state.
The CCPS-specific audit, which was finalized late last year, looks at access and egress, classrooms and trailers, restrooms, grounds, maintenance, policies and crisis management. The audits are ongoing and will provide the division with a report on what we need to do to improve safety and security in our buildings.
During the past year, to further enhance the safety of our schools, we also partnered with the Chesterfield Police Department for a Secure Our Schools grant, increased training for our security officers and installed cameras in middle and elementary schools. Additional efforts, such as placing security officers in our middle schools (in addition to existing School Resource Officers), are planned in the proposed FY2009 budget we will present to the School Board next week.
We hope the community will be involved in and supportive of our efforts. Security evaluations are a necessary inconvenience that we will all appreciate in the long term.
Bullying occurs when someone with more power hurts someone with less power. Bullying can lead to mental and physical stress, low self-esteem, poor academic performance and, in some cases, school violence.
While statistics indicate a decrease in bullying in Chesterfield schools, we are not letting down our guard and are celebrating the Virginia School Boards Association’s recognition of January as Bullying Prevention Month. Providing a safe, secure and nurturing learning environment is one of the priority goals identified in our new strategic plan. Research indicates that students cannot succeed if they do not feel safe within their learning environment.
Many programs and support services are in place to prevent bullying. Here’s a look at different approaches schools are using:
- Olweus Bullying Prevention Program: schoolwide framework addressing bullying and victimization at the individual, classroom, school and community level
- Second Step: curriculum that supports the development of empathy, problem-solving, impulse control and anger management
- Al’s Pals: curriculum targeting very young children and developing empathy while teaching anger management, problem solving and impulse control
- Success in Stages ― Building Respect: computer-based program consisting of three 30-minute lessons delivered a month apart to encourage empathy, understanding and involvement
Parents who believe their children are being bullied should
- contact a school counselor.
- contact Chesterfield County’s Mental Health Department at 748-1227.
- visit www.stopbullyingnow.org for additional information.
The holidays provided an opportunity to celebrate our faith, relax, reflect and spend time with loved ones. Having been re-energized, it’s now back to business as the school system addresses a full agenda for 2008.
Chesterfield’s two newly elected School Board members will join three re-elected members. They will appoint a new chair and vice chair who will guide their work to achieve school division priorities and communicate the board’s mission and vision to school staff members, county officials and community members.
Phi Delta Kappa International will deliver the long-awaited report of its curriculum management audit of Chesterfield County Public Schools. The report promises to be hard-hitting and guaranteed to move us out of our comfort zone. We will also soon receive findings from a communications audit that investigated how effectively we are telling the story of Chesterfield County Public Schools.
If we dare to be great, we must be willing to identify our deficiencies and face tough challenges. In the words of Jim Collins, “good-to-great companies continually refined the path to greatness with the brutal facts of reality.” These audit reports will provide external analysis and recommendations to support our efforts for continuous improvement. After Phi Delta Kappa presents the curriculum management audit on Jan. 22, we will begin drafting an action plan to implement the report’s recommendations.
Another important item on our agenda is developing the FY2009 operating budget, which is the driving force behind all of our initiatives. Other agenda items include the opening of Scott and Winterpock elementary schools and recruiting and hiring of staff for the next school year.
As Alice learned from the Cheshire Cat, if you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter what road you take.
But Chesterfield County Public Schools knows where it wants to go. Our vision for 2012 is that every school will be a thriving, dynamic and inspiring educational environment that produces self-directed learners and stimulates citizens of all ages
to trust in, invest in and benefit from public education.
The road that will get us to that vision is the Design for Excellence, a dynamic strategic plan for continuous improvement. Created by innovation teams that included 200 community volunteers and numerous school officials, the Design for Excellence offers research-based methods for moving the school system forward.
The plan has four priority goals:
Goal 1. Academic excellence for all students
Goal 2. Safe, supportive and nurturing learning environments
Goal 3. Knowledgeable and competent teachers and administrators
Goal 4. Community investment in schools
Practical steps have begun to achieve each goal. More comprehensive action will be undertaken over the next six years.
To make sure that students are prepared for their futures, they will learn 21st-century skills including technology, digital-age literacy, global connections, inventive thinking and effective communication. Each child will always be expected to enroll in appropriately rigorous classes and perform at his or her highest level. There will be safety nets of support for students who need assistance.
The School Board is scheduled to vote Dec. 11 on the Design for Excellence. The full plan and proposed revisions are online at chesterfield.k12.va.us; click on “Design for Excellence” on the right side of the screen. The plan is also available for review in schools and county libraries. Parent, staff and community input is welcome via e-mail to SixYearPlan@ccpsnet.net.
Chesterfield County Public Schools is positioning all students to achieve at high levels in math.
Chesterfield County Public Schools is the largest school division in Virginia moving quickly to provide algebra instruction to every student by eighth grade, and this fall we moved closer to achieving that goal by September 2008.
In the fall of 2005, five middle schools began implementing a new mathematics program designed to enroll all students in algebra by the eighth grade. Currently, all eighth-grade students in Carver, Chester, Falling Creek, Providence and Swift Creek middle schools are enrolled in algebra or in a higher math course. Our other middle schools began implementing the new mathematics sequence in September 2006, which means that for the 2008-2009 school year all comprehensive middle schools will enroll eighth-grade students in algebra.
Algebra for all eighth-grade students is one example of Chesterfield County Public Schools’ efforts to achieve academic excellence for all students, which is Goal 1 of the school system’s strategic plan, the Design for Excellence.
In a few days, Virginia voters will elect representatives to the legislature, boards of supervisors, school boards and other offices.
One of the most important issues of our time is the quality of public education. An educated and informed citizenry is the foundation of a free democracy. Providing quality public education is one of the fundamental responsibilities of our government. As the Constitution of Virginia, Article I, Section 15, states: “free government rests, as does all progress, upon the broadest possible diffusion of knowledge, and … the Commonwealth should avail itself of those talents which nature has sown so liberally among its people by assuring the opportunity for their fullest development by an effective system of education.”
Several professional organizations have joined together to agree on reasonable expectations in support of a quality education system. These organizations include
the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, Virginia School Boards Association, Virginia Education Association and Virginia PTA:
- Full funding for the General Assembly’s minimum foundation school finance program for K-12 public education in order to “enable each student to develop the skills that are necessary for success in school, preparation in life and reaching their full potential.”
- Support for the General Assembly to approve rebenchmarking the Standards of Quality so the standards are “realistic in relation to the Commonwealth’s current education needs and practices.”
- Funding by the General Assembly for 12-month raises on the scales within the linear weighted average using real inflation figures derived from annual reports from the divisions.
- Revising the loan cap in relation to building costs and providing additional resources to address school construction needs across Virginia.
- Spending public tax dollars for K-12 public education only on K-12 public schools.
- Opposition to tuition tax credits, scholarships and vouchers (such as special education and 4-year-old preschool programs).
- Increased funding for at-risk programs.
- Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known as No Child Left Behind.
Citizens of all ages benefit from strong schools. The solvency of our nation, economic stability of our communities, improvement of the human condition and perpetuation of our values can only become a reality through education. As King Solomon said, knowledge produces wisdom, justice, judgment and equity.
Election Day is when voters have the opportunity to elect officials who truly understand the salient issues of the day and who state categorically their support for quality education.
Oct. 7, 2007
Mark Twain wrote, “The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.” Dr. Seuss had a similar thought when he wrote that “Life’s a great balancing act.” To maintain a balance in my life, I try to maintain physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health by eating properly, exercising daily and setting aside time for prayer and reading Scripture and other inspirational literature.
Balance is imperative when trying to negotiate 60- to 80-hour workweeks. Last week was a typical workweek: I attended a Virginia Association of School Superintendents conference in Virginia Beach and a Virginia School Boards Association leadership conference in Charlottesville. We heard from a former state superintendent of public instruction, Dr. Bill Bosher, as well as current state superintendent, Dr. Billy Cannaday Jr. We also heard from Virginia’s secretary of education, Dr. Tom Morris, who shared a sobering financial outlook for the commonwealth.
On Wednesday and Thursday, I had great meetings with a Virginia Commonwealth University task force on educational leadership and with the president of the Chesterfield Education Association. I also had an opportunity to observe our first Principal for a Day event, where our school division partnered with the Chesterfield Business Council to give business leaders an opportunity to experience a day in the life of a principal. The highlight of the week was our eighth annual Teachers of the Year gala, sponsored by our school division and the Chesterfield Public Education Foundation, to honor an outstanding teacher in each school. Our teachers are the greatest!
These wonderful events were balanced with several challenges: The media reported last week that a former Chesterfield teacher, represented by the ACLU and a local law firm, filed a lawsuit claiming he was dismissed for paintings he creates using his rear and other body parts. Also last week, we responded to parents concerned about longer bus rides for children attending specialty centers. Unfortunately, we have a critical shortage of bus drivers, which has caused problems. Our staff will continue to make adjustments to provide the most efficient transportation possible.Finally, we were all disappointed to learn last week that two new elementary schools scheduled to open in November will not open until sometime after winter break. Fortunately, our students are resilient and continue to receive quality instruction in spite of our challenges.
Sept. 28, 2007
Looking with new eyes
This week, Chesterfield County Public Schools hosted a team of dedicated, successful, high-powered educators from across the country who looked with fresh eyes at our school system to help us see where improvements are needed.
At our request, these 13 trained auditors from Phi Delta Kappa International conducted a curriculum management audit of our school system. On an exhausting schedule, the audit team looked into every corner of Chesterfield County Public Schools. The auditors collected and reviewed documents. They interviewed school employees, administrators, parents and other community members. They visited every classroom in every school.
This audit is something like a longtime homeowner who asks his successful and talented neighbor to catalog all the problems that the homeowner's house has and suggest ways to fix those problems. It is not easy to ask for a critique, but sometimes it takes an outsider to see what needs to be done. We believe that the 13 superintendents, principals, school board members, curriculum specialists and teachers of the audit team will discover places for improvement, places that we may have grown accustomed to stepping past without really seeing.
Without a doubt, we have a good school system. All our schools are accredited. Our students outperform state and national averages. Our students, teachers and staff members consistently win state, regional and national awards. Families move into Chesterfield so their children can be educated in our schools.
But our vision is not to be a good school system. Our vision is to be a "thriving, dynamic and inspiring educational environment that produces self-directed learners." I believe that we will achieve our vision and become a standard-bearer in education. The report that the Phi Delta Kappa audit team will deliver to us in January will help us get there. I thank every school system employee, parent and community member who took the time to communicate with the auditors. Together, we will achieve our vision.
We are now 16 days into the new school year, and it has been busy and exciting to say the least. During the past three weeks, I have thoroughly enjoyed visiting 20 schools full of energized students and staff members. My days have also included about 75 meetings, with two of the more interesting meetings occurring last week.
On Wednesday I and other educators met with Congressman Bobby Scott (3rd District of Virginia), Virginia Secretary of Education Tom Morris and State Superintendent for Public Instruction Billy Cannaday to discuss recommendations for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. On Friday I met with Congressman Eric Cantor (7th District of Virginia), U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Raymond Simon and several neighboring superintendents and school board members for a roundtable discussion of the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.
Both meetings gave some encouragement that this law will be reauthorized to more reasonably hold schools accountable for meeting the needs of all children.
A summary legislative draft proposal recommends support for improved graduation rates and allows states to use more than a single test for accountability. But the recommendation with the potential for the most significant change might be allowing the state to integrate measurements of student academic growth into the state’s definition of adequate yearly progress. Rather than mandating the use of one specific growth model, the bill lays out principles for growth models, thus allowing flexibility and innovation as new models are developed. In other words, rather than comparing this year’s students to last year’s students, the new recommendation would measure students’ growth over time.
No Child Left Behind is a law with good intentions, but it is profoundly flawed in its current form. Let us hope that our elected officials on Capitol Hill will join together in a bipartisan process to provide our schools with the support they deserve and a law that makes common sense.
Sept. 4, 2007
A great start
The 2007-2008 school year got off to a great start today for about 59,000 students in Chesterfield County Public Schools. Nothing can replicate the anticipation and excitement of the first day. Over the past few weeks, teachers, administrators and other staff members have been working diligently to chart the course for a smooth opening in hopes of setting the stage for another banner school year - many employees worked throughout the Labor Day weekend to put the finishing touches in place.
I had incredible experiences visiting several schools today, beginning at 7:15 a.m. at Clover Hill High School. I shared our priorities with people throughout the region during a live interview on WRVA radio before attending a Boo-Hoo Party for kindergarten parents at Grange Hall Elementary. Then I was off to visit Spring Run Elementary and Providence Middle schools before having lunch with the wonderful students at Ettrick Elementary. I concluded my first-day visits with a tour of Matoaca Elementary. It was a thrill to witness the elation of students as they greeted friends; the on-task behavior of students and staff members; and the nurturing and tender manner in which some parents released their children into the welcoming hands of their child's first teacher.
Our staff is to be commended for the thoughtful planning and professionalism that translated into a wonderful opening day for our students: Bus drivers greeted some children at the crack of dawn with friendly smiles. Custodians eagerly provided assistance to make sure the buildings and grounds were inviting. Secretaries, guidance counselors, attendance clerks and others patiently enrolled new families. Food services workers prepared delicious meals. Central office workers provided a helping hand along with other volunteers in schools wherever needed.
I never cease to be amazed by the encouragement and cooperation among
home, school and community when it comes to support our students in
this county. Our challenge is to maintain this high level of commitment,
morale and enthusiasm and to make each of the next 180 school days great
days as well.
Several weeks ago, I attended the Educational Research and Devlopment Institute in St. Louis. The mission of the institute is to provide a forum for dialogue between school superintendents and corporate leaders to shape products and services that will inspire excellence in education and enrich the achievement of all learners.
Through ERDI panels, corporate clients converse with educational insiders. Corporate clients typically modify products, services and marketing plans to better meet the needs of educators and learners, improve programs for all learners and create better schools for America.
I always look forward to participating in conversations about cutting-edge educational research at these institutes, but equally beneficial is the opportunity to collaborate with some of the nation's leading educators.
During the most recent conference, I was inspired by Mike Kneale, former superintendent and co-founder of the Educational Research and Development Institute. Mike has the dubious distinction for being one of the only survivors in the world of five different cancers. He travels the globe speaking about the importance of valuing people and the institutions that develop them. Mike has an uncanny ability to make everyone he meets feel special. Through his positive attitude, determination and faith, he has proven a dismal medical diagnosis wrong over and over again. Mike continues to spread his message of hope and encouragement. While his messages are child-centered, he also reminds listeners that education is a people business and that we must take good care of our educators.
Members of my immediate staff, employees throughout our school district and even students have been diagnosed with cancer and other illnesses. I encourage everyone to be encouraged and inspired by people like Mike Kneale, who has dedicated his career to education and who has overcome what seemed like impossible odds in the process. As Gen. George Patton once said, "Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom."
Summer is typically a time of reflection for public school educators. Most of our students are now on vacations with their families, attending camps, working summer jobs or in some cases attending summer school. Concurrently, most educators are attending conferences, enrolled in graduate classes or working a second job, while trying to prepare for a new school year that holds the potential of being the best year ever. Sandwiched between these activities, we try to find time for reflection and for reconnecting with our families, catch up on reading the books piling up on our nightstands and bookshelves or get reacquainted with a neglected hobby or favorite pastime.
As I reflect during these hot and hazy summer days on my first year as superintendent of Chesterfield County Public Schools, I am appreciative of the opportunity to serve the students and community of such an awesome school system. Almost every day I meet parents, grandparents, business leaders, elected officials and other people who express their gratitude for the work of our educators. Chesterfield County Public Schools is an award-winning school system with employees who take great pride in their schools and the success of their students.
Nonetheless, I am mindful to balance our tremendous successes with the sobering reality of the profound challenges facing our schools: coping with significant growth and the need to accommodate almost 1,100 new students each year; maintaining academic excellence for all children; recruiting and retaining a highly qualified workforce; keeping our children safe from threats, bullying, child predators, drugs, abuse and neglect, cyber crime and other negative influences; and providing adequate resources for the continuous improvement that produces graduates prepared for global citizenship.
Reflecting on our successes and challenges causes me to realize that I am blessed beyond measure for having this unique opportunity to facilitate learning for more than 58,000 students. Education is the great equalizer in American society; it provides each child with hope for a better tomorrow and with the potential to change the human condition. Educators help prepare young people to pursue their dreams of becoming the nurses, doctors, technicians, inventors, leaders and humanitarians of our civilization. One of my favorite quotes comes from Christa McAuliffe, the teacher-astronaut who died in the Challenger explosion in 1986. She said, “I touch the future, I teach.”
I am most fortunate to be an educator.