The Week of March 20 - 27

As I visited schools recently, I noticed that flowers had started to bloom in many of the flower beds outside the front doors. In classrooms, it was easy to see that spring was in the air as well. Students were eager to spend time in outdoor learning spaces and there was more than a little bit of chatter about spring break plans. Without a doubt, there is a renewed energy and a sense of promise in our schools and offices this time of year. As educators, I believe this is a good time for us to do a little metaphorical spring cleaning - sweeping out the cobwebs and opening the windows to fresh ideas and learning opportunities for children.

That same idea struck me again during last week's National School Board Association conference. Exchanging ideas with fellow superintendents and school board members from across the country was invigorating. Our discussions around equity, literacy, personalized learning, integrated technology and STEM initiatives were impactful as we saw how each division was addressing common challenges in varied ways. Those of you who were in attendance at the conference know how well our presentations on student discipline and the Great Dreams need Great Teachers campaign were received by our peers. After the presentations we had the opportunity to speak with other school leaders about initiatives they have in place which might also be successful in our district as well. It was also an honor to share our work around the development of our profile of a VBCPS graduate through participation on the EDLeader 21 panel, and talk about integrated use of technology as part of the Center for Digital Education (CDE) panel. I fear that we sometimes get so deep into the work that we don’t take time to talk fully about the strides we are making as a division or celebrate our successes. This was an opportunity to do just that. One accomplishment worth noting is our division’s selection as a top 10 large school district by the Center for Digital Education for our work in integrating technology in instruction as well as communication with the larger school community. It was great to join so many of you in accepting that award at NSBA.

And speaking of celebrations, I would like to share with you a note our communications team received from an Ocean Lakes High School parent about a recent School Board recognition. To me, it underscores the impact of lifting up and celebrating our students and staff. The email from parent Bridgett King reads, "On behalf of our daughter; Madeleine King and Ocean Lakes High School we’d like to say 'thank you' for taking the time to create such a special memory for our area Swim, Dive and Indoor Track Athletes. It was an honor and a pleasure for Madeleine and Ocean Lakes High School to be a part of the recognition segment at the recent School Board Meeting. As a parent, I am so appreciative for Virginia Beach Schools and the incredible teachers, administrators, leaders, students, and coaches touching the lives of our community. We are so fortunate to have such an abundance of opportunity, we thank you for all your hard work and commitment to producing excellence in our schools."

Wouldn't it be great if every child and every family felt the same way? So let's sweep out the cobwebs and open the windows. Let's let the fresh spring air and the fresh ideas wash over us as we look at new and innovative ways to strengthen our programs, pathways and opportunities for every child in our school to be successful every day.

The Week of March 1 - 10

I firmly believe in foundational skills. You simply cannot be a successful student without the fundamental skills needed to move through life—reading analytically and for pleasure, the ability to communicate clearly, fluency in mathematics, understanding our history and the importance of civic engagement, to name a few. But there has to be more to the educational experience than mastery of these fundamental skills.

I like to think of it like a cathedral. When you walk into a cathedral, you are always standing on a solid stone floor, and the cathedral wouldn’t be what it is without this foundation. But what really captivates us about cathedrals is the ceilings. The great cathedral builders were always wondering how high they could take their ceilings, how much closer to the heavens they could point them as a physical manifestation of man’s desire to be closer to God. They weren’t just building a church. It was a much more creative expression than that, and there was a kind of passion and joy that was captured in the work being done. And so while the floor is critically important, the ceiling and the work getting there was what really mattered.

For educators, we have to have to have a firm concrete floor for kids to stand on. But we are also interested in how high our ceiling can be. How can we provide experiences that ensure our students are deeply engaged in the processes of inquiry, problem-solving and creativity? Moreover, how can we ensure that in the work, there is passion and joy? After all, learning is a natural instinct and the processes of learning new things should be full of curiosity and wonder and an excitement about solving a challenging problem and, frankly, about finding joy in that process.

In VBCPS, we celebrate joy in our classrooms in a number of creative and inspiring ways. These were highlighted last week at the school division’s Joy Fair at College Park Elementary School, where staff members from across the city could come and share how they raise the ceilings, so to speak, at their school.

What does that look like?

It’s at Parkway Elementary School, where they select Words of the Week based around nine vital social-emotional skills such as kindness and consideration. Every Sunday, teachers are provided resources to help infuse those words in their lessons if they choose to do so.

Or, at Princess Anne Middle School, in classrooms, teachers routinely talk to students about gratitude and paying it forward. To reinforce this, students are "Caught Being Kind" where they are "arrested" for committing random acts of kindness. These students are called to guidance to pose for their “mugshots,” which are then featured on a hallway at the school named, Kindness Street.

These are small things. They are not the foundation of our teaching and learning, and you will not find them listed anywhere on a standardized test. They are, however, the kind of wonder and whimsy that elicit from students a desire to try harder and to set their sights higher on their own educational journeys.

The Week of January 30 - February 10

Last week, at our latest School Board meeting, I had the opportunity to present my proposed budget as part of the Superintendent's Estimate of Needs. I said during my presentation, and it's worth restating again that building a budget is a very complicated and complex process. As a school division, we are tackling the unknowns of funding at the state and federal level as well as trying to be competitive in our compensation packages while maintaining and expanding our programmatic offerings.

It's a tough balance, especially when you consider that the overwhelming majority of our division's operating budget (about 85 percent) is made up of personnel costs. When you take into consideration the fact that those remaining funds are dedicated to gassing up our buses, keeping the power on at our schools, etc., only a very small portion, about 2 percent of that remaining 15 percent, is available for maintaining and/or expanding programs.

Yet, each year we find a way to make it work.

This is in no small part due to our incredible Department of Budget and Finance. This team basically makes our offices at the School Administration Building their second home during these months. It's a lot of early mornings and late nights. They spend those long hours finding the financial solutions that allow us to recommend a 2 percent raise for all employees as well no increases to their health care costs.

Of course, the budget process is far from over. In addition to the budget workshop held on the 14th, there is a public hearing on the Estimate of Needs and the Capital Improvement Program (2017/18 – 2022/23) scheduled for Feb. 21. In addition, we have other upcoming budget workshops planned for Feb. 21 and Feb. 28, if needed. Updates from these meetings will be posted on the Lowdown on Your School Dollars page of the school division website at www.vbschools.com. I would encourage any/all of our stakeholders to follow the budget development process as the Board considers its options before voting to adopt a budget, which is scheduled for March 7.

Highlights from the Superintendent's Calendar

  • Attended and brought welcoming remarks at 10th annual African American Male Summit
  • Attended and spoke at citywide principals meeting
  • Hosted breakfast meeting for principals at Salem Middle School
  • Attended and spoke at elementary principals league meeting
  • Participated in VASS Legislative Committee call
  • Attended meeting of the Teacher Forum Leadership Council
  • Attended workshop and formal meeting of Board
  • Attended Board budget workshop

The Week of January 16 - 27

When you look across the offerings we provide our students, one of the things I am most proud of are the opportunities our students have to serve in leadership roles. From school and citywide SCAs and sports teams to our many summits and workshops, our students have ample access to experiences that will prepare them as our great future leaders.

A few years ago, The Leadership Quarterly published its "Longitudinal studies of leadership development," a series of four longitudinal studies that identified key factors in adults' leadership development. According to the study, early life experiences "play a critical role in the development of leadership" and that "exposing children and adolescents to experiences that promote self-management and emotional control, social skill development, team skills and early leadership experiences (e.g., class monitor, teacher's helper) may foster later leader development."

Or, as writer Laura Pappano aptly summarized in her 2012 article for the Harvard Education Letter, "Is the student who organizes tag during recess or chooses to help a classmate with math on track to be a senator, a CEO or a community leader? They may well be."

This past weekend, more than 200 young ladies packed the halls of Kempsville High School to take part in our second Beach Girls Rock! workshop of the year. This week, several hundred people attended the Love is Love program organized by the student leaders in the Cox High School Gay-Straight Alliance. This weekend, an estimated 400 of our young men will be at Princess Anne High School taking part of the 10th Annual African American Male Summit. I am only energized by the passion of our young people, who are voluntarily giving up their time to learn together and better themselves and their community, and I know this will only help them as they prepare for their post-graduation lives.

As such, it is crucial we continue to encourage our students to pursue their passion, and that we provide them the opportunities to exercise their leadership skills - both now and in the future, for a greater future for us all.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Spoke at the Annual State of the Division Meeting of the VBAESP and VBASSP.
  • Hosted breakfast meetings for middle and high school principals
  • Participated as a judge at the Technical and Career Education Center Cake Wars (where culinary students there worked with fifth graders from Rosemont Forest Elementary)
  • Attended HRETA Superintendents Advisory Council Meeting and Region II Superintendents Meeting
  • Attended and spoke at meeting of the Teacher Assembly
  • Hosted a Budget Forum for employees
  • Attended the kickoff celebration for the Norfolk Naval Station Centennial Celebration
  • Participated in a call with the VASS Legislative Committee as Region II representative
  • Attended meeting of the Opportunity Inc. Youth Services Committee
  • Visited the following schools: Tallwood ES, Strawbridge ES, Glenwood ES, Salem HS
  • Met with the following Board members: Vicky Manning, Dan Edwards, Sharon Felton, Carolyn Weems, Carolyn Rye (scheduled meetings); attended workshop and full meeting of the Board as well as the Board Retreat

The Week of January 3 - 13

This weekend we celebrated the life of a great leader, advocate and proponent of social change, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We all know his work, the personal sacrifices he made for the civil rights movement and, ultimately, the cultural revolution he brought forward by refusing to be silent in the face of injustice.

I can never pretend to know what it was like to be Dr. King, living in a time of such intense unrest and hatred. Similarly, as educators, we cannot all know what it is like for every individual student, so many of whom who come to us facing their own hurdles of prejudice, poverty and even neglect in their homes and communities. While we have made great gains in our efforts to meet every child where they are, we still have work to do.

As a division, we have spent this year focused on equitable services for all of our students. We have talked again and again about how in order to reach a student, we first must know that student. And, to truly know someone else, we have to know ourselves. The next time you are in one of our schools, pull aside an administrator or two and ask them what their equity story is. How did they come to see the world the way they do? Then, ask them what their school’s equity story is. What are some of the unique pieces of their school community that make them who they are? These are fascinating conversations, and they are the foundation of our classroom instruction. They are the foundation for how we help students grow socially and emotionally. And, they are at the core of how we assist students who are struggling academically or with behavior issues. If you understand the person, you can better understand the problem and, ultimately, better recognize potential solutions.

This work and this type of dialogue and self-reflection from our staff is yet another example of Dr. King’s lasting legacy. His call for equality decades ago has created the environment where we can bring every child together – no matter their race, gender or socioeconomic status – and ensure they will be loved, they will be cared for and they will learn.

The Week of November 28 - December 4

There is a certain mythology around education at this time of year—that children cannot focus on much of anything, that it’s just fluff time between Thanksgiving and the winter break, the lure of holidays, the traveling and, of course, the presents are just too much for our students to resist. However, I can tell you firsthand after visits to many of our schools over the last several weeks that this is simply not the case.

The truth of the matter is that as the holiday season draws near, our students are focused on the rich daily learning experiences they have every other day of the year. In many ways, however, these experiences are augmented at this time of the year because our teachers are weaving holiday themes, cultural teachings and arts programs into a rich tapestry for children across the division. Of course, learning extends well beyond the classroom as we know, and it seems that the holiday spirit of giving back also encourages more community mindedness at this time of the year across our schools. Students in VBCPS are doing more than ever in their schools and their communities to help support their fellow classmates and neighbors in need.

Throughout the division, our students are using their creativity and their talents to support and lift up our community. Take, for example, the advanced orchestra at Bayside High School. These students have planned two separate performances outside of their scheduled winter concert to bring extra holiday joy to their community. The orchestra will be playing for senior citizens at the Williams Farm Recreation Center Dec. 14 and then perform for patients at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital Dec. 21. At the elementary level, we have our kindergartners at Luxford Elementary, who worked hard on personal masterpieces for the “Flood the Streets with Art” initiative. As part of this global initiative, local artists – including our students - created artwork that was anonymously placed out in the community to help bring joy to holiday shoppers. And, encouraged by the many lessons learned on the importance of building a strong community, students, faculty and department staff all across our city are banding together to fill food banks, find clothing and presents for children who might otherwise go without and offer holiday support to families in need.

These are just some of the ways our students are using what they have learned in the classroom to benefit our city. Along those lines, I would encourage you to visit the school division’s Facebook page and see The Spirit of Giving in VBCPS album. There you will see photos of all the fundraisers our students have organized and the service projects they have orchestrated—just one more of the many, many reasons that I and you should continue to be proud to be a part of this wonderful school division!

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Hosted two breakfast meetings with principals
  • Attended VSTE Conference at session honoring Amy Cashwell as VSTE Leader of the Year
  • Attended HRETA Superintendent Advisory Council and HRETA Educational Advisory Council meetings
  • Met with leadership of the ACCESS College Foundation to discuss leadership structure
  • Participated in a statewide call-in with key VASS superintendents and Dr. Staples to discuss proposed accountability model
  • Participated in Teacher Forum Leadership Council meeting
  • Visited the following schools: Shelton Park ES, Kempsville Meadows ES, Bayside Health Sciences Academy, Landstown ES, Corporate Landing MS and Kingston ES (Anchor School Visits w Board Members), First Colonial HS, Centerville ES, Ocean Lakes ES and Corporate Landing ES
  • Attended first Orientation session for new Board members
  • Met with the following Board members: Dottie Holtz, Carolyn Rye, Dan Edwards,
  • Attended workshop and full formal meeting of the Board

The Week of November 7 - 18

November is one of my favorite times of the year. I enjoy the crisp autumn days, the football games and the anticipation and excitement of the upcoming holidays. With 20 plus family members and friends coming to visit this week, Thanksgiving is big in our house as I am sure it is for you as well. Not only do we look forward to the food and fellowship that comes with the holiday, but the season itself gives us the opportunity to share with one other the things for which we are truly thankful.

And while I am thankful for the blessings of family, I am also professionally very thankful for the opportunity to work in VBCPS and serve this community. I am thankful my children attend Virginia Beach City Public Schools. I am thankful they are loved and nurtured by amazing teachers and staff members. I am thankful they have access to rigorous and meaningful work that challenges them as thinkers and learners.

And while I am thankful for the blessings of family, I am also professionally very thankful for the opportunity to work in VBCPS and serve this community. I am thankful my children attend Virginia Beach City Public Schools. I am thankful they are loved and nurtured by amazing teachers and staff members. I am thankful they have access to rigorous and meaningful work that challenges them as thinkers and learners.

These results are another piece of outstanding news in addition to an already stellar season of reports we have received demonstrating the growth and increased student achievement in Virginia Beach schools. Earlier this fall, the division reported its best SAT scores since 2008, record On-Time Graduation and dropout rates, and an increase in the number of schools earning full state accreditation.

Of course, all of these numbers are important for our community. But they are even more important because they represent students. Behind each new piece of data is a story about a child who was successful because of our efforts to ensure they have the very best from us each day. And, these numbers point to a fundamental truth—working together with an intentional focus on Tier I instruction, an aligned curriculum and balanced assessment program, and with an emphasis on meeting the needs of each individual student in the instructional process, more students in Virginia Beach can and will be successful on increasingly rigorous measures of that success.

That is why, as both a dad and a superintendent, it is an exciting time to be a part of this school division. We are seeing our students grow and reach new achievements each week. And finally, I am thankful for you, our Board. You are a partner in this work and these successes. Thank you for the leadership and consistent support you give our school division. May the upcoming season be full of warmth and happiness for you and your family.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Keynoted at the Citywide Principals Meeting
  • Attended the Special Education Advisory Committee Community Resource Fair
  • Spoke with principals at Elementary, Middle and High School League meetings
  • Attended the CIVIC Institute’s Darden Awards for Regional Leadership celebration
  • Spoke at kickoff to Junior Achievement Spark Tank event
  • Attended VASS meeting
  • Hosted breakfast meeting for small group of principals
  • Attended STEM Paper Airplane Design Competition hosted by Creeds ES at the Virginia Military Aviation museum (Amazing place! Took my kids back there the next day.)
  • Met with my student mentee twice
  • Visited Bayside HS w Del. Davis and Kim Melnyk
  • Spoke at meeting of the West Neck Educators Club
  • Met with the following Board members: Bev Anderson, Dan Edwards (scheduled meetings)
  • Attended joint meeting of Council and Board as well as Board workshop and formal meetings

The Week of October 31 - November 4

As you are aware, our own Virginia Beach Education Foundation is celebrating a major milestone this year: its 25th anniversary. For 25 years, the VBEF has partnered with our school division to provide private sector funding to support outstanding learning opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom. From humble beginnings and annual fundraising of about $11,000 to the most recent round of grants totaling $125,000, the work of the Foundation is making a huge impact in our community.

For example, there are not many divisions in this country who have students build a house, from the foundation up, and put that house on the market for sale. Thanks to the VBEF, we do. Sitting at the TGIF Celebration last week, I was struck at how fortunate this division is to have this kind of active partnership, but I was also struck by how fortunate our whole city is to be able to benefit from this organization. All around the room, meeting and mingling with our grant awardees, were dozens of our local businessmen and women. Folks who probably have not been in a school or a classroom in more than a decade were at the Sandler Center, talking about education. These partnership opportunities give our entire community ownership in the success of our division.

When we celebrate accolades like our all-time high graduation rates, the VBEF can take pride in that achievement as well. When we have the leading SOL accreditation rates in all of Hampton Roads, it is due, in part, to these partnerships. An involved and connected community unites this city and helps to propel this division to greater and higher successes. I, for one, look forward to seeing where these partnerships will lead us in the next 25 years.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Went to Richmond to accept Virginia Board of Education recognition for VBCPS as a National Green Ribbon School District and as a Virginia Governor’s Sustainability Initiative district
  • Met with CIVIC Class of 2016 for a discussion on equity in our region
  • Met with City Manager Hansen (regularly scheduled lunch meeting)
  • Attended and spoke at Middle School League meeting
  • Met with Teacher Forum Leadership Council
  • Met with and was shadowed by VTfT student
  • Attended Region II Superintendent Meeting
  • Attended and spoke at the VBEF TGIF 25th anniversary celebration
  • Visited the following schools: Bayside 6, Bayside MS (learning walks and school support meetings)

The Week of May 9 - 13

It’s that time of year. For some students that expression might mean that summer is right around the corner, but for the adults in the schools, it’s a busy, busy time. We’ve got some SOL testing underway and for the most part the rest of it is right around the corner. AP tests are in full swing. Teachers are preparing their students for end of year exams, transitions to new grade levels or schools, or even graduation. Several graduations have taken place (most notably our recent two at the Adult Learning Center with our nursing program students and our GED graduates), and the rest are less than a month away. You can feel the end-of-year buzz in all of our buildings. So while students think wistfully about the summer, we are busy trying to bring this school year to a successful conclusion.

One of my favorite parts about this time of year are the celebrations. In the last weeks alone, I’ve enjoyed being a part of our Teacher of the Year dinner, our Partners in Education and Volunteers of the Year celebration, our Teaching Artists Annual Exhibit, and our Teacher Assistant of the Year reception and there’s more to come—our Citywide SCA year end celebration, the Virginia Beach Rotary recognition of their Brickell Scholars, and much much more. So while this is a busy time of testing and year-end preparation, it’s also a time to celebrate the things that make education so wonderful—the people, the success stories, the joy that our teachers bring to their students’ lives.

And, as I shared at a recent citywide principals meeting, it’s so important that we remember the reasons we celebrate. As we think about these teachers of the year, or any one of the other fabulous people that we’ve celebrated these past weeks, it’s doubtful anyone thought they were the best in their field because of their amazing ability to test-prep with their kids. It’s doubtful anyone will remember our amazing volunteers because they are really good at getting kids ready for the SOLs. Instead, it’s far more likely they will be remembered for a kind word of encouragement, for offering a hand up to a child in need, for loving their students as if they were their own children and for bringing joy into their lives and a deep sense of curiosity and inquiry into their classrooms. And these are the things that we ought to try to remember are important as we prepare ourselves for the end of the year.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Attended and spoke at a Special Education PTSA meeting
  • Attended a meeting of the HRCC
  • Attended the Founders Luncheon with the CIVIC Institute
  • Attended the Congressional Art Competition hosted by AIA and Congressman Rigell
  • Attended the citywide principals meeting
  • Attended the Teacher of the Year dinner
  • Spent the day at NASA with the Hampton Roads Youth Service Academy (sponsored by members of the CIVIC class of 2016)
  • Attended and spoke at the annual Teaching Artists Exhibit and Reception
  • Attended the Adult Learning Center graduation
  • Attended the Great Dreams Need Great Teachers celebration as a part of the Beach Music Festival at the oceanfront
  • Visited the following schools: Bayside 6, Bayside ES, Alanton (50th anniversary celebration)

The Week of April 25 - 29

Last week I had the chance to attend and speak at the Leadership Summit on Environmental Literacy hosted by the Chesapeake Bay Program, a regional partnership including the states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia, at the offices of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. At the event, regional leaders including State Superintendents of Instruction, State Secretaries of the Environment, leaders from various non-profits and government organizations at the local, state and federal level came together to learn about funding opportunities for environmental education. They also had the opportunity to hear from a number of advocates for environmental literacy and learn from schools and divisions who were leading in this work—which is where VBCPS came in!

Although I was the speaker, the real stars of the show are our environmental literacy and sustainable practices leaders—folks like Tim Cole and Tony Arnold who lead with vision on our Facilities team and have built some of the greenest buildings in the world, including the first ever LEED elementary school in the state, along with Lesley Hughes, James Pohl, Ana Cingel, Katie Niehoff and Meghan Raftery, our amazing elementary and secondary curriculum team members who are helping our teachers understand how environmental literacy and our curriculum standards work hand in hand. Because of their hard work, I was able to detail some of the incredible things we are doing around environmental education. I talked about:

  • Our meaningful partnerships with groups like Lynnhaven River Now and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who provide opportunities for our students to explore local watershed ecosystems and understand the interplay between humans and those systems.
  • The way we use our facilities as learning spaces—most recently connecting deep learning to the construction of the new ODS facility.
  • The many Meaningful Watershed Education Experiences (or MWEEs, pronounced Me Wees) that our students have through various federal, state and local grants, including:
    • An Urban Tree Canopy project at our Elementary Schools, where students learn about the benefits of more trees in our urban spaces
    • A partnership with the Surf Rider Foundation where our elementary students learn how to keep plastics out of our watershed and our oceans
    • The Bay Backpack program that provides water analysis and other measurement tools to teachers and students as they study storm runoff from their school properties
    • A floating wetlands project where students at Ocean Lakes HS monitor the impact of wetlands on water quality in their retention ponds.

While these efforts are important, I talked also about the need to think forward. Next steps include continuing to lead by example, modeling through building design, purchasing decisions, and education in the classroom ways in which our students can make sustainable practices a part of their everyday decision making.

This all starts, of course, with leadership. As we continue to explore new opportunities for students in the future, it’s important that leadership is fully committed to goals around sustainability. That’s why and I am proud of our Board’s commitment to and support for environmental education and the use of sustainable practices in our school division. It’s why I am also excited about leadership training this summer for key leaders around the division on the importance of sustainability in education.

But perhaps most importantly, I’m excited that our commitment to environmental education has led to our recent recognition by the U.S. Department of Education as a Green Ribbon School Division—one of only two school divisions in the Commonwealth of Virginia to receive this distinction (the letter is attached!). We are fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful, diverse watersheds in the country. Our city proudly borders the beautiful Atlantic Coast and abuts the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Our many rivers, creeks and bays host some of the most diverse and recognizable marine life on the planet—all in our own backyard. It’s only fitting, then, that we should be a national leader in preserving these treasures for future generations.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Presented at the Leadership Summit on Environmental Literacy hosted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  • Attended and offered remarks at the Digital Learning Showcase
  • Attended a Youth Civic Leadership Academy day at JEB Little Creek
  • Attended and participated in the Citywide Teacher Forum Roundtable
  • Attended the College Access Foundation National Signing Day event at ODU
  • Attended and gave remarks at the first VBCPS Cyber Security Challenge
  • Attended and gave remarks at the annual VBCPS Spark Tank event (sponsored by Junior Achievement)
  • Attended and gave keynote remarks at the HRCC Executive Committee Luncheon
  • Hosted Teacher Assembly meeting
  • Attended and gave remarks at the VBCPS Partners and Volunteers in Education Recognition Program
  • Will participate this weekend in the VBCPS Bus Road-EO
  • Visited Salem HS
  • Met with the following Board members: Ashley McLeod, Carolyn Weems, Dan Edwards (scheduled meetings); attended workshop and meeting of full Board as well as budget presentation to City Council

The Week of April 11 - 15

For the better part of this year, we have been having an important conversation about one predominant topic: grading practices. Last summer, the Board asked us to look at this division’s grading practices at the middle and high school levels based on concerns raised about consistency across classrooms and schools in the city. As you know, we have dedicated substantial time and resources since then answering some basic questions: How are we grading student work in our classrooms now? Is that the best way to assess students? What other ways of grading should we consider that would support student achievement and bring about desired consistency?

To address these questions, the Fair and Equitable Grading Practices committee worked diligently reviewing research, speaking with experts and looking at our current practices before offering three preliminary recommendations for public review and input. Without question, any discussion of grading practices is polarizing, since it has ramifications for all students and teachers, but our work this year elevated the conversation. We had rich discussions at two community forums, received important insight from secondary teachers who responded to a survey and gathered feedback from parents and students via an e-Town Hall. No one shied away from sharing an opinion, and for that I am grateful.

As the committee reviewed the teacher survey data, forum comment cards and e-Town Hall responses a few things became clear:

  1. 1) Parents, students and teachers are extremely invested in our schools, our practices and the way we measure student achievement.
  2. 2) Our community does not support a division-wide change to our current grading scale at this time. The reasons for this vary from competitiveness for college applications to the belief that changes to our grading scale would diminish expectations for students.
  3. 3) Half of our secondary teachers, and about as many parents and community members, think that reporting behaviors (participation, timeliness of work, etc.) separately from academic grades is a good idea. I’ll admit, I was pleasantly surprised by this data and I believe it will be important to consider as we continue to examine what grades should truly reflect. Nonetheless, it’s also clear that about half of those who weighed in didn’t understand or support this idea.

So, where does that leave us as we move forward? The committee and I agree that there should be no wholesale changes made to the grading practices at the secondary level, and the committee will not recommend moving forward with its original ideas on which it sought feedback. It is clear that our staff and our community feel such changes are not warranted at this time.

But this doesn’t mean the work is finished. Our school division still needs to find a way to address the concerns about consistency that initially prompted the discussion. So, how will we do this? First, we are going to convene a small group of administrators and teachers to help us update our current grading guidelines. Again, these will not be major overhauls, but will instead look for areas where we can be clearer about practices and expectations. To do so, this group will look to the feedback we received during this process to see where the guidelines might be strengthened. For example, the guidelines currently encourage teachers to use zeros only when necessary—and some commenters suggested we might delineate clear steps that should be taken before a zero is assigned for a grade. Other recommendations, for example, included capping how much homework should be worth when calculating a grade (10 percent, 20 percent, etc.)

Moving forward, we have to consider how these guidelines are used. To ensure some consistency we must ask, either through regulation or by policy that school staffs come to a common agreement about practices suggested in guidelines but not specifically spelled out in policy. While we may not come quickly to division wide consistency, I do believe that by empowering our teachers—working within their school communities and with their administration—to determine how they will use zeros, grade homework, allow for makeup work, and other grading issues, we can ensure consistency within a school and across departments and grade levels. As such, students in one school should be able to expect consistency no matter which teacher they have. And I also believe strongly this approach will ensure our teachers and school leaders will continue to engage in thoughtful conversation about these issues.

As I said earlier, I know this discussion has dominated much of our year. It is my sincere hope that even though we will not ultimately implement the preliminary recommendations of the committee, people do not see this time as wasted. Instead, it is an example of how our community can work together to chart the course for the future of education in Virginia Beach. I was grateful for the level of involvement we received on this issue as we took one of the most difficult and important aspects of education and engaged with our community in a thoughtful conversation.

In closing, I want to acknowledge the men and women who spent their nights and weekends serving on the grading committee and thank them for thinking outside the box when looking at grading practices. And, as you are out in the community, please join me in thanking each parent, teacher, principal, student or member of our community who took the time to come out to a roundtable, send in an email or log in to the e-Town Hall. It gave us the necessary insight into where we should go with these recommendations, but, more importantly, it showed the overwhelming support we all share in our one, same mission: to do the very best for every student, every day.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Participated in a leadership call with the Large Suburban and Countywide Consortium
  • Conducted a Google Chat with a French class from First Colonial HS
  • Met with representatives of the national accrediting board for Economic Development organizations to discuss our partnership with VBCPS
  • Attended a meeting of the HRCC Virginia Beach Board of Directors
  • Attended a Design Fellows Showcase celebrating the work of our first cohort of design fellows exploring personalized learning across our schools
  • Attended the NSBA National Conference and gave two presentations with Eileen Cox, Chief Media and Communications Officer
  • Spoke at and participated in the Official for a Day Program, a partnership with the City, the division and our Citywide Student Council
  • Attended the VSBA Tidewater Spring Forum at Kellam HS
  • Attended a Region II Superintendents Meeting
  • Hosted a breakfast meeting for Middle School Principals
  • Attended the VBEF Pearls of Wisdom Oyster Roast
  • Met with the following Board members: Carolyn Rye, Bev Anderson, Kim Melnyk (scheduled meetings)

The Week of March 21 - 25

As the world knows by now, yet another terrorist attack rocked the West this week as Brussels, Belgium became the latest target in an ongoing ideological battle. For me, however, this was the first time I’ve been touched directly by these tragic events. My wife Krista, a flight attendant, was in Brussels and at the airport when the first explosions went off. As they evacuated and were shuttled back to the relative safety of their hotel, they heard an explosion and then drove directly past the metro station where the second attack happened that morning. As my wife described the scene, it was horrific. She said she saw people—men, women and children—emerging from the smoke at the metro station covered in debris, many of them bleeding, some with severe burns to their skin or obviously broken limbs.

While I can only begin to understand what she is feeling—terror, anger, confusion—my feelings about all of this are also complex. First and most importantly, the overwhelming emotion over the last few days has been relief. I am relieved that the woman I love and the mother of my children is safe and unharmed and has come home to us.

I am also sad. I am sad for the families of those who lost their lives and won’t be coming home. And I’m sad for those who survived but will bear the emotional scars long into the future. I’m sad for Belgium and every other country who has had to mourn its dead in a war so many of us struggle to comprehend.

I’m angry, too. Not in a rage where I want to lash out at those who did this—it’s not that I have sympathy for those who perpetrate this sickness; it’s just that I don’t believe behaving in a similar manner will ultimately stop this insanity. Rather, my anger is broader. I’m angry that in the thousands of years of our existence as a civilized race (literally, a race that chooses to live together in civilizations), we have not yet been able to figure out how to live in peace with one another. It makes me angry that there are those who would exploit the poor and the disenfranchised for their own evil purposes, and perhaps just as angry that we create societies where the poor and disenfranchised remain available for that kind of exploitation. It makes me angry that there remain those in the human race with so little regard for the preciousness and sanctity of human life.

I’m also especially angry that children are the targets of these atrocities. I cannot fathom any justification that would make this okay, any God who would approve of such madness. The God of Abraham with whom I’m most familiar tested his faith with Isaac but ultimately stayed his hand and saved the child. And so I am angry that my own children are inheriting this world we’ve created for them.

Yet perhaps because of the children, I’m also hopeful. The world is a terrifying place, but it is also wondrous. Access to 21st century technologies have made it nearly impossible for small-minded, mean and petty dictators to impose their limited worldview on people and keep from them the better parts of our world. As this broader world opens up to even the most oppressed and impoverished, as opportunities for education and economic growth become more and more accessible, and as we are able to learn more about one another, I am hopeful that my children’s generation will be the first one to fully understand what it astronaut Donald Williams meant when, after gazing upon Earth for the first time from space, he said, “The experience most certainly changes your perspective. The things that we share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us.”

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Hosted breakfast meeting with Elementary School Principals
  • Attended Board Meeting of the United Way of South Hampton Roads
  • Met with the following Board Members: Sharon Felton, Betsy Taylor, Dottie Holtz (scheduled meetings)
  • Attended the Fair and Equitable grading practices community forum at Kellam
  • Attended meeting of the CIVIC Institute class of 2016

The Week of March 7 - 11

I had the pleasure this weekend to spend the day with students from across the state who were attending the Educators Rising (formerly, Future Teachers of America) State Leadership Conference at Kellam High School. I was asked to share my thoughts with them on what it means to be a teacher. That’s a great topic. I could talk for hours, I think, on what it means to be a teacher. But here’s what it comes down to, and here’s what I shared. Teachers matter. Teachers REALLY matter. They matter to individuals, they matter to our schools, and they matter to our community.

So how do I know this? I asked this group (and have asked groups before) to do the following (follow along if you want!). Close your eyes, and think back to your own experiences in school. Identify, if you can, one teacher who has made a difference in your life. To simplify, think about your favorite teacher. Think about their face. Think about the reasons they were your favorite teacher. What were the qualities and characteristics that set them apart from the other teachers in your life?

Inevitably, the answers to that last question are common to many of us. I asked this group of aspiring teachers to describe the characteristics that these teachers have in common, and here’s what they shouted out: they’re caring, they’re interested in who you are as a person, they’re passionate about what they do, they’re enthusiastic, they really like what they do. One of the responses that struck me the most? They love their students. That’s it, isn’t it? The fundamental thing that we want in a great teacher is an adult who really cares about us as a student before they care about what they want us to learn.

Certainly, there are many other reasons that teachers matter. They help our students learn. They ensure that the young people in our community are ready for college and career. But at the end of the day, no one remembers their teachers because they had great test scores. They remember their teachers because they inspired them and made them believe in themselves, in their potential as a human being. Here’s an amazing story to illustrate just how powerful a teacher can be.

Recently, I was having a conversation with one of our truly great principals, Gloria Harris, and she shared a childhood story. She shared that she didn’t grow up with much and that she was the first person in her family to go to college. This didn’t happen, however, by accident. Her parents were loving and supportive and believed in education. This was reinforced when she was in second grade. Gloria’s teacher told her mother that Gloria should go to college. From that point forward, her mother insisted on the point. Despite the many challenges the family faced, Gloria was going to college. And she did. And when she was graduating with her Ed.S. degree, her mother reminded her that her second-grade teacher said she needed to go to college. And, as Gloria shared, even as her mother grew old and couldn’t remember other things, she never forgot what this teacher told her. This teacher cared about Gloria and made a difference in her life and in her family’s life. Because she cared. Because she saw something in her. And today Gloria has touched thousands of lives and made the same kind of difference.

So yes, every day, teachers matter, and I’m proud to work in a profession that has this kind of impact across families, across communities and across time.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Participated in monthly leadership call with the Consortium group
  • Conducted a number of media interviews concerning our Stay Social, Stay Smart, Stay Safe campaign
  • Attended and spoke at the Youth Art Month reception at MOCA
  • Attended and spoke at Teacher Assembly meeting
  • Hosted a breakfast meeting for elementary school principals
  • Attended a meeting of the FCHS Foreign Policy Work Group—amazing kids!
  • Attended and spoke at the Educators Rising State Leadership Conference
  • Visited the following schools: Salem HS (taking on a painting project); Pembroke Meadows ES (for ELA professional learning); Plaza MS, Windsor Woods ES, Green Run HS, Green Run Collegiate, Hermitage

The Week of February 29 - March 4

I was listening to a radio program this morning where a conservative pundit was asked about the most recent GOP debate. The question was whether or not it was a good debate worthy of presidential politics given the perception by many that it was a rather vulgar affair with a great deal of infighting and name-calling. The response was that, yes, it was vulgar, and the pundit said he was glad it was at 9 p.m. on the East Coast so that any younger people might not have been able to watch it but that yes, it was also a good debate because people were able to hear and see exactly who each candidate really was and what they stood for. Let that sink in for a minute.

Now to be clear, I am not intentionally politicizing this conversation. I would be writing the same thing if the conversation had been about a Democratic Party debate. So with that as a caveat, let me say this. Didn’t that pundit completely miss the point? I mean, I get that we have movies that aren’t appropriate for children. We give them ratings and then trust parents (and to some degree, movie theaters) to limit young people’s access to these movies. We have organizations that help us with understanding what’s harmful or hurtful on the Internet and on t.v. and what’s really good for kids (Commonsense Media is a great example of this kind of service, at www.commonsensemedia.org ). But when did we have to start worrying about whether or not presidential debates would make the watch list of things to which kids shouldn’t be exposed?

It’s not just that this person made light of the vulgarity of the debate. It’s that this person thinks that it was still a great debate despite conceding that maybe kids shouldn’t have watched it. Why does this bother me so much? Because as an educator I worry so much about the behavior of adults and its impact on young people, and I worry about what this kind of behavior means for our country.

Why is that? Some days, it feels like one of the few things we have left to bind us together in this country is our common experience as children in our public schools. As a key national institution, public schools bring us together to teach us how to exist as members of a community and to expose us to what it means to be an American. In school we learn the great ideals of our democracy, the history of the struggles of our founding fathers to create a nation unlike any other on earth, one where civil discourse and freedom of thought would be valued above all things and one where each person’s opinions would be heard and valued, even if we didn’t agree with them. One where power would never be centered in one branch of government but spread amongst three whose ability to check and balance one another would ensure our prosperity well into the future. These are the fundamental ideas behind the First Amendment, the separation between church and state, the constitutional seating of a Supreme Court, and the insistence on representative government for each individual at the Federal, State and local level. And they are the concepts we study thematically as we examine the course of our history since 1776 and the degree to which we have wandered from and toward these ideals in the midst of dramatic cultural, technological and demographic changes.

While I might be oversimplifying things, somehow studying all of this has always seemed so incredibly important and noble, even sacrosanct. And yet now we seem willing to make a mockery of the struggles of those who’ve come before us to make this country great. Grown men (and women) who aspire to the highest office in the land stand onstage and make fun of each other’s body parts. They call each other names. They use obscenities. They lie and they call each other out for lying. They extol the virtues of violence and anger, and they cannot contain their own anger with one another long enough to listen to each other. They belittle those who are not like them, they belittle the great democratic institutions of our government, and they lampoon the Fourth Estate—if they don’t like the question, they simply turn on the same people we’ve entrusted to get answers from them and attack them instead. And we tune in and we watch and we hope our children don’t see.

Certainly, we can write this off as an anomaly. And I hope it is. I hope this is not who we are becoming—that reality television and Jerry Springer-like antics are not our political future. Because this isn’t the model of government to which our children should aspire. And more importantly this isn’t the example of adult behavior we should be setting for them. I want our children to know that for our democracy to work—and more importantly for them to be successful in life—they will have to represent their best selves as they work together to solve our community’s problems. They have to speak their mind, and they have the right to do so, but they need to be thoughtful and informed and do so civilly because they have agreed to be members of a common society. And more importantly, they have to learn to listen to others, to accept the idea that there are multiple perspectives and beliefs. I want them to understand that it is not their government’s role to legislatively eliminate one perspective or another nor is it their own right, written or otherwise, to simply impose their individual perspective or belief on another. I want them to understand that what they should do instead is to think about how to marry the various perspectives and beliefs we all hold, to find common ground and places we can agree and from there build stronger ideas and solutions to our challenges. If they can learn to do this, I believe that will make life better for each and every person in our society and our community.

And so we work every day to teach these skills in our schools. We start with the Golden Rule in kindergarten. We teach our students to be kind to one another, to cooperate, to not bully one another, to keep their hands to themselves, to ask questions when they don’t understand, and to listen before speaking. We insist on honesty and we frown on cheating and lying. We teach respect for authority and for one another. Working from that basic foundation, we teach our students to be persuasive, asking them to use clear and concise arguments and to make sure they know how to tell good sources of information from bad ones. And we teach them to think about the problems around them and how they might solve them. And always, always, we ask them to consider that, as our current President once said, “Ordinary people, when they are working together, can do extraordinary things.” I can only hope that these lessons will be learned and embraced and will remain with our students long after this election cycle passes us by.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Hosted Superintendent’s Roundtable Advisory group
  • Hosted a breakfast meeting with high school principals
  • Visited the following schools: Strawbridge ES, Bayside ES
  • Attended the workshop and regular meeting of the Board

The Week of January 18 - 22

Since this is the first update of the New Year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to wish you a fantastic 2016! It seems natural to reflect on the feelings that a new year creates within us— a growing curiosity about what’s ahead and a sense of optimism about all that we can achieve. For many, the New Year brings a sense of wonder about what’s in store—although for some I am sure the uncertainty also creates some anxiety. What kind of weather can we expect? What changes are on the horizon? What will happen in our personal lives? Will our professional lives be rewarding? It’s exciting to think about these kinds of questions and to make predictions about what will happen. It’s even more exciting when you realize that the choices you make determine this future in large part (maybe not the weather, but certainly whether or not you enjoy it!). That’s why I love the New Year. There is always a fresh sense of optimism about what we can do. We get a clean slate and should feel empowered by the chance to make decisions about the kind of year we are going to have. Many of us make resolutions to help establish goals for the New Year. My resolutions are simple. I’m going to embrace life and enjoy it. I’m going to work on staying healthy so I can be around for my family. I’m going to keep loving the work we accomplish together, and I am going to do the best job I can for the children of this city every single day.

Of course, doing that won’t always be easy. As the Board certainly understands, 2016 poses many interesting opportunities for VBCPS. One forgets given the relatively slow pace of the holidays just how quickly and dramatically things heat up (figuratively if not literally) at the beginning of the year. Amongst the things we can expect in 2016, for example, are opportunities for the Board to consider the work of our task forces and committees around grading practices, student discipline and school start times.

We are also in full swing with the new legislative session. To date, over 250 bills impacting education have been filed. Many of these bills would, if passed, have a significant impact on the current system of K-12 education. Some of these are familiar and our opposition to them continues to be important. These include bills on VHSL participation for private school students, bills on vouchers and education savings accounts, and the charter school constitutional amendment, which would diminish local control of school and school programs. Some of these bills are new but promise to have a similarly significant impact on schooling in Virginia. Bills impacting accreditation, graduation requirements, teacher licensure, the state assessment and accountability model, and much more are all currently in play in the General Assembly. Many of these bills seek to dramatically alter the current model of education, particularly at the high school level. I confess to a certain excitement and curiosity about this conversation, as VBCPS has clearly stated that we wish to develop multiple pathways to student success, and I believe we can help lead this dialogue at the state level. With all of this happening, it is clear that now more than ever the Board’s advocacy for public education as the system of choice for Virginia’s students is critical, and now more than ever the Board and our community must come together to clearly define and advocate for a system of schools that meets the needs of our employers and community for the future.

Of course the other major issue impacting our work right now is the budget. As we work with our state delegation and our city to understand revenue projections and develop our budget for the next fiscal year, we should acknowledge that there is good news. A significant revenue surplus and re-benchmarking of the SOQ funding at the state level means we should see (barring any radical shift by the General Assembly) new state dollars, and projected revenue increases locally will mean the same for us here. Taken together, we anticipate that for the first time in many years, no cuts will be necessary to close any revenue gaps. Moreover, we will be able to begin addressing both short and long-term needs and priorities of the Board as we continue to allocate resources in a way that will move us toward meeting our division goals as outlined in Compass to 2020. A note of caution however; while all of this is good news, we are not out of the woods yet. State funding for education even with the noted adjustments continues to lag significantly behind pre-recession funding, with per-pupil losses over that time still exceeding $500. And as we know, Hampton Roads continues to trail the rest of the country in economic recovery, a trend exacerbated by our reliance on the federal sector. So we must continue to advocate for needed resources—and continue to strengthen our efforts to drive the economy locally by providing a world class education system. I look forward to sharing more of this information in my Superintendent’s Estimate of Needs at our next Board meeting.

With all that’s happening—the challenges, the opportunities, the changes ahead—I believe we have reason for optimism. I believe, with our community’s support and voice that we will be able to respond to critical questions locally about how our practices impact student learning. I believe we will be able in the coming months and years to design systems of accountability that measure what matters and put our students on clear pathways toward their future. And I believe that the resources we need to achieve these goals are within our grasp. For these reasons and many more, I hope and believe that 2016 is your—and our—best year yet!

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Attended a meeting of the Virginia Council on the Interstate Compact for Military Children
  • Taped a PSA for our social media campaign, Be Social. Be Smart. Be Safe.
  • Attended the African American Male Summit
  • Met with representatives from VDOE to address our concerns with data collection requirements
  • Met with city leadership to discuss Kinder Buddies program and budget
  • Attended the VASS winter conference
  • Presented with team about new Kempsville Academy at Virginia Beach Vision and Economic Development Authority meetings
  • Hosted several employee budget forums
  • Hosted a breakfast meeting with High School principals
  • Visited the following schools: Great Neck MS, Corporate Landing MS, Glenwood ES (read to students); North Landing ES (time capsule opening!), Princess Anne MS, Kempsville HS, Bayside MS (Google Explorations!)
  • Met with the following school board members: Carolyn Weems, Sharon Felton, Kim Melnyk, Dottie Holtz, Bev Anderson, Ashley McLeod (scheduled meetings); attended both workshops and meetings of the full board

The Week of December 7 - 11

It’s amazing how many theories of leadership exist. A few minutes on Twitter and you will find dozens (if not hundreds) of posts about the attributes of great leaders. And there is much to be learned—technical leadership skills, traits of great leaders, traits of bad leadership, managerial must-do’s and so much more. Quite frankly, it can be confusing. Who’s right? Which ideas should I implement? Whose thinking is most meaningful? I find that the best way to sort through the noise and make meaning of what’s out there is to think situationally. In other words, I think it’s important to reflect on the moment—what are the key challenges I’m facing, what are the problems I’m hoping to solve, and what impact will the decisions I make have—on people, on the division, on children. Once I clearly understand the issues, the leadership thinking becomes clearer.

Does this require decisive leadership? Implement best practices in decision-making theory. Does this require thoughtful collaboration? How can the study of design thinking help? Does the organization need focus and inspiration? Theories of organizational leadership and visionary leadership can help. If anything, there is no single theory of leadership that will lead to fundamentally sound leadership. That’s why it’s so important to remain open to new thinking and willing to apply learning in context. Good leadership, then, might be considered the conglomeration of these ideas made real through practice and experience. Put simply, good leaders know when to draw on what strategies to rise to the occasion.

This is not to suggest that there aren’t some fundamental underpinnings to the concept of leadership. We talk often in leadership circles about core values and core beliefs of leaders, for example. Things like integrity, courage, openness to change, others before self. These are the internal traits that also help define leaders and guide them as they seek to apply the learning discussed above. One of the other things that is critical in leadership is one’s disposition to others. In other words, how do you view other people—as professionals? As colleagues and humans who desire to contribute value to the organization? As cogs in a machine or means to an end? One of the more interesting theories around how we view others is Douglas McGregor’s Theory XY. In short, the Theory X leader views people like this:

  • The average person doesn’t like work and will avoid it he/she can.
  • Therefore most people must be forced with the threat of punishment to work toward the goals and objectives of the organization.
  • The average person prefers to be directed and wants to avoid responsibility; most people are relatively unambitious and want security more than anything.

On the other hand, the Theory Y leader views people like this:

  • Effort in work is as natural as play—people want to do good work and will apply themselves to that end.
  • Moreover, people will apply self-control and self-direction in the pursuit of the organizations goals and objectives without any need for external control or the threat of punishment.
  • People usually accept and will often seek responsibility.
  • The capacity to use a high degree of imagination, ingenuity and creativity in solving problems is widely rather than narrowly distributed amongst an organization’s people.

Clearly, how you view people will influence how you choose to lead them. For example, in education, I think the conversation around accountability is instructive. How do education reformers view teachers? How do our state and federal policies reflect a disposition toward teachers? Toward students? I would argue that the current system of accountability presupposes that teachers are not professionals interested in doing what’s best for students. The system is overly prescriptive and punishment oriented—schools that don’t do what’s expected are failures, and so the system provides even more direction about what teachers should do (lesson planning, “teaching to the test,” prescriptive assessments and data collection).

To be fair, not all of this is bad. One of the things I truly believe is that under the current system of federal and state accountability, we’ve made tremendous strides in terms of rethinking our education system. We believe (and can back it up with research) that a clear, concise, aligned curriculum (lessons are aligned with standards are aligned with assessments) promotes student learning and understanding. We are more focused on codifying best practices that help all students learn and have made huge gains in our understanding of the engaged, student-centered classroom environment. Rather than the exception, teacher collaboration has become the norm—classroom teachers are no longer independent contractors but rather a part of a professional team. And perhaps most importantly, our country’s belief that every child should demonstrate learning at a high level rather than just a privileged few has taken firm hold in the language and belief system of educators and their communities.

However, I also believe that, where teachers and students are concerned, the pendulum may have swung too far to the Theory X side in the rush to leave no child behind. I am not convinced, for example, establishing clear and concise goals for student achievement—with an inspiring vision for what might be—would not have achieved similar outcomes had state and federal leaders decided that a system of rewards and punishment was not the best or only way to achieve those goals. To be sure, the current system has seen remarkable results. Graduation rates have increased, achievement gaps on national tests have narrowed, and today more students are demonstrating mastery over rigorous learning standards than ever before. But challenges persist. If rewards and punishment really worked, we wouldn’t still have schools that were not accredited. We wouldn’t have a rise of parents and community leaders demanding an end to the era of over testing. We wouldn’t see persistent achievement gaps in communities of poverty and color.

Is a Theory Y system of accountability and leadership what’s needed? I confess that I think it is. People want to be empowered to solve the challenges in front of them and want to break free of some of the constraints of the current systems. How often do we hear our best teachers tell us they wish they didn’t have to teach to the test—that they could ensure their children were creative, critical thinkers if we could just give them the freedom to do that work in their classrooms. These are not teachers that will turn their backs on children if we remove the threat of punishment. To the contrary, these are the teachers that will take on our most difficult challenges, and I think the current system is causing more harm than good. Here’s an example. One of the most difficult things to do is to retain teachers in our most challenging schools. Teacher turnover in our Title I schools and in our urban centers is incredibly high. Why? Ask any of these teachers and they will tell you that they don’t want to work in schools labeled as failing. They don’t want to be told the incredible work they do to bring a fifth-grade student from a second grade to a fourth grade reading level in a year has no value. It’s emotionally challenging to teach children from poverty—our teachers invest in these students lives with their time, resources and care—and the stigma associated with these schools and the burdensome federal and state requirements for these teachers cause many of them to seek greener pastures.

What if, instead of punishments, we simply told these teachers that every child must learn and must learn well and that we trust you to make sure this happens? What if we said, “At the end of the year we will be measuring student growth, so as professionals, can you work together with your leadership to make that happen?” In many respects we do that in schools where students are already successful, and these schools continue to improve. Motivated, supported teachers find unique and engaging learning opportunities for kids who respond positively to these challenging experiences. There is no reason to believe this can’t and shouldn’t be happening in all of our schools. At the end of the day, hierarchical systems will only take us so far. Breakdowns in the chain of command and burnout from a lack of voice or perceived belief in one’s professionalism eventually lead to sporadic successes and failures. On the other hand, systems that value teachers and students that maintain high expectations, and that espouse a belief that those in the organization can through their own good work rise to meet those expectations will promote greater satisfaction, greater ownership and greater achievement—and I believe that is the work in front of us.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Attended retirement reception for City Manager Jim Spore
  • Attended with Dan Edwards the Virginia’s Urban Crescent meeting to discuss education funding issues (this meeting included city and school leadership from Northern Virginia, the Richmond Community and Hampton Roads)
  • Met with Dr. Demarte, the Chief Academic Officer of TCC
  • Participated in a conference call with State Superintendent Steve Staples to discuss concerns with new data reporting requirements for challenged schools
  • Met with members of Virginia Beach Economic Development to discuss the new Kempsville Academy
  • Met with the Teacher Forum Leadership Council
  • Attended the Fleet Forces Band Holiday Concert at JEB Little Creek
  • Visited the Juvenile Detention Center
  • Met with the following Board members: Joel McDonald (scheduled visit to discuss the Broadband Task Force); Dan Edwards

The Week of November 30 - December 6

I recently was in a meeting where I listened to an exchange between a Chief of Police and a member of the military community about the prevalence of PTSD. The Chief of Police asked his friend if he found that there were generational differences with respect to reports of suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress. The quick response was, “Yes. Younger people report more.” As the two discussed it, the consensus quickly developed: kids today just aren’t as tough. Now, I’m not writing to make this case for them; one might wonder, for example, if younger people are more apt to report these symptoms because the disorder is more widely recognized, or because the stigma of reporting any weakness in these historically masculine fields was overpowering for older generations. In any case, I do think that some things are in imbalance in today’s younger generation.

So what do I mean by that? To be clear, I am not one of those many, many adults who lament the future and wring my hands over the condition of young people today. To the contrary, and as I pointed out the last time I wrote, I have a great deal of confidence in the future as I interact with today’s youth. But I do sense that not all young people today are as resilient as previous generations. And maybe that decreased resiliency has something to do with the conversation between the Chief of Police and his friend. So why would that be?

Recently, I started reading a book by Jessica Lahey called The Gift of Failure. I think this summary of the book from Amazon.com may be instructive:

Modern parenting is defined by an unprecedented level of overprotectiveness: parents who rush to school at the whim of a phone call to deliver forgotten assignments, who challenge teachers on report card disappointments, mastermind children’s friendships, and interfere on the playing field. As teacher and writer Jessica Lahey explains, even though these parents see themselves as being highly responsive to their children’s well-being, they aren’t giving them the chance to experience failure—or the opportunity to learn to solve their own problems.

Another way to think about what’s going on comes from a friend in Singapore who shared with me the results of a colleague’s dissertation study on resilience. In the study, the author essentially discovered that the key to resiliency was a balance between significant and appropriate challenges and strong, supportive adult relationships. Young people who faced challenges but had adults standing behind them as they learned to appropriately confront and address those challenges demonstrated positive resiliency in the face of future challenges (they developed a sense that “I can handle this.")

However, when the degree of challenges or the level of supportive adult relationships are out of balance, the results can be devastating for young people, and that’s what this study saw playing out in schools in Singapore. To understand how this works, consider, for example, students who live in high crime, high poverty communities. These students face significant challenges in their communities, and often lack supportive adult relationships either at school or at home. The result? Many of these children give up. The challenges become overwhelming, and the students, when faced with significant academic challenges in addition to those external challenges, simply drop out or give up.

On the other hand, students in more affluent communities can face an imbalance on the other extreme. As noted in The Gift of Failure, many of these students have incredibly supportive adult relationships both at home and in school. However, the parents (in particular) work to remove any significant challenges perceived to be a threat to their child’s well-being or success. With this imbalance (high relationship, low challenge), many of these children come to feel a terrific sense of entitlement and, like their less affluent counterparts, become unable to cope when faced with significant challenges, especially when parent support is removed (in college, for example). Both this researcher and Lahey would argue that there has to be a balance between those supportive relationships and sufficient challenge in our young people’s lives if they are to develop resiliency and become adults capable of facing new challenges with a healthy outlook.

This understanding—that there must be a balance between adequate challenge and supportive adult relationships has profound implications for educators. For example, when considering how to help children reach their maximum potential in schools where children arrive without supportive adult relationships, teachers and staff must focus on building those relationships with young people if they are to thrive and be prepared to meet the academic challenges put before them. On the other hand, in schools where students come fully enveloped by a supportive adult community, these schools would do well to ensure that children face sufficient adversity in both personal and academic circumstances that they learn how to process these events, accept their role in them, and handle them in the future.

There are many other implications, of course. For example, how do grading practices reflect the need for a balance between sufficient challenge (students need to complete the work and do so at an academically rigorous and engaging level) and supportive adult relationships (making sure that we don’t create systems that push students into corners and helping those who are struggling learn to persevere in the face of those struggles until mastery is reached)? What about discipline policies and practices? Do they reflect this balance?

As the Amazon summary reminds us, “Teachers don’t just teach reading, writing and arithmetic. They teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint and foresight—important life skills children carry with them long after they leave the classroom.” Yet they—we—must do so in a way that ensures that children are able to successfully master those lessons and thrive.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Interviewed for EdTalk Radio, a national Internet radio broadcast focused on issues in preK-12 education
  • Attended the Region II Superintendent’s Meeting
  • Interviewed by the Hampton Roads Community Foundation on issues of early childhood education in the region
  • Attended and led off a meeting of the Teacher Assembly
  • Attended a meeting of the Civic Institute
  • Attended and brought greetings at the Parent Connection event on heroin addiction (with Carolyn Weems and the Attorney General)
  • Spoke at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Hampton Roads
  • Met with the following Board members: Leonard Tengco; attended the workshop and regular meeting of the full Board

The Week of November 16 - 20

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve shared thoughts with you, mostly because I have been incredibly busy. But busy is good because we have a lot of work to do in education, so I am not complaining. Rather, I am incredibly thankful to be able to do this work. Which is appropriate of course as we enter this season of thankfulness. So I thought this week I would just share, in random order, things for which I am thankful at the moment:

  1. I’m thankful for my family. As Stewart Roberson, a well-respected former Superintendent in Virginia, wrote recently in an article in the Richmond Times Dispatch, the Superintendency today is an incredibly complex job that simply would not be possible without the love and support of one’s family. I have that. I have a beautiful wife who cares very much about this work and is understanding about the demands of the job, and I have wonderful, amazing children who both inspire me to do better in my work and as a father and who energize me on a day-to-day basis.
  2. In addition to Thanksgiving, we also celebrated Veterans Day in November. I am thankful to our Veterans for their service and sacrifice. I am also thankful for our active duty military moms and dads as well as their spouses (many of whom teach for us) and their children, nearly 20,000 of whom are in our schools every day. We as a school community are especially thankful for our strong partnerships with all of our local installations and their leadership, including our school liaisons who make the transition into and out of our schools so much easier for these young people.
  3. I’m thankful for our School Board. Being on the Board is difficult, time-consuming work without much recognition. Our Board has a great responsibility—the oversight and governance of one of the largest school divisions in the state and country. Each day, the decisions the Board makes impact both individual lives as well as collectively the lives of nearly 70,000 students and over 10,000 employees. And the Board wrestles with difficult decisions—made even more so because decisions about the education of our children are both emotional and incredibly meaningful with potential impacts lasting long into the future. I am grateful that we have a Board that takes this responsibility seriously and, despite occasional differences, works collectively to keep moving this school division forward into the 21st century.
  4. I’m thankful for our students. Every week I have the opportunity to interact with young people from across this school division. Whether that is in the community when one of our students takes a moment to speak with me while I’m out, in a meeting with one of our many student leadership groups (Leadership Workshop, Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, City-wide SCA, Superintendent’s Roundtable), or visiting with them in our classrooms across this city, I am always amazed by our students’ curiosity, enthusiasm, mindfulness and engagement. Too often, we hear that there is something “wrong” with this generation of young people. My experiences tell me otherwise. They are bright, interested in solving social challenges, thoughtful about important issues, interested in learning and willing to be challenged. To be sure, our students face many challenges—we are in a battle for their attention and they have many other learning opportunities outside of school, and they face many barriers to success including an increasing poverty rate in our city. But all of this makes their learning in our classrooms and their resilience in the face of growing up in this post-9/11, economically recessed, information-rich era all the more remarkable. Every time I spend a moment with them, I have great confidence in our future.
  5. I’m thankful for our employees. This is not an easy time to be in education. Our students face more challenges than ever before and our teachers face incredible accountability as they work to help all our students reach their full potential. Beyond the accountability, they face demands on their time that few teachers from previous generations would understand. They are being asked to rethink their curriculum, integrate technology into their classrooms, serve as counselors and social workers—and to do all of this while making sure every one of their students is successful on state tests, all while dealing with diminishing resources and increased class sizes. And yet in the face of all of this, they come to work every day wanting to make a difference in the lives of young people. They tirelessly give of themselves and every day they change lives, literally. And, as I’ve often said, every employee in Virginia Beach is a teacher. Our operations team teaches our children the value our community places on their learning by ensuring they have clean and safe schools in which to learn. Our Food Services team makes sure every child has a healthy meal—and for many of our students, the only meals they will have in a day. Our clerical team and our bus drivers are for many of our students the first and last people our children see each day, and every interaction is a chance to make a child feel cared for. Everyone, no matter what job they have, is important in the lives of our children in this city, and every day, I am literally inspired by the amazing people who work as a part of our VBCPS family.
  6. Finally, I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve this community. Virginia Beach truly is an amazing place. Recently named one of the best places in America to raise a family, it’s a community that is fully focused on the future and on the promise of its children. It’s a city that I have loved since I was a child and that I love even more today. The opportunity to serve this school division is an honor, but the opportunity to serve this community, to be a part of solving its challenges, to be a part of ensuring its future—that is so important to me and it’s a part of why I so look forward to coming to work every day.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Attended the Virginia Beach Education Foundation TGIF celebration of Teacher Grant Awardees
  • Attended and spoke at citywide principals meeting
  • Met with Del. Davis and Mike Summers of TCC with representatives from McGraw Hill
  • Attended Operation Smile Thanksgiving reception
  • Attended Access College Foundation Board Meeting
  • Attended the CIVIC Institute Darden Awards for Regional Leadership
  • Attended parts of the VSBA conference, including the student achievement fair (VBCPS was represented) as well as the VASS meeting held at the conference
  • Hosted first Student Advisory Meeting of the year
  • Met with leadership from Hampton University to discuss expanding our partnerships
  • Delivered food baskets to over 30 families with staff and students from First Colonial HS
  • Attended the VBEF House dedication
  • Met with leadership of the Virginia Arts Festival
  • Hosted an interview with WVEC’s Laura Gellar to answer questions about my office renovation
  • Met with community members and staff to discuss partnerships for the Kempsville Entrepreneurship and Business Academy
  • Visited the following schools: Diamond Springs ES, Newtown ES, Tallwood ES
  • Met with the following Board Members: Betsy Taylor, Carolyn Weems, Attended Joint Board meeting of City Council and The School Board as well as workshop and regular meeting of the Board

The Week of October 26 - 30

It’s clear to many of us, I think, that there is a general lack of productive civil discourse in our society today. Bipartisan politics make getting work done difficult in our government, but even for those of us who aren’t elected, it seems like it is easier today to take an extreme stance and defend it at all costs than it is to really listen to others and try to understand their perspective. One need only listen to left or right-leaning news channels and talk show hosts to understand just how difficult it is today to remain open to others’ thoughts and ideas.

That said, if you believe like I do that civil discourse is foundational to our democracy, then you, like me, are concerned about this troubling trend. Which is why, more than ever, we should be teaching these skills—dialogue, perspective, civility—in our schools, and why, more than ever, we should be encouraging our students to participate fully in our democratic process. We should insist that our students practice these skills as they seek to offer solutions to the very real problems facing our communities—problems about which they are genuinely concerned and problems that they will inherit and therefore must be a part of solving.

Which is why I read with interest the overview in the paper of last week’s symposium on gun violence at Landstown High School. This symposium, organized by a VBCPS teacher at Lynnhaven Middle School, Marion Broglie, featured students presenting their suggestions for addressing gun violence to a panel of experts. One of the things that surprised me was the vehemence of the response to the students as they presenting their findings on the topic. Students suggested further background checks, for example, which did not appeal to many in the crowd or on the panel, but it was the reaction of at least some who were present that surprised me—as the paper noted, one participant even booed the students as they presented.

I worry about the message this sends to these young people. The irony is not lost on me. We teach them that civility and a willingness to participate in the process is important, but they discover in so doing that we as adults forget these things. I worry that they will find participation in the public debate over these issues to be a negative experience, and I worry that they will withdraw. Which is why today, more than ever, we need teachers like Marion and why today, more than ever, we need to think about the examples we set for our next generation of leaders.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Met with CEO of the YMCA and staff from VBCPS and Chesapeake to discuss the Virginia PreSchool Initiative
  • Attended State of the Schools address in Chesapeake
  • Videotaped an opening for a professional learning opportunity for our office associates
  • Interviewed by Cox HS journalists as a part of a series of interviews with High School journalists planned for this year
  • Attended meeting of the Anchor Schools’ Digital Learning Leadership teams
  • Visited the following schools: Landstown MS, Larkspur MS, ATC (for counselors luncheon)
  • Spoke with AVID students at Kempsville Middle School
  • Attended the Salem HS/Bayside HS football game where Coach Robert Jackson was recognized for his 100th win as the Salem HS coach (see attached proclamation of Robert Jackson day from Mayor Sessoms)
  • Met with the following Board Members: Dan Edwards and Bev Anderson (meeting with city leadership to discuss budget); Carolyn Rye, Sharon Felton (scheduled meetings)

The Week of October 12 - 16

I had the opportunity while attending the Virginia Association of School Superintendents conference this week to hear our governor speak about his priorities over the next year. First and foremost, I was heartened that he repeated an earlier statement that funding for K-12 education would be his top priority in his next budget, which will be released in December of this year. This is obviously important as we continue to think about how to address shortfalls in our operating budget—over $35 million lost in Virginia Beach alone—that have become part of the “new normal” in school budgeting since 2008. During that same conference, the State Superintendent shared some of the challenges schools have been facing during that same time period (since 2008). Specifically, he mentioned the school-aged population growth (4 percent across the state) and shifting demographics (a 40 percent increase in the number of students eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch, representing nearly 40 percent of the student population across Virginia today), and he noted that despite this growth and the challenges associated with a rise in poverty, our funding has been cut dramatically, resulting in the loss of 5,000 teaching jobs in the Commonwealth.

Now, there are those who will say that educators in Virginia continue to do a good job despite these cuts to the education system. And, in many regards this is true. Our graduation rate is as high as it has ever been in this state, and our students continue to perform well on national and international measures of achievement and aptitude. So the argument can be made (and is made by many in the General Assembly) that we have simply become more efficient. But not all news is good news. In 2009 there were only 25 schools that were not fully accredited. Today, with these challenges, shifting assessments and significant state funding cuts creating a perfect storm in Virginia, there are now over 550 schools that are not fully accredited. In Virginia Beach, while that number is trending downward, there are still nine schools that are not fully accredited. And teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers across the state and nation. Recruiting new teachers—especially in math and science—is becoming increasingly difficult as would-be educators come to grips with a system that places increasingly high demands on their time and expertise while failing to remain competitive with other professions. So these decisions do have a meaningful impact on our ability to educate our children.

But there is a bigger and more important picture than even this. In his speech, Governor McAuliffe also talked about his other priority— workforce development. He talked about thousands of unfilled jobs in the engineering and technology sectors across Virginia and about the critical need for the K-12 and higher education systems in Virginia to orient themselves toward preparing our workforce for these kinds of technical and well-paid positions. And I couldn’t agree more. But I also sense a disconnect, and this disconnect is driving the growing discontent with our testing system and the way we are approaching public education in Virginia. I think this disconnect can best be understood with a relatively simple question. If coding is critically important, what state test or requirement holds schools and communities accountable for teaching coding? The answer, of course, is none. “So what?” someone might ask. You don’t need state requirements to offer classes in coding to every student in your division. To which I would respond, of course not, but when would we offer it and how should we pay for it? State requirements do drive instructional decisions, and this is the right thing to do. A unified curriculum assures that what we believe is important for students is learned across the state and in every classroom. So the real question becomes, what do we believe is most important?

Now is the time to answer these questions in earnest. There is very little evidence to suggest that our current standards ready students for college and careers. So why not reinvent ourselves to align our learning objectives with the aspirations we have for our students. To be clear, we do offer these opportunities in Virginia Beach. Students in our schools are exposed to coding and engineering in some elementary and middle schools (the STEM Trifecta challenge is a wonderful manifestation of this work, for example), and students can pursue these electives in high school (our STEM academy and ATC are wonderful examples of how students can fully engage in these pursuits). But, mostly, this remains an opportunity for some students in some classes. If we are to truly develop the workforce of the future, we must acknowledge that the standards of learning that we select as a state drive the instruction in our classrooms, and the tests we determine are the best measures of student learning and accountability for our schools do determine where we place our attention. In that regard, the solution is before us and should be relatively easy, at least in theory. Design curriculum standards and measures of progress that are clearly aligned to our workforce and college readiness expectations. Through curriculum and assessment, drive teachers and students toward classrooms that are focused on discovery, collaboration and critical thinking. Create an assessment system that measures and gives credit for specific workforce readiness skills—what about a standardized test in coding, for example that could serve as a math or science credit? Rethink and reimagine. It can happen.

If it is to happen, though, it will take a concerted effort by all of us—locally and at the state level. Not only must we must fully commit to standards that matter and assessments that make sense, but we must also fully invest in our schools and in our teachers. We cannot take steps backward as we have done since 2008. Today Virginia stands at or below the middle of the pack in terms of state funding for education and support for teacher salaries. If we want to lead the nation in workforce development, ensure our children have a sound and successful future and create opportunities for every child, every day, then we must do more than talk about it. We must rethink, reimagine and reinvest. It can happen.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Met with the Teacher Forum Leadership Council
  • Attended HRETA Superintendent Advisory Council & Educational Advisory Committee meetings
  • Taped a kickoff video for the United Way campaign
  • Attended School Improvement meeting with VDOE staff in Richmond
  • Attended and spoke at the VBCPS Teacher of the Year dinner
  • Met with the following Board Members: Beverly Anderson, Ashley McLeod, Dan Edwards, Dottie Holtz (scheduled meetings)

The Week of September 8 - 18

Great Dreams Need Great Teachers. That’s how we kicked off the start of our school year—by acknowledging that our students’ dreams happen with love, support and guidance from our amazing teachers, staff and school leaders. And let me tell you this, as we’ve opened school, I have seen Great Teachers in action across our school division. In no particular order, here are some random thoughts on our first two weeks of school:

  • This was one of the smoothest openings I have experienced as an educator. In any system (especially one this large) there are going to be some hiccups the first few days (busses, schedules, etc.) but nothing here prevented us from kick-starting the teaching and learning process on day one.
  • Speaking of which, I have been so impressed by the teaching and learning that I have seen in my school visits these past two weeks. From the first day, I’ve seen small group instruction in our elementary classrooms, and I’ve seen students in our secondary schools engaged in authentic tasks and critical thinking that reflect our focus on future ready skills.
  • I thought our visit to Ocean Lakes High School was remarkable. Just days into the school year, some of the most engaged instruction I have seen in any high school was taking place. I particularly enjoyed a session where students had to defend their thinking on the most important reasons to study history and a roundtable in a critical writing class where students talked about their aspirations for their writing.
  • I’ve often said that you can tell within five minutes if the school you are in has a student-centered, positive culture. You can feel it in the air, so to speak. In these schools, teachers and kids know each other and smile when they interact, and everyone is enthusiastic about the learning that is happening. I’ve visited many of these schools over the last several weeks, but a few really standout, especially Linkhorn Park and Creeds Elementary Schools. Those two places are just on fire for children. Incredible!
  • Had a wonderful visit with the Virginia Beach Reading Council, the largest local affiliate of the state council. This group is organized to support teachers and literacy efforts in VBCPS. So why is this important? Here are a few shocking statistics: According to the Literacy Partners Incorporated, the annual United States tab for low literacy is $225 billion in unemployment benefits, lost taxes and crime; and, studies show that two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up on jail or welfare. In fact, more than 70 percent of America’s inmates cannot read on a fourth-grade level. If we want to stop the “School to Prison Pipeline,” a key piece of the puzzle has to be quality reading instruction and intervention for struggling readers in the early years of education.
  • I found out this week that I am, in fact, a bibliophile. Not really a philologist though. I appreciate my friends in the PAHS English department for helping me—and their students—understand the difference.
  • Is it just me, or does everyone get excited about Friday night lights? I’ve been to quite a few games already this year, and I am looking forward to many more—and not just Friday nights but across all of our many sports as we celebrate our young men and women who are striving to both demonstrate excellence on the field and model off the field those life lessons they are learning through competition and coaching.
  • Finally, as I said above, I’ve already had the pleasure of interacting with so many wonderful teachers this school year. I have also had the chance to meet with our new and returning members of the Teacher Forum Leadership Council, our group of Teacher of the Year finalists who work to share best practices and resolve teaching concerns for our division. As with their colleagues across VBCPS, their enthusiasm and effort are apparent in our conversations and as I visit classrooms, and I feel blessed to be working with the Council and with our incredibly bright and committed teachers, leaders and staff. This is going to be a great school year!

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Met with members of the Teacher Forum Leadership Council
  • Attended the Kempsville HS/Salem HS football game
  • Attended a meeting in Richmond with the State Superintendent and VASS leadership to discuss the School Improvement process
  • Attended meeting of the Virginia Beach Literacy Council
  • Attended the Middle School League meeting
  • Visited the following schools: Strawbridge ES, Corporate Landing ES, Landstown HS, Cox HS, Linkhorn Park ES, Lynnhaven MS, Larkspur MS, Ocean Lakes HS, Birdneck ES, Creeds ES, Alanton ES, Luxford ES, Brookwood ES, Princess Anne HS
  • Met with the following Board Members: Kim Melnyk, Dan Edwards (scheduled meetings), attended the workshop and regular meeting of the Board

The Week of August 31 – September 4

The start of a new school year is always an exciting time for educators, parents and students. As the summer comes to an end, thoughts turn toward new teachers and new students. One of the best things about a new school year is that we get to reinvent ourselves. Children come to the new school year hopeful that this will be their best year yet. It’s an opportunity to learn from the lessons of the past and rise to the expectations of the present. It’s a chance to renew old friendships and make new ones. A new school year gives us the chance to be even better today as individuals and collectively than we were yesterday.

For me, a new school year is also an opportunity to think strategically about where we are and where we are going as a school division. I can tell you that today, we are succeeding in Virginia Beach. Our graduation rate continues to climb while our dropout rate continues to decrease. We outperform the state and nation on many measures, and state test scores indicate continuous student growth. We are increasing access to rigorous coursework for our students, and we provide world class electives and athletics programs. We have a dedicated and outstanding group of teachers and school leaders, and our central support team is second to none. We also realize that our success is due in large measure to the support we receive from our parents and this amazing community, for which we are all grateful.

Despite what we might hear, our public schools are not failing—not across this country and certainly not in Virginia Beach. This is an historic moment in our country. Despite increasing expectations for student learning, an expanded curriculum, ever-changing testing and accountability systems, and a push from all sides to reform education as we know it, we are doing an amazing job. We are graduating more students than ever before, and more of our students are going on to and finishing a post-high school education than ever before. And our community is better because of it.

This is not to say that we are without challenges in Virginia Beach, of course. We are experiencing many of the challenges school districts across the country are facing: shifting accountability conversations, growing ESL, special needs and low income student populations, and aging infrastructure to name but a few.

In spite of these many challenges, it is my commitment to our community that we will meet head on all obstacles to our students’ success. We will ensure that every child regardless of background receives a high quality education. We will ensure that all students are mastering the curriculum at a high level as seen in their classroom work as well as on state and national measures of school success. And we will ensure that our students are future ready, prepared to enter the world of work and higher learning beyond our doors.

Working together, our schools and our community can and will make this a wonderful year for learning.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Attended opening of school luncheon with Student Leadership Staff
  • Attended a multi-school grant training on response to student behaviors at Woodstock ES
  • Reviewed the new Language Arts curriculum with the T&L team
  • Attended the Convocation events at Bayside MS
  • Attended a training with the faculty at Seatack ES/Achievable Dream Academy
  • Attended bus in-services across the city
  • Attended the Food Services annual meeting and luncheon
  • Attended a meet and greet at Strawbridge ES
  • Met with the following Board Members: Dan Edwards (scheduled meeting); attended the workshop and regular meeting of the School Board

The Week of August 24 - 28

Testing. Assessment. Accountability. Are there any words being more hotly debated in the education community and in state houses across the country? With rallying cries of “over-testing!” parents and educators have joined forces to raise concerns about the amount of testing and types of testing our students experience in a given school year.

Certainly, when we think of the amount of testing students encounter, there is little argument that students today are tested as no generation before them has been. From end-of-year standardized tests to national tests such as the ACT and SAT to local assessments designed to provide teachers and school leaders with real-time data about student progress, students face a seemingly endless array of tests all year. Add to that Advanced Placement tests, diagnostic tests for reading, and the always-familiar teacher-developed tests, and it’s not hard to understand why students—and their parents—are overwhelmed.

Fortunately, a great deal of work is being done to understand and address the assessment challenges we face in public education. Locally, we are mapping our assessments to eliminate redundancy, asking questions like, “Which reading diagnostics give us the most accurate information for instructional purposes?” At the state level, the SOL Innovation Committee formed by our Governor is tackling challenging questions around accountability and is making progress addressing concerns—for example, recent actions to reduce the number of SOL tests, encourage performance-based assessments in their stead, and allow students to retake SOL tests all point to the state’s understanding that a single-point-in-time test does not tell us everything we need to know about a child’s progress in school.

So what else do we need to know? As we think about what might be called Accountability 2.0, we need to think about not only how we measure student progress locally but also how we measure what is most important. While standardized tests have largely measured discrete facts and skills in isolation (although recent changes have improved the rigor of these tests), the workforce and world beyond schooling require much more of our students. How can we measure skills that are immediately applicable in the workplace, for example? And how can we test our students’ ability to solve new problems, collaborate with various work teams, and add value to the body of information in a specific field? Moreover, how does a personalized learning experience lend itself to the standardized testing model?

We are beginning to understand this, and there are bright spots on the assessment horizon. Adaptive testing allows us to test each student based on their own progress and learning, for instance. And, as we begin to crosswalk the knowledge and skills currently tested on the SOLs, we begin to see that our workforce credential exams allow our students to apply these skills in authentic way and should be considered a valid part of our assessment arsenal for all students. Also, creative new tests such as the IPT and the CWRA allow us to more thoughtfully measure our students’ responses to novel situations and complex problem-solving, so we can, it seems, measure what’s most important if we put our minds to it.

Will we ever see the elimination of testing altogether? Of course not. It would be irresponsible of us not to understand how our work is impacting student learning and how well prepared our students are for college and careers. But, with thoughtfulness and purpose, we absolutely can test smarter and we certainly can measure what is most important.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Attended and spoke to new teachers at TOCLI
  • Attended Freshman Fresh Start program at Landstown HS
  • Attended and spoke at Custodian Convocation
  • Attended and spoke to volunteers at the JumpStart event at Larkspur Middle School
  • Met with leadership of the United Way to discuss our upcoming campaign
  • Attended the Middle School League meeting
  • Attended the Green Run/Bayside and the Ocean Lakes/Salem football games
  • Visited with Carolyn Weems (scheduled meeting)

The Week of August 17 - 21

I read an interesting blog this week by Matthew Kraft, assistant professor of education at Brown University, which can be found at this link: http://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?cid=25920011&item=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.edweek.org%2Fv1%2Fblog%2F76%2F

Dr. Kraft makes the case that one of the reasons teachers may leave our profession is the lack of opportunity for promotion—it seems hard to swallow for some of our teachers, he argues that they will have the same title on the day they begin their career as they will on the day they retire.

Rick DuFour, in his newest book, In Praise of American Educators (And How They Can Become Even Better), takes up this argument as well, suggesting that, “One of the inherent challenges in the teaching profession is that it is not designed to foster a sense of advancement or recognition” (p. 70). He makes a compelling case for career ladders and offers the following model:

Advancement would be based not on years in the classroom but on expertise and a willingness to assume greater responsibilities within the school or district. Teachers at the top of the ladder would be responsible for assuming leadership roles in improving schools and mentoring new teachers… They could be assigned to a troubled school to help overcome its problems. (p. 71)

DuFour concludes that this work, while different from past models of advancement, is both effective and possible, noting that this is the way most professions operate and also that, “the opportunity to advance along a career ladder is common practice in nations with the highest-performing school systems.” (p. 93)

While I believe that opportunities to advance and earn recognition are important, I think there may also be another reason that career ladders make sense. In the model above, teachers are given leadership responsibilities and a real voice in supporting their colleagues, making a difference in the most challenging schools, and driving their divisions toward excellence. Mark Edwards is the Superintendent of Mooresville Graded School District, a nationally recognized school district in North Carolina that has all but closed its achievement gaps while raising levels of student engagement and achievement across the board. He is also an author, and in his most recent book, Thank You for Your Leadership, he makes a compelling case that the reasons for his schools’ many successes are because of a culture of distributed leadership where teachers (and staff and students) are encouraged and expected to become key players in creating better, more dynamic learning experiences for children. While opportunities to advance are important, so too are the opportunity to be heard and to feel like you can make a difference in your organization.

With all of this in mind, we will continue to expand these opportunities for our teachers and staff here in VBCPS. We will seek more ways to empower teachers to solve our challenges (like the Design Teams I mentioned last week that are working on personalized learning), our new Office of Professional Growth and Innovation has been tasked with developing a career matrix for staff and faculty throughout our organization that will identify opportunities to both stay in the classroom and advance one’s career. I’m looking forward to these and other ways we can support our teachers and strengthen our culture of growth and excellence as called for in Compass to 2020.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Attended meeting with Microsoft on STEM resources
  • Attended meeting of the Anchor Schools Leadership Teams
  • Attended Elementary Principals League meeting
  • Joined student Maker team from Strawbridge Elementary at ODU Strohm Center for Entrepreneurship, where our students presented on their learning from the Maker Challenge
  • Guest speaker at Temple Emmanuel
  • Attended workshop and regular meeting of the Board

The Week of August 10 - 14

Last week I wrote about the amazing things that are happening in VBCPS and made the case that public education in general and our schools here in Virginia Beach in particular are really doing a much better job than our critics give us credit for in terms of preparing students for careers and college. This week, my daughter had the opportunity to discover just how terrific the programming in VBCPS is as she attended the Advanced Technology Center’s (ATC) Summer STEM Camp.

As a personal testimonial, I can say that my daughter (like many teenage daughters, I suspect) rarely talks much about her days at school. This week, however, she came home after every day at camp and described her experiences with enthusiasm. From video game programming to engineering design to architectural drawing and even a trip to Stihl to see advanced mechatronics in the workplace, she enjoyed every moment of the camp. Her favorite, though, was the modeling and simulation class she was able to take, and after that day, we went to her high school to talk about making more room in her schedule after her freshman year to be able to pursue some of these courses.

The ATC—and our Technical and Career Education courses in general—are an amazing example of how we can provide learning experiences that are both rigorous and authentic and at the same time are meeting the needs of our regional employers and preparing students for their future.

Of course last week I also noted that there was room for improvement, and this remains true. As wonderful as the ATC is, and as exceptional as the learning experiences are that students (and my daughter) have had there, not every student in our city has these opportunities. And, while students in VBCPS attend the gifted center, the ATC, the Technical and Career Education Center (another hidden gem in our school division!) and the many career and academic academies across our schools, enrollment is by the nature of these programs limited. So the question we must ask ourselves next is, how can we personalize the learning experience for every student in our school division in such a way that each student is able to pursue his or her passion not only in one of our specialty centers but in his or her elementary, middle and high school?

As we ask this question, we are guided by Compass to 2020, our new strategic plan and its insistence that we devise multiple pathways to success while exploring a personalized learning experience for every student. What do these pathways look like? What role does technology in the classroom play? What kinds of experiences should our students have? And how do we make this kind of learning a reality in every classroom? Fortunately, when looking for answers for a question like this, it’s great to be in a school division like this where the answer is almost always “in the room” (or, following the tenets of design thinking, when looking for solutions to difficult questions, go to the end user). Which is why this summer and into the next school year, teams of over 50 design fellows— classroom teachers who are thinking about how to create this kind of learning—are working with one another and their students to define, describe, create and implement a more personalized approach to teaching and learning in their classrooms. I am looking forward to visiting their classrooms this fall, and looking forward to the learning that we will all be doing together over the next months as we continue on our journey toward excellence.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Attended and spoke at the Title I Summer Conference
  • Attended the National Speaker Series sponsored by the Teacher Forum (Robyn Jackson was the speaker, and she was terrific!)
  • Met with city manager Jim Spore to continue to discuss city/schools partnerships
  • Visited with a group of our Design Fellows working on defining and developing personalized learning experiences for our students
  • Attended a new Board Member orientation for Opportunity Inc.’s Workforce Development Board. My service on this Board began July 1
  • Met with Nancy Moore from First Tee to discuss how we can strengthen our partnership with that organization
  • Attended a mentor/mentee lunch and training session led by Dr. Thomas Ferrell, our Director of Administrative Leadership in the Office of Professional Growth and Innovation
  • Attended a meeting of the Student Discipline Task Force to hear a reporting out of the group’s progress to date

The Week of August 3 - 7

I often talk with stakeholders and community members about the misperceptions around public education. For many years, education reformers have labeled public schools as failing in an effort to incite fear and drive changes to the public education sector. While many of these changes are needed, and while I do not doubt but that the intention of at least some of these naysayers is to genuinely provide a better learning opportunity for our children, I strongly disagree with the premise that change is needed because schools are miserably failing their communities and their students.

To be sure, as with any organization, we in public education must be receptive to innovation and change in order to keep up with changing expectations from our stakeholders and changing conditions in our society. I would argue that this is absolutely essential if we are to survive as an institution. After all, how many of our teachers and students from the middle of the last century would recognize or understand the challenges of accountability or the promise and potential of digital learning in our classrooms and in our workforce?

That said, I also firmly believe our venerable institution has proven to be far more flexible and nimble than many give us credit for. Over the last century, we've witnessed a remarkable growth in the number of students entering and staying in our schools, with a commensurate rise in expectations (in 1950, no one expected all—or even most—students to graduate from high school). With this expectation that we educate every single child comes unique and pressing opportunities and challenges. And we are rising to the occasion. Graduation rates today stand at historic highs, and we are addressing the demands of accountability (especially the much lamented "over-testing" driven by state and federal legislation) and career and college readiness (especially as it relates to teaching 21st century skills in a globally competitive, digitally driven world)—even though these two demands are often at odds, causing many to wonder whether or not we are testing what we believe is really important for our students to learn.

As I've said before, this doesn't let us off the hook. Doing a good job doesn't mean we can't do a better job. But I do think it's fair—and important—to make the case about what we are doing well, because it's my sense that many don’t even know how good a job we are doing. And here in Virginia Beach, we are doing some amazing things. At the most recent Board meeting, for example, we celebrated five national champions. We had students who placed first in the nation in business marketing, first in the nation in culinary arts, and a Microsoft Office Specialist who placed first in the nation (and will now compete in world competition) for her skillset with Microsoft Word. We also had an elementary school, Creeds, be named only one of six elementary schools worldwide as a Gold level school by the International Alliance for Invitational Education, an organization which promotes the creation of positive environments for learning and encourages leadership, understanding and cooperation in the learning process—easily understood to be amongst the most important 21st century skills our employers are looking for. These accomplishments, while impressive, reflect something greater. None of them would be possible if we were only teaching to tests and ignoring things like preparing students for the workplace, asking them to cooperate in the learning process and developing in them the critical thinking skills and grit necessary to thrive in a competitive environment. These are only a few examples of this work happening in Virginia Beach—and there are far too many to capture here. The coolest recent example, for instance, can be seen in this link, with a video showing elementary kids in a summer STEM program at Thoroughgood ES working with 3D printing.


Clearly, public schools and VBCPS in particular are doing excellent work, and clearly there is still room for improvement. And so we will press on, seeking to become the best at what we do while also celebrating the amazing things we are already doing here to prepare students for their future.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Attended and spoke at the ITS summer professional development institute
  • Attended and visited with faculty and students at the Diversity Ambassadors Workshop
  • Met with Region II Superintendents and representatives from the ODU Pilot Project on Sea Level Rise (see information items below for more on this)
  • Conducted a screening interview with InView producers
  • Met with members of the city’s Emergency Management Team and our Senior Staff for a tabletop exercise and dialogue
  • Attended a meeting with representatives from STiHL and TCC to continue planning for a new dual enrollment and on-site career training program in advanced manufacturing
  • Attended and spoke at the From One Hand to Another Foundation’s Summer STEAM program graduation
  • Met with the City Manager and City Finance Officer along with Farrell Hanzaker to discuss updates to the revenue sharing formula
  • Visited Newport News Shipbuilding for a session with our summer teacher interns
  • Met with the following Board Members: Bev Anderson, Dan Edwards, Dottie Holtz (scheduled meetings); attended the workshop and regular meeting of the Board

The Week of July 27 - 31

The big event last week, of course, was our administrative conference. Our theme was Power On!, and we did just that, celebrating our successes from the last school year and energizing ourselves as we prepare for the year ahead. We welcomed Dr. Steve Staples, the State Superintendent of Instruction, who shared thanks and encouragement as well as thoughts about the future of accountability and accreditation in Virginia—with hope that we will begin to focus on measuring what’s important and honestly assess the progress of our schools.

The conference itself focused on several big ideas, including the continuing rollout of Compass to 2020 as well as the introduction of our brand new Teaching and Learning Framework, the culmination of a year’s collaboration between teachers, principals and our central support team as they sought to clearly define what we should expect to see in our classrooms every day. Following a cycle of Plan, Teach, Assess, the framework identifies key activities and processes we must use as we respond to student learning needs before, during and after instruction. Most importantly, the framework provides us all with a common language around teaching and learning that should strengthen feedback, professional learning and collaboration. The framework can be explored digitally (http://www.vbschools.com/compass/landing.asp) and a hard copy wheel was provided to each conference attendee. And, the conference also gave us a chance to talk about several key, ongoing initiatives in the division, like the emphasis on equity and the focus on personalizing the learning experience for students.

Of course, when rolling out new frameworks and launching the division officially into the new strategic plan, the questions that arise tend to be ones of connectivity—how does the framework fit into Compass to 2020? What do both of these tools tell us about personalized learning? Does all this connect in some logical way? The answer, of course, is yes, and a great way to understand this is to look at the Quick Start Guide that was shared at the conference. Developed by our team from Planning, Innovation and Accountability, the quick start guide was designed to help draw those connections for our school leaders and teachers. Glancing through this guide, it’s clear that there is a lot of work happening in VBCPS. What’s even more obvious is how important—and how exciting—this work is as we continue to think about how to provide the richest learning experience for our students.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Attended and provide opening and keynote closing remarks at the VBCPS Administrative Conference
  • Attended and spoke about leadership at the Virginia Beach Leadership Workshop for high school students
  • Met with representatives from the ODU Intergovernmental Pilot Project on Sea Level Rise
  • Visited Start Up High to hear about impact from students and parents in the program

The Week of July 20 - 24

Over the last several days, a team from VBCPS and I had the opportunity to attend the first ever Excellence Through Equity conference, which was hosted in Chesterfield, Virginia and included keynotes from leading educational sociologists Pedro Noguera and Alan Blankstein along with many informative sessions from practitioners around the state and nation—including our very own Lorena Kelly (an Assistant Principal in the division, Lorena also edited the new book by Pedro and Alan, Excellence Through Equity).

The speakers and sessions challenged us all to think about equity and what that looks like in a school or school division. We discussed the difference between equality and equity and were challenged to understand that looking at our practices through the lens of equity can create a situation where all students win in the educational environment. Equity, in essence, becomes the tool for making sure that every child in our school division has the chance to maximize his or her full potential. This is good for our schools, and also good for our community. And, when all students do well, non-struggling learners—particularly those without special needs or those who do not come from poverty—also benefit, because creating access to programs and classrooms where broader perspectives are shared enriches the learning experience for all, as research and common sense bear out.

And, while these sessions were excellent, the best part for our team was the time devoted to working together as a team to think about how we might continue to address issues of equity in our school division. How can we raise awareness around equity issues in the city, for example? Does our community understand the growing poverty in our community and how it impacts student learning experiences? And, where we've identified concerns, how can we use the lens of equity to create opportunities for all students? How can we continue to reflect, for example, on our discipline practices to eliminate what is being talked about nationally as the "school to prison pipeline" (http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/educators-gather-white-house-rethink-school-discipline) while maximizing instructional time and helping our most challenged students build strong relationships with caring adults at school? How can we ensure access to the most rigorous coursework for all students? And how, as we've outlined in Compass to 2020, can we build multiple pathways to success to ensure that every single student we serves not only graduates from our schools but has a clear sense of purpose when leaving us?

As I've shared with that team and with our division leadership, this is the heart of our work. If we are to be the premier school division in this nation, we cannot simply serve most children well enough. As Dr. Steve Staples, the State Superintendent of Instruction, told conference attendees last week, "Today's students won't get tomorrow's jobs with yesterday's schools." To meet that demand, we must serve all children at the highest level, building strong relationships with our students so they remain connected to our schools, personalizing the learning experience to tap into our students' passions and driving ourselves and our students to create truly 21st century learning opportunities. As I look around the division, I understand that we are well on our way, of course; still, I know that much remains to be done, and I am grateful to be in Virginia Beach, where I know we can make this happen for our children and our community.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Attended VSBA Conference on Education
  • Visited the Middle School Leadership Workshop
  • Attended the Excellence Through Equity conference

The Week of July 13 - 17

I get asked often if I am enjoying the chance to kick back and relax over the summer. Each time I'm asked, I chuckle a little—the public perception that summer means downtime in public education could not be farther from the truth. For teachers, summer means planning for next year's classes, reflecting on successes and challenges from the previous year and thinking about how to learn from each to make the next school year even better for children. For school leaders, summer is about schedules and hiring and thinking about how to improve upon the last school year as well. It's much the same for me and for our central support team—we are busily getting ready for the new school year and thinking strategically about how to move the school division forward, addressing not only the important priorities outlined in the division's strategic plan, Compass to 2020, but also wrestling with some of the "big rocks," or key issues and challenges we are facing as a school and a community as we prepare to welcome students back to school.

This work, in particular, was highlighted for us at our Board retreat last week. We talked, for example, about the ongoing work of the Discipline Task Force, with its membership focused on understanding the challenges our students, parents, teachers and administrators face and how our discipline practices can be transformed to better support all students, maximize learning in the classroom and affirm the value and worth of each child.

We also talked about two key issues that are of great interest to our community: school start times and their impact on student learning; and, the study of grading practices at the secondary level. Both are important topics that influence school practices and student achievement, and both have passionate advocates amongst students, teachers and parents whose many viewpoints are important and must be taken into consideration as we think about how to ensure all of our students are given the greatest chance to be successful. To that end, task forces are being developed to study each issue in greater depth, and both groups will be working across the community to hear and understand stakeholder concerns, hopes and expectations. As we move into the winter and spring of the new school year, we will be working with closely with the Board to support their development of clear direction for our schools in these areas.

And finally, we looked at my personal goals as Superintendent, thinking about how we can continue to build on our successes and discussing opportunities for continued growth. And we have had many successes this school year—our students, for example, have shown remarkable grit and our schools remarkable focus as we've lifted test scores across the division. And that accountability to student achievement is important. It plays a key role in our strategic thinking, but we can and must do better. Student achievement must improve. My expectation is that as we prepare for the next school year, we prepare with the understanding that all of our schools will be fully accredited. We cannot be the premier school division in this country until we no longer have to think about accountability—it must just be a given that our students are learning at expected levels and schools are performing as required.

But we must do so much more than that. If we are to be the premier school division I know we can be, we have to recognize that having all schools fully accredited is just going to be the beginning of our work. We will celebrate different successes as we stretch and grow our capacity to prepare children for the world today—successes like PAHS student Michelle Wu, who recently won the national Microsoft Office Specialist National Championship, or the over 10,000 other students who earned a career certification this year in our schools, or the launching of our 12 Anchor Schools that will literally anchor us in the digital learning experience as we think about what a personalized learning environment looks like, or the many, many other successes we have experienced this year and know we will experience in the years to come.

The Week of July 6 - 10

This was a great week to reflect on the importance of partnerships in VBCPS. I had the opportunity to meet with our friends at the United Way to talk about their support for literacy instruction in our schools, and I had the opportunity to visit with our students attending the Horizons of Hampton Roads Summer Program at the Chesapeake Bay Academy. I met with Reverend Taylor, one of our faith-based partners leading the Men of Faith, and I also was able to film a message of encouragement to other members of our faith community—Grace Church in particular—in support of their partnership with a number of our schools and their "Fill a Bag, Feed a Family" campaign.

We know that our schools thrive when we have healthy partnerships with our families and our community, and these examples highlighted again for me the outstanding commitment to public education that exists here in Hampton Roads and especially in Virginia Beach. That commitment is reflected not only in the monetary support provided to our schools by these organizations, which is critical and important, but also in the gifts of time and talent that they and so many other individuals and organizations share with our schools—at last count, we had over 22,000 volunteers and partners in education who gave more than 690,000 hours of service last year to our schools. That kind of commitment is mind-blowing and, frankly, priceless.

While we might be able to calculate the monetary value of those hours (over $15,000,000 worth of time!), we cannot calculate in any adequate way the real value of that commitment—whether it’s mentoring, providing assistance in our classrooms or cafeterias, organizing student activities, supporting special events, serving in our PTA organizations, or one of the many other ways our partners and volunteers serve in our schools. Frankly, this generosity of time and spirit is most valuable because every day, our partners and volunteers are making a difference in the life of a child. We have countless stories about the ways both large and small that our volunteers and partners have changed student lives. We celebrate those every year as we honor our volunteers of the year and our outstanding partners in education, but these incredible people and organizations represent only a small fraction of the kind of change, empowerment and love that our children experience when members of our community choose to step forward and become involved with our VBCPS family. Every one, every person in our great city has an opportunity to make a positive impact, and of course I encourage everyone I can to contact our amazing Office of Community Engagement or check out opportunities to get involved by going to this link on our website: http://www.vbschools.com/volunteers/index.asp.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Partnership meetings with Men of Faith and the United Way of South Hampton Roads
  • Visited Horizons Summer Program
  • Visited our Department of Technology Data Center
  • Attended and spoke to meeting of the Cape Henry Rotary Club
  • Visited Professional Development sessions for teachers and for Technology Support Technicians (TSTs)
  • Attended a meeting of the Digital Learning Anchor School principals

The Week of June 30 - July 3

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Joint Military Services School Liaison Committee. The meeting was held at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, and its focus was on STEM and the real world applications of STEM learning in today’s military. It was an amazing visit. We had the opportunity to hear from sailors in the dive community, river patrol units, the Naval Construction Force (also known as SeaBees) and many others about their work. And of course, the work was impressive.

While there, we saw Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs) that could detect mines at sea, remotely detonate IEDs, or fly over an area of responsibility to seek out threats to our troops. We saw intelligence-gathering equipment, sophisticated underwater construction and salvage equipment, and technologies that would impress even the savviest computer aficionado. We saw fast patrol boats and sat on the bridge of one of the Navy’s newest fast transport ships. And, we saw evidence of our humanitarian missions and of our full combat capabilities. It was, in a word, extraordinary, and the connections between our military partners and what we are working toward with our students were many and obvious—it was no great leap to imagine students in the recent Stem Robotics Challenge going on to design the Navy’s next generation of robotic fighting machines. Yet I was struck in particular by one comment. When asked by a visitor what the most sophisticated equipment one sailor had available to him was, the sailor and his CO both quipped immediately that it was the sailor himself.

That’s a key takeaway from the visit. While the tools are critical, and the ability to understand them and program and operate them with high efficiency and effectiveness can mean the difference between mission success or failure, it is the person behind the technologies that makes all the difference. It is his or her understanding of the math and science and engineering and his or her ability to apply that understanding to an array of new and challenging problems that is so critical. And it is his or her ability to connect with and work with teammates and to communicate clearly and to persist in the face of obstacles that determines the sailors’ success. The best part about the visit for me was getting to know, albeit briefly, the young men and women with whom we’ve entrusted our nation’s security. They were to a person bright, enthusiastic and competent, and I left with a keen sense that our military is more than ever willing and able to protect our interests.

Perhaps more importantly, my conviction that we must do more than teach our students content was affirmed. We must make sure they learn rich and rigorous content (almost every sailor I spoke with loved science, for example) and we must make sure they can apply their learning in authentic ways. And of course, we must help them develop the skills they need—teamwork, collaboration and communication, grit—to do so successfully when they leave our schools.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Brought remarks to our Custodial Services team at their end of year celebration
  • Spoke at training for new VBEA school representatives
  • Met with representatives from Achievable Dream Academy
  • Attended and spoke at School Plant luncheon
  • Attended meeting in Richmond with VDOE to discuss school accreditation
  • Attended VBEF Golf Tournament and spoke at Principal’s lunch
  • Attended and spoke at retirement banquet
  • Met with Fr. Jim Parke to discuss volunteer connections with the city
  • Attended a meeting of the Joint Military Services School Liaison Committee at JEB Little Creek
  • Visited Operation Smile and discussed opportunities for youth involvement in their programming
  • Met with the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judges
  • Met with the following Board Members: Sharon Felton, Ashley McLeod, Carolyn Weems, Carolyn Rye (scheduled meetings); attended the workshop and regular meeting of the full board

The Week of June 14 - 20

The big event this week, of course, has been our graduations. Twelve schools hosted graduation ceremonies at the Convention Center over four days, and 4,927 students walked across the stage. While the events themselves are memorable—the speeches both funny and touching, the pomp, the regalia, the celebrations, the laughter and tears—they really are just a reflection of the process that begins when students first enter our doors and the culmination of the efforts, not just of the students, but of their families, their teachers, our entire VBCPS family, our community and of course the Board, as it works to provide the resources and strategic focus to ensure that what these young people have learned along the way will help them make a difference in their lives and in the life of our great city. In ways both large and small, all of these people have supported our students on this amazing journey that we celebrate with a handshake and a diploma.

And make no mistake, it is a journey, just as our push to becoming the premier school division in the country is a journey. While those students who will continue this journey with us are now home starting their summer vacations, the VBCPS team is busy and will be working hard all summer to prepare for the next school year. We are hiring the very best teachers and administrators—all of them expected to be leaders with a passion for helping young people maximize their potential. We are reviewing our data and making immediate decisions about where and how to best deploy our resources to ensure every child is successful on state tests. And we are planning celebrations of the past year and the year ahead—with the Administrators Conference, New Teacher Orientation and Convocation on the horizon, the whole team will be engaged in getting ready for staff’s return.

Perhaps most importantly, we are thinking about next steps—not just how we can be better at what we are already doing, but what else should we be doing to ensure that our students have every opportunity to thrive. Guided by Compass to 2020, we are working to establish meaningful pathways to success, exploring truly personalized learning experiences, considering how we can best meet the social and emotional needs of each and every student and thinking about how we can organize professional learning so that it is meaningful and highly valued. While this work won’t end as the heat of summer gives way to a new fall, it will certainly be in full swing as we wind through these next few months.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Met with City Attorney Mark Stiles
  • Conducted a series of interviews for administrative vacancies
  • Attended my son’s kindergarten celebration at Strawbridge ES
  • Met with a student to discuss ways to promote Dyslexia Awareness Month
  • From Wednesday to Saturday, attended all 12 VBCPS graduations

The Week of June 7 - 13

One of the most common discussions around public education is whether or not we are preparing our students to be ready for college and/or careers. It’s an interesting and challenging conversation, in part because there are no clear definitions for what it means to be prepared. With college readiness, for example, some would argue that success on the state SOL tests indicates academic proficiency while others would argue that these tests tell us relatively little about a students readiness for college or other post-secondary learning. There are questions about the value of GPAs, class rank, dual enrollment courses, etc., in terms of their predictive value when considering future success. And of course there is the rhetoric (lively and ongoing for more than a century now) that, regardless of changes to the curriculum and advances in supporting all students through remediation, enrichment and acceleration, our schools lack rigor and do not prepare the majority of students for higher education.

There are, of course, some indicators of college readiness against which we can benchmark our students. Research suggest, for example, students who do well in Advanced Placement and IB courses will thrive in college. SAT and ACT tests offer college readiness benchmarks the predict students’ likelihood of success in college based on years of longitudinal data. And there are a number of other factors known to influence college success. Still, though, college readiness seems to be a moving target. To help with this, our team is working on a pathway model that will clearly show parents and students what the readiness benchmarks are as they begin progressing through elementary, middle and high school. This model should allow students and parents to monitor progress along with their school’s staff and make adjustments as needed along the way.

As difficult as understanding college readiness can be, career readiness is just as challenging. We hear often that our students are not ready to be employed. When we ask about that, we hear more often than not that they lack soft skills—or 21st century skills—rather than content knowledge. In other words, some are concerned that our children might be able to read, but they can’t work together, communicate with one another, or creatively solve a challenging real‐world problem.

What’s more, employers often tell us that our students lack real-world understanding—that they don’t understand they have to come to work on time, or that they aren’t entitled to keep the job just because they got the job. In Virginia Beach, we are committed to ensuring that our students not only have these skills but that they also are aware of what it takes to be successful in the workplace.

There are so many amazing examples of how we are achieving this, and I’d like to highlight two. First, our amazing centers—the Technical and Career Education Center and the Advanced Technology Center—are both excellent examples of schools where students learn advanced, hands‐on workforce skills that are regionally relevant and that make them immediately employable. In fact, all told students in these centers and across our schools have earned over 10,000 workforce credentials this year—credentials that certify they are ready to take a next step in their careers and in our community. But preparation for the workforce doesn’t begin with credentialing in our high schools. This week I had the chance to attend the Virginia Beach Stem and Robotics Challenge, where 1200 students from 60 schools competed against one another in two competitions—the robotics challenge, where student built and programmed robots completed a series of exercises on a giant monopoly‐like playing surface, and the maker challenge, where teams of young entrepreneurs designed and 3D printed market ready products then delivered a “Shark-Tank”‐like pitch to a team of judges. This event was the culmination of months-long STEM learning across these elementary, middle and high schools and reflected the highest levels of problem-solving, creativity and collaboration amongst our students. As I noted in a tweet that day, this was truly an example of how we do 21st century learning in VBCPS. Moreover, it’s truly representative of the kind of work we are doing to address concerns about career and college readiness preparation here in our city.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Attended Law Day Celebration at First Colonial High School
  • Attended Region II Superintendents Meeting
  • Met with Delegate Tag Greason to discuss legislative issues around education
  • Attended meeting of the Gifted Community Advisory Committee of the Board
  • Delivered a “Knocked My Socks Off” Award to one of our bus drivers, Jean Wildey
  • Gave keynote address at Ocean Lakes HS Academic Letter ceremony
  • Attended Oceans of Success Program at the Virginia Aquarium
  • Visited with High School Principals at their league meeting
  • Attended VBEA meeting to receive Friend of Education award on behalf of Kevin Hobbs (posthumous)
  • Attended end of year meeting of the Teacher Forum Leadership Council
  • Met with leadership of the Virginia Beach chapter of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce to discuss our partnerships
  • Attended and spoke at the 2015 STEM Robotics and Maker Challenge
  • Attended the All American Community Leaders Celebration hosted by Rear Admiral Rick Williamson
  • Visited the following schools: Lynnhaven ES, Windsor Woods ES, Birdneck ES, Hermitage ES, Glenwood ES, Rosemont Forest ES
  • Attended the workshop and full meeting of the School Board

The Week of May 31 - June 6

Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit with the Virginia Beach Taxpayer Alliance to discuss the challenges we are facing in education, spend some time talking about our school budget, and hear and understand their concerns and hopes as community members about the direction of our city and our school division. I found it to be time well spent, and I appreciate their invitation for me to join them.

I also found it causing me to reflect even more on the recent budget development cycle. I know that during any budget, difficult decisions need to be made and these decisions will inevitably impact upon not just our classrooms but also our community. Which is why I am so grateful to be living in a city that is committed to the education of its children. As I’ve said elsewhere, I was impressed at the commitment of our elected leaders—our School Board members and their counterparts at the City Council—and their willingness to ensure that our employees receive an appropriate salary adjustment that will keep us regionally competitive in the marketplace. Addressing this need was paramount, and the end result demonstrates that commitment.

To be clear, this was not an easy process—as the Board well understands. The development of a school division budget is a complex undertaking. Funding comes from local, state and national sources and includes not only basic aid from localities and the state but specific support for certain student groups and special projects as well as grants both large (think Impact Aid and Federal Title grants) and small. The budget becomes even more complicated as we face challenges matching costs with revenue as a result of a slowly recovering economy and decisions made during the recession that have had a lasting impact on available dollars (per-pupil spending is about $500 less today than it was five years ago). With utilities and benefits costs increasing, the situation becomes difficult at best with the potential to become acrimonious—there will of course be disagreement on the issues (and shouldn’t there be, after all, if we are to have the lively civic discourse that is the bedrock of our democracy?!) We faced a significant shortfall we needed to balance, and we identified significant additional needs to continue moving our school division forward. So this was an incredible challenge. But our Board worked together for the good of this division, considered the needs of the community and advocated for the school division. And our city council followed suit.

While we still face financial challenges that will require our best effort and thinking in the years ahead, I am pleased that we were able to achieve so many positive goals in this year’s budget. I am also thankful for the work of our budget and finance staff as they tirelessly took input from Senior Staff, our employees, our colleagues in city government and our community and crafted this budget with me. I firmly believe the end product reflects our Board’s commitment to education, and I am proud of that. As I said earlier, I am also grateful to our community. This great city clearly understands that VBCPS offers a sound return on their investment in K-12 education. That is an investment we value and a trust we intend to continue to earn.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Held a conversation with Ken Kay of EdLeader21 to talk about continued partnership with that organization and a Step21 audit we had done to determine our implementation of the 4 C’s in our curriculum and classrooms (more to come).
  • Held conversation with Scott Kelly to confirm details about our partnership with Start Up High—we are currently at capacity with 100 students slated to attend 7 weeklong entrepreneurship camps.
  • Attended the HRETA superintendent’s advisory meeting.
  • Attended and spoke at the LEAD Cohort 1 End of Program Reception.
  • Job shadowing continued with the Facilities Construction team, including sitting in on a roofing project planning meeting and touring the new KLODS school under construction.
  • Met with new Virginian-Pilot education reporter Matt Kinney.
  • Attended meeting of the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance as keynote speaker.
  • Attended VBCPS Job Fair at Tallwood HS.
  • Attended An Evening of Dreams event celebrating the work of An Achievable Dream Academy at Seatack ES.
  • Attended and spoke at Teaching Artists Exhibit at MOCA.

The Week of May 17-23

As I continued with my job shadowing experiences last week, I had the opportunity to spend the day with our transportation team and also with our Food Services team and Safety and Loss Prevention team. While with transportation, I was able to see their dispatch and maintenance operations, visit the Reading Bus, and ride an afternoon route with one of our drivers. While with Food Services, I spent time at Landstown Elementary and Middle Schools, where we served breakfast in the classroom and prepared for and served lunch to both the elementary and middle school students. And I rode with and came to better understand the work our School Safety team does to support our principals and ensure student safety.

As with my other visits, I came away impressed by how hard our teams worked. In both the maintenance bays and in the food prep areas, our teams were efficient and focused and dedicated to the jobs at hand. And there were many jobs, which continues to amaze me. I remain convinced that our community really doesn’t understand just how much work goes into making sure students are safe and comfortable and able to learn every day. As I think I’ve said before, the only time our community really understands this is when our teams do not do their jobs well, which is incredibly rare given the scope and scale of what we are asking them to do.

On the Food Services side, our team does everything from prep work (the speed at which 40 trays of baked french fries can be put together was astounding!) to service on the lines (the stereotype of the lunch lady is long gone, as these kind team members served nutritionally balanced lunches with a smile) to cashiering (on a complex system that monitors everything from lunch balances to student allergies) to clean up. On the transportation side, while the yellow fleet is the most visible part of their work, the team members there handle dispatch for every vehicle in our fleet (over 700 busses plus service trucks and others), repair and maintain every vehicle (everything from tire repair and replacement to routine preventative maintenance to seat repair, full engine replacement and our own bodywork), and of course drive those vehicles all across our city as we transport our 69,000 children safely to school each day. Our Safety and Loss Prevention team regularly canvasses our campuses and works overnight and on holidays to ensure our buildings are secure.

And that’s just a small taste of what they do. I cannot in words adequately capture all that these two operations teams are able to achieve on a daily basis. I haven’t even begun to explore here how much money they save our taxpayers, for example. If we had to outsource the mechanical repairs and bodywork, which many smaller school divisions must do, we would add hundreds of thousands of dollars to our annual budget for instance. And the same can be said for Food Services, with their intense focus on inventory and processes that ensure we save money every day while still adhering to federal portion guidelines and making sure our students have enough to eat.

While all of this is impressive in its own right, what most impressed me was the way these team members think about their work. As with other groups I’ve spent time with over the last months, these teams don’t talk about their work as being important because they can fix a bus or build an inventory sheet that would be the envy of any restaurateur. Instead, they always, always focus on the reason they do the work. In other words, for our employees, it’s not so much the “what” as the “why.” And why do they work so hard day in and day out? Our kids, of course. Our transportation team told me over and over again that they do what they do because they understand how important it is to get our children to school safely and to get them there feeling cared for. Our Food Services folks recognized that kids who eat well do better academically, and they also realized that for many children, the meals we serve may be the only meals they get during the day. And the School Safety Officer I rode with told compelling stories about the relationships he had built with families over the years and the difference he had been able to make in children’s lives.

No matter who they are, each member of our VBCPS family knows that we put kids first, and that makes me a proud superintendent.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Attended and gave remarks at the Assistant of the Year reception
  • Joined students from Thalia Elementary School on a trip onto Back Bay for a service project
  • Met with representatives from Stihl and Tidewater Community College to continue a conversation about partnerships that will benefit our students and community
  • Continued job shadowing visits with Transportation Services, Food Services and the Office of School Safety and Loss Prevention
  • Visited the following schools: Malibu ES, Windsor Oaks ES, Holland ES (learning walks), Corporate Landing ES (Spring band concert)
  • Met with the full board during workshop and the regular formal meeting

The Week of May 3-May 9

As with the week prior, last week I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the evening with the Virginia Beach Citywide PTA as we recognized the work of the many, many PTA organizations across our great city. Throughout the evening, I had the opportunity to meet with parents, teachers and community volunteers who are giving of themselves to make a difference for our students. I couldn’t be more proud of this group, but I must confess that their dedication to our schools also gives me a reason to reflect personally on our work—if they are doing this much every day for our students, our teachers and our schools, what more can I do to make a difference? How can I commit myself even further to ensure that the children in our schools receive the kind of high quality, rigorous and engaging education that these generous people I met speak about with such candor and hope?

I enjoy thinking this way. It challenges me to push past any hint of complacency and think about what’s next for our school division and our students. In Compass to 2020, we have outlined ambitious goals for ourselves. We aspire to high expectations for student learning and achievement and expect every student to find a pathway that will propel them toward success—defined as an opportunity to be a productive, learned member of this 21st century world. In order to achieve that, I believe we need to establish bold goals for ourselves. To be sure, we need incremental progress in many areas—change for the better is after all in many ways a process and not an event. But there is also a time and a place for bold goals and movement forward.

Consider Google, for example. This international corporate giant is not content with its current progress. It has established an internal creative group leading an initiative referred to as “10X” or “Moonshot Thinking.” This group has been tasked with dealing with corporate challenges with the goal of a tenfold improvement (rather than incremental, or even 10 percent improvement). Why “Moonshot”? Those who remember Gene Krantz’ invocation that “Failure is not an option!” know that huge leaps rather than incremental progress were expected of the NASA teams charged by President Kennedy with putting a team on the moon in the 1960s.

To that end, as we near the completion of the first year of my administration, I know that we must continue to make incremental progress in many areas, but I also know that if we are to reach our goals as outlined in Compass to 2020, we must take bold steps forward. We must consider and rapidly implement the development of clear pathways to careers and college in partnership with our business community and our friends in higher education. We must take decisive steps to ensure all students have equitable access to rigorous coursework and to instructional time, including closely examining and responding to disciplinary practices that keep students out of the classroom. We must be willing to rethink the high school experience for many of our student; while many of our students feel fulfilled and meet our greatest expectations for them, others are left behind and/or simply move through school without really feeling the gratification that comes from tapping into one’s passion and being challenged beyond one’s comfort level. To do this, we will need to try different approaches—be the new academies like the Business and Entrepreneurship Academy currently being contemplated, or be they an entirely new high school experience, which we hope to explore through a new grant from the Virginia Department of Education.

In the end, Virginia Beach City Public Schools has been and will continue to be a leader for children in this city. We will challenge ourselves and, with the commitment of this Board, this community and this amazing team, we will meet our bold goals for our students.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Attended the Virginia Association of School Superintendents Spring Conference
  • Met with Del. Bill DeSteph to discuss the recent General Assembly
  • Attended and spoke at the National Day of Prayer Ceremony at City Council chambers
  • Attended and spoke at the Citywide PTA Annual Meeting
  • Met with Chesapeake Superintendent Jim Roberts to discuss Region II issues
  • Visited the following schools: Cox, Green Run, Landstown, Ocean Lakes and Princess Anne high schools, Salem and Landstown elementary schools and Renaissance Academy (learning walks)
  • Attended the workshop and regular meeting of the School Board

The Week of Apr. 26-May 2

Last week I had the pleasure of attending our Community Celebration, where we were able to recognize the 86 volunteers of the year as well as the very best of our over 2000 community partners who have joined with neighborhood schools to fund programs and create innovative educational opportunities that inspire our youth. Probably my favorite part of the evening was the opportunity to visit with each of these people as we had photos taken before dinner. What an amazing group!

The evening’s theme, Another Successful Day at the Beach, is a reminder that all that we do, all of our successes, can be tied back to the support of this great community. The event was a very special one for me because we celebrated the community whose hands lift up Virginia Beach City Public Schools and whose hearts are invested in the children of this city.
We are blessed, for example, to live in a community where more than 2,800 mentors have stepped forward to provide students with greater access to caring, supportive adults on a regular basis. And I am proud to say that last year we had more than 22,000 volunteers donating upward of 690,000 hours of service in our schools. That’s an estimated value of approximately $15,562,883! The reality, of course, is that while that figure is amazing, I don’t think we can truly put a price tag on something so priceless.

Author and longstanding children’s advocate Alma Powell once said, “There is no better investment of time and money than in the life of a child. They are the future.” In VBCPS, we believe that we must invest in every child, every day. And all of our partners and volunteers are touching the lives of our students in purposeful, meaningful ways. They bring so much to this division: skills, advice, experience, friendship, vision, leadership and inspiration. They may have different life experiences, different paths that led them to us, and different stories to tell, but at the heart of it all, they all have one important thing in common: they are here because they care. I am humbled by their generosity of spirit and by their compassion. And, I am grateful for the personal connections, resources and academic supports they provide.

Put simply, we could not do what we do without our volunteers. So on behalf of our schools and our students, I thank all of our volunteers from the bottom of my heart and applaud their generous contributions. Our schools are better, stronger places because them, and I am thankful they are a part of this great family we call VBCPS. I am thankful for the example they set, for their efforts and for their transformation of our students – one experience, one volunteer, one hour at a time.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Attended final meeting of the Teacher Assembly for the 2014‐15 school year.
  • Job shadowing with School Plant
  • Visited Rosemont Forest ES to notify Bradley Ward of that he had been selected our 2015 Teacher of the Year
  • Attended and spoke at the Citywide Principals Meeting
  • Attended and spoke at the 2015 Community Celebration
  • Met with members of my Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, who were practicing presentations they’ve developed to share their recommendations to solve pressing challenges in the division at an upcoming Board Workshop
  • Videotaped a message for the faculty at Bayside MS
  • Visited the following schools: Ocean Lakes ES, Redmill ES, Providence ES, Green Run ES, Indian Lakes ES (learning walks) and Plaza MS (theater performance)

The Week of Apr. 19-25

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I wrote recently about the value of hard work. Last week and this week, I got to experience that hard work firsthand as I continued my job shadowing experiences across our school division and spent time with our Distribution Services team, our Custodial Services team and our School Plant team. My experiences varied greatly, but there was one thing in common—every person with whom I worked was absolutely committed to doing their job in a way that should make us all proud.

What was interesting about these experiences is my sense of how little the work that is done is understood by our greater community. For the most part, our parents understand their children’s classrooms. They understand that our budget funds teachers and facilities, and they know we have a principal and perhaps know their child’s assistant principal and guidance counselor. But most of our parents and community probably don’t appreciate the scope of the work that must be done to keep our school division moving forward on a day-to-day, operational basis—I know these experiences have opened my eyes in many ways.

I started last week with our Distribution Services team. We have an efficient and effective warehouse and delivery team that moves inventory in and out to schools and classrooms. From paper towels to light bulbs to textbooks, if we receive it in VBCPS, this team inventories it and moves it to the end user. They also move old items out of our schools for recycling, repurposing or disposal. It’s a never-ending cycle that they manage with precision. I also spent time with our custodians at Green Run High School. Ms. Kerbo, their head custodian took me under her wing as we dealt with everything from checking restrooms to cleaning the cafeteria between lunches. Based on the amount of trash and recyclables we swept, bagged and took from students during those lunches, it was abundantly clear to me how critical their role is in keeping our buildings clean and safe for children.

This week, I had the pleasure of spending time with our school plant team. I have to admit I was surprised by the sheer scope of their operation. In a single day, I got a behind the scenes tour of our electronic, AV and energy management shops, visited schools to change Smartboard projector bulbs, watched as our technicians trained school staff on the use of newly installed technology, watched our craftsmen dismantle the wall on a portable to repair damage caused by a leak (and remove a bird’s nest), joined our roofing crew as they reroofed that portable to stop the leak, helped work on an HVAC unit on the roof of one of our schools, and replaced an old light ballast with a more energy efficient electronic model. And the reality is that was only a small taste of the high quality work that is done across our 86 schools (and administration buildings) every day.

I mentioned earlier that every person I’ve met has been committed to excellence. They have all, to a person, also been absolutely committed to the children of this city. In our conversations, each of these fine people have demonstrated a clear understanding that the work they do, while not well-known perhaps, makes a difference in the lives of our students. Ms. Kerbo was well-known by many of the students at Green Run, for example, and when I asked her what she thought of working at her school said, “I love it here. I love these children.” The roofing crew talked to me at length about why they stay committed to doing a difficult and underappreciated job. As one of them said, “I have kids in this school system, and I want them and all of the other kids to have buildings that are clean and safe.” As we ate lunch together, we talked about this and about how they enjoyed their work despite the lack of recognition for what they do. One of the men summed up what many of them were saying as he described a bumper sticker he had been given “No one knows what I do until I don’t do it.” I sensed they liked it that way, but I hope they at least know how much I appreciate them.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Met with legislative liaisons to discuss priorities for the next legislative session
  • Attended Executive Committee meeting of the Access College Foundation
  • Attended High School League and Middle School League meetings
  • Attended and facilitated a table at the Citywide Teacher Forum Roundtable meeting
  • Attended and spoke at the National Honor Society Induction ceremony at OLHS
  • Attended and spoke at the graduation ceremony for the Licensed Practical Nursing program at the TCE
  • Attended and spoke at the breakfast meeting of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach
  • Visited Centerville Elementary School (learning walk) and Tallwood High School (Filipino Café celebrating our sister city relationship with Olongapo and the exchange students who were with us last week)
  • Visited with the following board members: Carolyn Rye (scheduled meeting), attended the workshop and regular board meeting with all members


The Week of Apr. 13-17

A neighbor recently had a large pile of river rocks he was trying to get rid of. Because I’ve been doing some landscaping, I asked if I could have them, which was the beginning of what can best be described as an arduous adventure—moving several large piles of heavy rocks into my backyard from the neighbor’s house a block away. One rainy evening while working on this, a retired teacher (also a neighbor) came by and commented that, “If our teachers could see you now they would be inspired by your hard work.” I chuckled at this comment, but, reflectively, I think this was a message that resonated for me and is important for all of us. Hard work is important. My parents taught me this, and I have never shied away from rolling up my sleeves and digging in. Whether by physical labor or the mental work needed to solve difficult community challenges, I’ve always appreciated the successes that can be accomplished when we put our greatest effort into that which we are passionate about.

Let’s face it, you can’t be an effective educator without working hard. Everyone in our VBCPS family, from our teachers to our custodians to our principals to our bus drivers—everyone works hard to make a difference every day for our students. I think we also need to know that we are in this together; that the effort each one us puts into our work is the same effort that the person next to us will put into their work and vice versa. When we build a culture like that, when we trust that we each are working hard to make a difference, then good things begin to happen for the division and for the children of this city. I hope to set that example. But I also recognize and hold in high esteem the thousands of educators across this city who start their busses, empty trash cans, cook breakfast, and head to their classrooms and schools ready to roll up their sleeves and dig in deep to ensure that each and every one of our students has the very best educational experience we can provide. I’m proud to be a part of that team.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Attended Region II Superintendent’s meeting, Month of the Military Child celebration, Pearls of Wisdom, Virginia Council on the Interstate Compact for the Education of Military Children and the Statewide K-12 Education Council meeting
  • Spoke at the VB Sports Club Jamboree, Virginia Beach Vision and the VB Bus Drivers Association meetings
  • Attended a meeting of City Council to hear presentation on budget
  • Visited EquiKids to observe our partnership with them
  • Met with the VDOE to discuss progress with our MOU concerning Bayside Middle School
  • Visited Thoroughgood Elementary School and Tallwood High School

The Week of Mar. 30 - Apr. 3

This week I had the honor of participating in the awards ceremony for The Art of Being a Military Child contest. Nearly 700 pieces of artwork were submitted by VBCPS students for display at Lynnhaven Mall, all interpreting what it means to be a military dependent and relevant to April’s national designation as Month of the Military Child.

Let’s be honest, you can’t grow up in Hampton Roads without knowing at least one person whose father, mother, brother, sister, etc., serves in one of the military branches. Nearly 30% of the students in Virginia Beach have a connection to a military member. That means that EVERY teacher and EVERY student in our school division at one point comes in contact with a child who has a parent or family member serving in the U.S. military. These soldiers and sailors, marines and airmen are members of our PTAs, volunteers with our schools and serve as mentors. Plus, dozens of commands and detachments are valued Partners in Education, providing resources and support to all of our students on an ongoing basis.

Still, we sometimes forget what being the child of a military family can mean, which is why art exhibits like the one at Lynnhaven Mall are so important. From parental deployments to the academic and social challenges that come with changing schools, military-connected children do face hardships. These struggles are visible in their artwork — the depiction of a welcome home embrace between father and child, a family holding hands and crying under an American flag— as is their patriotism and sense of honor and duty.

Virginia Beach has long been committed to providing the needed support, resources and enriching programs that enhance the educational experiences of all of its military-connected students. We provide training to our teachers and staff on strategies and best practices for working with military families and we maintain important working relationships with military family representatives from nearby bases so that we are planning and implementing services and programs that meet the needs of children of servicemen and women. More than 10,000 of our students receive support services from our Military Family Life Counselors. That is a true testament to this school division’s dedication to our military-connected students and their families. It is important work.

But that isn’t to say that what we do for our military-connected students is any different than what we should be doing for all of our students. Shouldn’t every single student have social and emotional support in school? Shouldn’t each benefit from a learning environment that is catered to his or her needs? If we took this truly personalized approach to teaching and learning then all of our students, including those who so proudly support their military-connected families, would be met with success.

When students show up at our school doors, no matter who their parents are, where they live or have been stationed, no matter what challenges they are facing, we have an obligation to provide them the best education possible. That is our duty and honor. I believe strongly that we must focus on making sure that every student in our division feels safe, feels loved and learns something new every single day, military-connected or not. That is how we fulfill our obligations.

We know that we must answer the call to provide the best support possible for all of our students. If you can make the time, I encourage you to visit Lynnhaven Mall this month and see the work our military-connected students created and the powerful articulation of their messages through art. It is a great reminder that military-connected children are a vital piece of our student-body and this community.

The Week of Mar. 22-28

The best part of any day I spend as superintendent is the part where I get to interact with our students. So you can imagine the joy I felt this week when I had the privilege of participating in Official for a Day.

This event highlights the great city/schools partnership and brings members of both organizations together to teach the next generation of leaders about local government. It’s been around long enough that several of our own principals remember shadowing an official back in their high school days — not to highlight anyone’s age — and yet the lessons it provides are still both relevant and necessary.

Leadership training is an essential piece of the education process. And since getting an education in America is an incomparable gift, it is vital we teach our students about the obligation we have to give back to the community that made that gift possible. Official for a Day provides a perfect opportunity for us to teach students about servant leadership. It is also an opportunity for the adults involved to be inspired by this up-and-coming generation of mayors, attorneys, educators and community leaders.

The group of students we had shadowing our team in central office were amazing. While each had their individual interests and motivations, they all approached the day with an eagerness to learn and to give back. I had the great pleasure of spending my day with Natalie Napolitano, a senior at First Colonial High School. Natalie is in the Legal Studies Academy, is president of the Citywide SCA and is an active member of the Foreign Policy Working Group at FCHS. Beyond that she is well-spoken, wise beyond her years and a truly positive example of the kind of graduates we are producing here in VBCPS. In earnest, I probably learned more from my time with Natalie Tuesday than she learned from me.

While on the surface, Tuesday’s event was about introducing students to leadership opportunities, at its core, it was about something much more. Official for Day gives those of us in leadership positions an important glimpse into the future. It reminds us that everything we do should be about what is best for the children of this community. And it tells us that with students like Natalie at the helm, our future is breathtakingly bright.

You see as leaders, our students help to build the capacity for greatness around them. They understand that they must be open to learning new ideas about how they can make an impact on their school, the community and on others. They also know that they can’t lead alone — that they must listen to others and share ideas. Each student I talked with on Tuesday sincerely wants to make a meaningful impact that will benefit those who come behind them. That mindsight is awe-inspiring. It is also a mindsight we as adults sometimes forget.

I have to say too that while we had a lot of fun, the most important thing we did here in central office on Official for a Day was listen.

Winston Churchill once said that “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” This is important for a leader to understand because at the heart of it all, leadership is about others as much as it is about you. After all, leaders without followers are just people out taking a walk.

So on Official for a Day Senior Staff took the opportunity to sit down and listen to our students. We asked them some key questions about curriculum and personalized learning. Their input was nothing short of remarkable. For example, they talked about their desire to be challenged in their coursework, but they also addressed the need for students to be able to work at difference paces within the same class. Most importantly, perhaps, our students reminded us that personalized learning wasn’t possible unless our teachers were really interested in getting to know their students. Strong teacher-student relationships and a willingness to inventory student interests came up again and again during our conversation with these young leaders. The suggestions and insight we gleaned were important and will factor into our work to further develop what personalized learning should and will look like in Virginia Beach. These great young minds are helping to make a meaningful impact that will benefit those who come behind them.

I went home Tuesday feeling reinvigorated and hopeful. Hopeful for what we can provide for our students here in Virginia Beach and hopeful for what our students can in turn do for this community.

What a blessing it is for us to do this work, but more importantly, what a blessing it is to know that our students will one day lead this community. I hope you too, can see how bright that future will be.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Participated in Official for a Day
  • Attended the We Share One World Jr. Event at Tallwood Elementary School
  • Was interviewed by a student journalist from Ocean Lakes High School
  • Visited An Achievable Dream Academy at Seatack Elementary School
  • Conducted a learning walk at Cooke Elementary School
  • Attended the Meet and Greet at Green Run High School
  • Met with the Teacher Forum
  • Attended the Hampton Roads Business Hall of Fame event at the Convention Center
  • Met with Dr. Ed Brickell
  • Held a Student Advisory Group meeting
  • Met with Louise Strayhorn from the organization From One Hand to Another
  • Spoke at and attended the opening ceremony of the All City Music Festival
  • Visited with the following Board Members: Dan Edwards and Dottie Holtz

The Week of Mar. 15-21

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I have to admit I was nervous. Not the “will the day go the way I want” kind of nervous, but more along the lines of “will I survive high school the second time around” kind of nerves that stir in your stomach at 7 a.m. as you enter a high school not as a superintendent, but as a student for a day.

On Friday, I strapped a backpack on over a purple Tallwood High School T-shirt and took on the role of student. My gracious host, junior Jason “Goose” Goosen, met me at the door promptly at 7:10 a.m. and we headed off to our first block of the day, Math Analysis. Jason said he liked that he started his day with his toughest class. After the first five minutes I could understand why. For that early in the morning, the class was high energy. The teacher had students dancing to demonstrate math terminology, and then went into a rapid fire succession of problems she referred to as “easy-trig.” For me it was anything but easy! Not even halfway through the class I was pretty lost, but Jason and his classmates powered through problems, asking probing questions and demonstrating various ways to approach solving the equations. This was teaching at its best- energetic, exciting and student focused. The block seemed to fly by.

Up next was Honors English where we worked in groups to dissect Ralph Waldo Emerson essays. Students made meaningful philosophical connections between transcendentalism and the social norms of today. We read independently, talked in groups and sorted themes, then applied what we learned in a short writing assignment. There was a fluid rhythm to the class and everyone’s contributions to the conversation were welcomed and validated.

From English Jason escorted me across campus through crowded halls and we chatted about his love for Tallwood and the appreciation he feels for the education he is receiving there. He was honest, sincere and most importantly invested in his school. Jason laughed when students spotted us and asked him if I was his dad – he stands a good five-inches taller than me- and gave casual waves and head nods to the numerous students who welcomed him with a friendly “Goose” from across the hall.

I must admit, his spirts were much higher than mine as we turned onto the gym hallway and made our way to the locker rooms to dress out for PE. For Jason, this third block of the day provides weight-training and conditioning, something athletes like him love even in their junior year of high school. For me, the erstwhile band kid who is not so athletically inclined, PE sounded, quite honestly, painful.

It was, but in a good way.

The coach loved his job and his students loved doing the work. We moved from one station to the next, lifting, squatting, pressing weights at our own speed. Then we moved into a mat room where with guided-instruction we worked out as a class, each row of students acting as a built in support system, encouraging each other to push harder and stick with it. At one point while I was contemplating whether or not I could even attempt the form of planking my line was doing, several students near me hollered in support, “You got this, Dr. Spence” and “Don’t give up, keep pushing, Dr. Spence.” If only I had that kind of support system when I went to the gym on the weekends!

Now you hear a lot in modern media about teens and how they treat each other. Whether it’s the “we wear pink on Wednesdays” Mean Girls mentality or the overly exaggerated stereotype of Friday Night Lights football players, teens often get a bad rap. But heading back to high school, to that dreaded gym class, gave me a very important perspective on teen social skills today. They are by and large inclusive and accepting. It would have been easy enough for them to ignore my presence in the room or to be uncomfortably quiet and awkward because the superintendent was crashing their class. Instead they made me feel as though I was part of a team and that made all the difference in the world. Not every student in that class was an athlete, some were trying to get in shape, others just wanted a place to work out. Regardless, they all lifted each other up. It was an exhausting but spirit-lifting 90 minutes.

Now that’s not to say that all students are accepted and fit in. At lunch as I ate my salad at a table of mostly football players, I did notice a few younger students off in the corners eating alone. Did they do that on purpose, or were they alone because no one has invited them in? That I can’t say. But I can say for the most part that high school students today seem much more willing to welcome social differences than back when I was high school.

The last block of the day was Introduction to Engineering. Like the previous PE class, this was a male-student only class and I immediately wished that more young ladies recognized this course as a viable pathway to college and/or a career. (Note to self: we need to work as a division to change the perception of some of our pathways as being male-only or female-only avenues.) We were met by the teacher who quickly provided directions for the class assignment of constructing a support system from one 11”X17” sheet of green paper to hold a tower of books. We were then released to work in pairs where students were drawing, constructing and testing their theories. Our instructor acted as a consultant, moving from group to group and providing meaningful feedback, asking probing questions and encouraging us to think outside the box. I may be bragging just a bit when I mention that Jason and I now hold the Tallwood record for book stacking at 151 books on our platform. I’d love to take the credit, but I must admit that Jason’s attention to detail and unwillingness to let me cut for fear the paper columns wouldn’t be the same size are most likely the real reasons we won.

At the end of the day as I said my goodbyes to Jason I made a mental note that I need to let his parents know what a wonderful young man they are raising- though I am certain they are well aware of what a great kid he is and how successful he will be. I also decided that while I will always be a Green Run Stallion, I now will “bleed purple” for my Tallwood friends who gave me such a great experience during my second run at high school. Most importantly, I walked away from this experience so proud of the kind of teaching and learning taking place at Tallwood. It was clear that this was a normal day, not something special put on for show for the superintendent. To know that our students are having that quality of an experience and that our teachers are putting that much passion into their classrooms every day, confirms that we are on the right track here in Virginia Beach. If all of our high schools are like what I experienced at Tallwood, we are certainly well on our way to becoming the premier school division in the country.

I firmly believe every administrator should walk in the shoes of a student for a day. It provides a clear and evaluative window through which to look at the quality of instruction and quality of life children have in our schools. There is no better way to understand what is being asked of students every day, what is expected of them and how they feel about the process, than to sit alongside them and experience a day in their lives. By doing so, administrators may learn something new about our schools, about our students and about themselves.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Met with members of the Strategic Growth Areas to discuss Envision 2040
  • Visited First Colonial High School
  • Attended ACCESS Board Meeting in Portsmouth
  • Attended the workshop and regular meeting of the Board
  • Attended Elementary League Meeting
  • Attended HRETA Superintendents Advisory Council Meeting
  • Met with city manager and staff to discuss budget
  • Attended reception for National Board Certified Teachers
  • Attended Middle School League Meeting
  • Shadowed Tallwood High School student


The Week of Mar. 8-14

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Job shadowing. The phrase conjures up images of “take your kids to work” or office interns following you around learning about what professions might be of interest. For me, however, job shadowing holds an entirely different meaning. These last months have taught me that, in order to make the best possible decisions about the direction of the school division, I need to truly understand the work that each and every member of the VBCPS family does in the service of children and our community. That’s why I’ve scheduled a series of job shadowing days where I will spend time with members of our team who do important and widely different jobs all across the city. In the next weeks, I will write about these experiences to share my impressions with you. I am looking forward to these opportunities to work side by side with our maintenance personnel, our bus drivers and transportation team, our custodians and our cafeteria workers, for example. And this week I will even have the opportunity to be a high school student again. But last week, I had the privilege to work alongside some folks who meet students where the rubber hits the road in our school division—in our classrooms.

I had the chance to work in kindergarten and first grade classrooms at Diamond Springs Elementary and in a fourth grade classroom at Bettie F. Williams Elementary. Later in the week, I was able to spend time with teachers at Larkspur Middle School and work with students in seventh grade math and the school’s AVID program. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed my experience, and how appreciative I am for the teachers who welcomed me with such graciousness into their classrooms.

There were, of course, several take-aways for me. First and foremost, our teachers work hard. Really hard. In each elementary classroom I was in, students moved from learning station to learning station following a smooth routine established by the teacher. I worked with students at one station during small group instruction time in math, and saw every student in the classroom in less than an hour as we worked on error analysis and the teacher reinforced important skills at her table. I worked on the carpet with kindergarten students as they connected fractions to words to pictures. I worked with fourth graders as, in less than an hour, they used crayon shavings to recreate the rock cycle and describe their learning on foldable study guides. I loved being in the primary classrooms. It’s amazing to watch these teachers and kids do their thing. You can feel the love for learning in the room. It’s also incredible to imagine. I have a birthday party coming up, and we are worried about how we will handle seven or eight friends in our house for an hour or two. Double or triple that number for twice the amount of time and you get a sense of what our teachers are doing every day. I always said I could never teach elementary school for that reason. But after a day in their classroom, I think I could—not without a lot of hand holding at first, I suspect! It was a wondrous experience, and I loved every minute of it.

At the middle school, I tutored students as they worked independently on understanding different types of quadrilaterals while their teacher reinforced the learning with a small group of students, and here, too, they rotated through stations to work. As soon as that class ended, a new class of students arrived for additional math support and began working through a similar set of reinforcement exercises under his watchful eye. With two full classes in 90 minutes, I marveled at his patience and stamina—and remarked afterward that I could easily see how five more tutors in every classroom could be put to effective use every day. In the AVID class, I watched as students worked through mental Olympics stations that taxed their thinking and encouraged them to look past the first right answer and find a better solution to the problem, all while the teacher moved from table to table encouraging and questioning and challenging her students—and pushing me to do the same for them. By the time dismissal was upon us, I was both energized by what I saw and quite frankly ready for the day to end.

And there were more take-aways, too. Our students also work hard. They were pushed and challenged and time and again I saw our students rising to those challenges, thinking through hard questions and pushing through misconceptions and wrong answers to learn something new. I saw no lazy students because I was in classrooms where laziness was not tolerated. Our students are also good people. Kids today get a bad rap from some people—accused of everything from anti-social behavior to lack of interest in school or anything important other than video games. I saw sweet, curious students who were respectful toward me, the other adults in the room, and their peers. Those instances where students did fall off task, I watched master teachers refocus them, but by and large they were curious and diligent in their work. And, our classrooms are not the classrooms you remember when you were in school. Students move between stations and are challenged to not only learn new skills but to apply them working together with their peers and also independently (under the watchful eye of their teachers). Student learning is active, not passive. I watched over and over again as teachers thought of creative ways to engage their students in the thinking and learning process—from the use of manipulatives in math to logic problems in AVID to creative experiences in science. From the earliest years, we are fostering independence and challenging students to think.

There is no doubt but that we have more work to do. I worried about the level of reading that I saw some of our students doing in the elementary schools, for example, and watched as students struggled with math concepts like parallelism and congruency in middle school. But I know after spending this time with our teachers—time that only reinforces what I have been learning across our schools these last nine months—that we are moving in the right direction and, with focus and effort, will solve the challenges we face. For this I am grateful, and as a community, we should lift our teachers up and celebrate the work they do for our children every day.

Highlights from the Superintendent’s Calendar

  • Attended Together We Can annual breakfast
  • Attended Special Education Advisory Council Meeting
  • Met with national K-12 representatives from Microsoft to discuss entrepreneurship initiatives
  • Interviewed on Kathy Lewis’ Hearsay on WHRO
  • Visited with our Language Arts Design Team as it began its work on rethinking the Elementary Language Arts Curriculum
  • Interviewed by David Alan with Channel 13 for an upcoming story about education polling done by CNU
  • Hosted two breakfast meetings with elementary school principals
  • Hosted a meeting of the Teacher Assembly
  • Facilitated a table discussion with Brickell Scholars for the VB Rotary Club
  • Visited the following: Lynnhaven and Kempsville elementary schools (breakfast meetings); Bayside High School and Larkspur Middle School (learning walks); Diamond Springs and Bettie F. Williams elementary schools and Larkspur Middle School (job shadowing)
  • Met/spoke with the following Board Members: Bev Anderson (scheduled meeting)


The Week of Mar. 1-7

I had the great privilege of attending the change of command ceremony this week at NAS Oceana. It was a terrific event celebrating those who serve our nation. But one of the funny parts of the event brought me right back to the work we do in education. The outgoing installation commander, Capt. Kit Chope, remarked, amongst other things, he used to like snow before taking the helm at Oceana. Well Capt. Chope, to put it succinctly, I know the feeling.

While it seems so strange to say this, there are few decisions for a superintendent that are as difficult and controversial as the decision to close, or not to close, schools when winter weather strikes. The reasons for this are many, of course, and everyone seems to have a strong opinion. Time out of school is instructional time lost, so we should go to school. But send kids to school with ice or snow on the road and you are risking their safety. Of course, what if it’s just a little ice or snow? Then what? Or what if the weather forecast is calling for snow and ice, but nothing is happening? Do you risk not making a call? And how long can you wait as anxious parents (I know, because I am one) think about the next day’s child care issues? No matter what, there will probably never be a right answer to the question, “To close, or not to close.” That said, there is a lot of work and thought that goes into the decision. In an effort to share some of that thinking, we’ve uploaded a video to our weather closings page, here:


Of course, while snow days aren’t fun for superintendents, they aren’t all bad. For many, they are a chance to get out and play, or to stay in and reconnect with family over a cup of hot cocoa. And, to find a real silver lining in the cloud, how about this interesting story out of Boston:

http://www.thepennyhoarder.com/how-to-sell-snow-for-89-a-box-ship-snow- yo/?utm_source=newsletter0302&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=snow89

The story details a Boston entrepreneur who is making money ($13,000 and counting) shipping actual snow to those in balmier climates like Florida who rarely get to experience the white stuff. While amusing, what I liked about this story is the lesson it has to teach us: there are entrepreneurial moments all-around us, and all it takes is the right mindset to tap into them. How did most of us spend our snow days? In Virginia Beach schools, we are pushing our students to think about the opportunities all around them to solve problems both big—like hunger and poverty and sustainability—and small—like how to get snow to someone who has never seen it.

Highlights from the Superintendent's Calendar

  • Attended the Mayor’s State of the City Address
  • Participated as a panelist and brought greetings to the National Green Schools Conference hosted here in Virginia Beach
  • Met with representatives from Together We Can to discuss our partnership
  • Met with Reverend Coleman of the Ministers Alliance to discuss ways to strengthen our faith-based partnerships
  • Attended a Green Schools Conference reception at the Brock Environmental Center
  • Attended the Change of Command Ceremony at NAS Oceana
  • Met with a representative from Sen. Warner’s office to discuss reauthorization of ESEA
  • Participated in two Google Hangouts with French students from First Colonial High School
  • Visited the following schools: Brookwood ES (read to students as a part of National Read Across America day—the picture above is from one of our schools which was celebrating Dr. Seuss!); Kings Grant, Kingston and Linkhorn Park elementary school (learning walks)
  • Met with the following Board Members: Dan Edwards, Ashley McLeod, Carolyn Weems (scheduled meetings); attended the workshop and regular meeting of the Board

The Week of Feb. 2-6

Last week I had the opportunity to share with the Board the first glance at our budget challenges as we prepare for the 2015-16 school year. There is, for the Board, no more critical conversation than this. If our school division is a train, then the budget is the engine that drives that train. If you have the train pointed in the right direction, have good conductors and engineers and ensure everyone is sitting in the right seats, you're making great progress as a school division. But without a working engine that progress is obviously stymied. That's how important having a sound budget is.

The decisions that are reflected in the budget are difficult ones. They impact every facet of the organization, and, moreover, they have significant implications for our community. Because of this, as the Board recognizes and as we discussed at our recent retreat, the development and adoption of the budget is one of the most significant responsibilities the Board has. I also recognize how challenging this work is, so please know how seriously staff and I take our responsibility to present an accurate and thoughtful estimate of needs. In that estimate, we've captured what I believe are our significant opportunities and our significant challenges, and we've presented a balanced budget that reflects the need to account for a continue funding shortfall based on declining enrollment, a reduction in federal dollars and increasing costs associated with health care and utilities, to name just a few. Now the difficult work begins. Now the Board must decide if the proposed strategies for balancing the budget are the best strategies and how it will address unmet needs, such as my recommended 5 percent overall salary increase for employees.

If you saw the editorial and articles in the Virginian-Pilot about school budgets, you undoubtedly noted that our Board is not alone in facing these difficult decisions. Veteran Chesapeake Superintendent Jim Roberts was quoted in a story on regional budgets as saying their budget, "is the most difficult we have ever done," and Norfolk schools are facing a shortfall of about $7 million. But I believe our Board can and should be leaders in setting our division on firm footing—on reducing our reliance on reversion dollars and securing competitive salaries for our employees. Rightfully, the editorial on our budget acknowledged the challenge in front of us, noting that for years, "the city has enjoyed a broad citizen consensus that supported extensive services, exceptional schools and well compensated employees" but that, "Maintaining the Virginia Beach consensus requires more serious effort from civic leaders now more than ever before. That work must begin immediately." And so it must. I look forward to our workshop Tuesday and to the conversation ahead.

Highlights from the Superintendent's Calendar

  • Responded to a number of media requests for interviews concerning the budget and the launching of the Student Discipline Task Force
  • Attended Region II Superintendents Meeting
  • Met with representatives from ODU's Darden College of Education to discuss mutual support needs
  • Hosted a meeting of the Teacher Assembly
  • Held Senior Staff retreat
  • Visited Alanton and Trantwood ES
  • Attended the workshop and regular meeting of the Board and presented the Superintendent's Estimate of Needs in preparation for Board budget deliberations

The Week of Jan. 25-31

Sometimes you have to know where you've been in order to know where you're going.

Last week I released my post-entry plan, Charting the Course: For Ever Student, Every Day, which details the input I received from numerous students, parents, staff and community stakeholders during my first six months as superintendent. The plan also summarizes my observations after conducting an extensive analysis of student data and reviewing critical division documents, processes and practices. Most importantly, it outlines the work priorities that lay ahead for us as a school division.

While I am passionate about the work outlined in Charting the Course, I don't think my plan is earth shattering or holds any major surprises. It is in earnest, a simple plan to move the needle from good to great. Anyone with any connection to our school division grasps that VBCPS is a top-tier public education system with room to grow and flourish. I certainly don't need to tell you the numerous success stories of our schools. People here seem to innately understand that how well we educate the children of this community will have a lasting impact on the future of Virginia Beach. As such, they are invested in helping us succeed. Coming into this job, I knew this school division had a commitment to educate every child, every day. But just like with all great organizations, more work remains to be done. My first six months helped to give me a clear picture of where VBCPS has been, so that we may chart the course for where we must now go.

As Maya Angelou so aptly said, "When you know better, you do better."

This is the case for us here in Virginia Beach - I heard it time and time again from teachers, parents and students, from civic leaders to business men and women to our faith-based community. We not only want better for the children of Virginia Beach, we know that we can do better for them.

Our new strategic framework, Compass to 2020: Charting the Course provides clear goals and measures for our progress. It is a solid foundation for the work that will move this school division forward and help to ensure that every student who graduates from our schools is college and career ready – that they have multiple pathways before them. We certainly have the opportunity and, more importantly, the obligation to improve how and what our students learn. We expect parents to send their children to our buildings with the faith that we will do what is best for each and every one of them. I intend for us to live up to those expectations.

So how exactly will we do that?

Let's start by agreeing that in every decision we make moving forward, we must focus on what matters most – the children of this city. We will renew our commitment to providing access to rigorous coursework such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Career and Technical Education – not just for the traditionally top performers, but for ALL of our students. We will meet students' needs – be they academic, social or emotional – and meet them where they are and learn best, including a commitment to using the technology with which they are most familiar. We will ensure our staff has the cultural capacity and the will to close ALL gaps for ALL student demographic groups, and we will provide VBCPS employees with a work environment where they feel valued and encouraged to grow professionally.

The work ahead of us is urgent and important, but I believe we have the right people in place to make our vision for VBCPS a reality. Over the next few weeks we will have difficult discussions around our budget and how we can maximize our funding to preserve valuable staff and resources. We will have to work together to make sure that every dollar counts toward meeting the needs of our students and the goals of our strategic plan. These conversations will not be easy, but I know that if we keep our eye constantly on the goal of ensuring every student is given every possibility every day, we will make the right choices for VBCPS.

Highlights from the Superintendent's Calendar

  • Attended and spoke at retirement reception for David Pace
  • Conferenced with representatives from Microsoft to discuss expanded support for entrepreneur efforts in our classrooms
  • Attended the city manager's annual report to the CBDA
  • Hosted two employee budget forum meetings (one at Cox High School, one at the ATC)
  • Read to students at New Castle ES, Kempsville ES and Kempsville Meadows ES
  • Attended and spoke at the Service Awards Dinner
  • Hosted a breakfast meeting with our faith-based partners
  • Visited/spoke with the following Board members: Leonard Tengco, Carolyn Rye, Sharon Felton (scheduled meetings); attended retreat with School Board and senior staff

The Week of Jan. 19-23

Learning is, by nature, social.

If you think back to your favorite class or favorite lesson in school, you likely will remember a classroom rich with peer interactions, lively conversation and collaborative opportunities to share your thoughts and express your ideas around a given subject. There, probably more than in any other class, you had a clear understanding of the expectations for your learning and you were an active participant in the process.

As educators, we know intuitively that the ideal classroom must embody collaborative learning that is both rigorous and meaningful— that we must encourage accountable talk for the sake of making the purpose of each lesson clear to students, to focus their attention and help to build understanding. Yet so often we are reluctant to turn the classroom reigns over to our students for that rich peer-to-peer instruction and conversation because we fear a loss of control. That fear can override our gut instincts and in turn stifle our students' opportunity to be continuous learners who are in charge of their learning experiences.

Thankfully, I've seen firsthand teachers in Virginia Beach who are not only using accountable talk in their classrooms, but modeling it and sharing it as a best practice for their colleagues. Last week I had the privilege of visiting an extended-day kindergarten classroom at Christopher Farms Elementary School where the teacher led the most powerful math lesson I've seen since joining the division. Students were working on their teen numbers and tally marks in small group math centers. These inquisitive young students had a clear understanding of the task at hand and were tackling some challenging concepts. At the end of the small group sessions, the teacher brought the students back into whole group around the classroom rug. What immediately struck me was the way these students- identified as the most struggling in their grade based on their placement in an extended day class- were using numeracy language and the learning targets to discuss what they had focused on in class. This accountable talk gave the teacher a clear check for understanding and the students a sense of accomplishment for meeting the goals of the lesson. The school administration knew they were seeing a great lesson in action too, because they snagged a few minutes of video to share with other teachers.

You see accountable talk is rooted in the idea that you can and must provide every single student, no matter their ability or learning level, with a clear understanding of the content they are learning. After all, the rich conversation of a collaborative learning environment is similar to the work and social environment our students will encounter when they graduate. And It is never too early to provide our students with the tools they need to be successful when they leave us. As we begin to delve deeper into developing work plans that address the challenges of numeracy and closing achievement gaps across the division, I know that we can turn to classrooms like room 10 at Christopher Farms as examples of how to do it right.

Highlights from the Superintendent's Calendar

  • Attended the Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Leaders' Breakfast
  • Attended the Elementary Principals League meeting
  • Participated in a budget meeting with members of the School Board and the mayor and vice mayor
  • Met with my Student Advisory Group
  • Attended and met with High School Assistant Principal Collaboration
  • Held a Budget Forum Meeting at Landstown High School
  • Attended a breakfast meeting with elementary school principals
  • Visited Strawbridge and Christopher Farms elementary schools, Salem and Kempsville middle schools
  • Attended the scheduled School Board workshop and regular meeting
  • Met with School Board members Dan Edwards and Betsy Taylor

The Week of Jan. 11-17

As we celebrate this week the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am struck by the lessons we in education have to learn from his work. To be sure, there is much we can learn from his thinking on the purpose of education and its place in our society. It was King, after all, who said that, "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education." Spoken all those many years ago, nothing seems more timely or true today as we seek to define what it is we hope our students will achieve before they leave our schools.

To be sure, we echo in our daily conversations the need for our students to learn 21st century skills—and we expound upon this by encouraging the teaching of rigorous concepts and the development of critical thinking skills. But I think, too, we mustn't lose the message King had for us about the equally important task we have in education to ensure that this learning is paired with the development of character. For King, education was an opportunity to teach ourselves what it meant to be a free people who cared about one another. It was an opportunity to teach tolerance and kindness and love for our fellow man. It was an opportunity to consider the fundamental ways that society can either lift up or push down, the ways that equality can strengthen us and inequality can divide us. For King, education could not be freed of the responsibility to guide not only the academic but also the moral development of our nation's young people. Without embracing these dual purposes, he argued, education would be a vain exercise that would ultimately not serve our country well. As he succinctly put it, "Education without morals is like a ship without a compass, merely wandering nowhere."

But King's legacy has extended beyond thinking about these issues. King, through his life and work, has called us to action. In March 1965, King and activists from across the country gathered in Selma, Alabama to march to Montgomery and demonstrate their desire to exercise their constitutional right to vote. On "Bloody Sunday," March 7, state troopers wielding billy clubs and tear gas attacked 600marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge as the marchers left Selma. At that moment, King had a choice; turn away from the violence and go back to Georgia, or test his beliefs through action. On March 9, state troopers stood aside as King and others crossed that bridge. In a third march later that month, King and 25,000 followers finished a march from Selma to the State Capitol at Montgomery in what was to become a seminal moment of the civil rights era. Had King turned back, his belief may have been in called into question, his words and convictions drained of their power. But he did not. His courage was a call to action for our country.

Today in education we face a similar call to action. We are faced with a growing student population that is dealing with greater challenges than ever before. In Virginia today, nearly 41 percent of our students are economically disadvantaged, for example, and we know that poverty is one of the single greatest variables negatively impacting student achievement. The achievement gap that exists between these students and their peers who do not face similar challenges remains despite concerted efforts to close that gap. Similar differences in achievement exist for students who speak English as a second language, students with disabilities and students of color. This isn't a Virginia Beach issue or a Virginia issue; it's a national issue. But we have an obligation to tackle these issues head on. We have an obligation to take action—to dedicate our resources, our time, and our best thinking to making sure every student, no matter what the circumstances, reaches his or her full potential and our high expectations.

And so will we act? To be sure, we face incredible obstacles. They are not as insidious as billy clubs, but they are nonetheless very real. Diminishing resources, challenging policies and accountability models that do not reflect current realities, increasing expectations that go well beyond teaching the basics in our classrooms. All of these and more, these are real obstacles. But with effort and will and decisive action, these obstacles can be overcome and the challenge of providing a world-class education can be met. As King admonished, "The time is always right to do what is right." And so we will act. This is our only choice; this is our moral imperative.

Highlights from the Superintendent's Calendar

  • Met with city staff to discuss the expansion of Virginia Beach Reads, a program supporting tutoring for early literacy in our elementary schools
  • Attended high school principals league meeting
  • Met with City Manager to discuss the budget
  • Hosted first employee budget forum at Kempsville High School
  • Attended District Management Council conference on using big data to drive division decision making
  • Visited Salem High School
  • Met with School Board Member Joel McDonald

The Week of Jan. 5-11

Back in November, Time magazine ran an article debating the merits of teacher tenure. Nothing new here, right? Whether or not teachers deserve tenure and whether or not teachers with tenure who can't be fired are the reason for failing schools is a long debate amongst those seeking to understand how to overcome the challenges associated with improving American education. Still, the cover for the article, pictured right, did create quite a stir, with its image of a gavel smashing an apple, and the words "It's nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher" emblazoned across the cover.

And in truth, considering that most of those who saw this cover at the newsstand or in the grocery store would likely never read the article (which provided a fairly balanced perspective on the state of teaching today), it seems fair to be concerned about the perception this might create in the mind of the American public about teachers and the teaching profession.

Are we, after all, a profession filled with rotten apples? Are our students doomed to an existence of drudgery because they face a steady army of lackluster teachers who, because they've gotten a contract, are mailing it in, giving up on children, and putting their feet up on the desk while a movie plays in the background? It would hardly be surprising if Americans felt this way. This cover notwithstanding, the teaching profession in general gets a bad rap in popular culture. Consider some of the more famous teachers you remember. The economics teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Or, more recently, Jack Black's character in School of Rock. Even the best teacher stories tend to be about heroic struggles against systems designed to hurt rather than help children (think about Robin Williams' John Keating in Dead Poets Society or Edward James Olmos' Jaime Escalante in Stand and Deliver or Hillary Swank's Erin Gruwell in Freedom Writers'. In an excellent New York Times article about this (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/16/magazine/not-so-hot-for-teacher.html?pagewanted=all& r=0) Elizabeth Allsop opines that we have difficulty imagining the teacher as a real person rather than as an icon or a bad joke.

The truth is that by and large teachers are neither rotten apples nor heroic conquerors. In Myth: Incompetent Staff Can't be Fired (http://www.aasa.org/content.aspx?id=35826), Gene Glass points out in a concise and compelling way that the myth that our schools are filled with incompetent teachers who can't be fired just simply doesn't make sense or resonate with the facts about teacher employment today. And, while teachers might be considered by some to be everyday heroes, most teachers would tell you they are just here because they love children and believe in being part of a better future.

I, for one, do not subscribe to the idea that our schools are full of bad teachers. And I do not believe that bad teachers cannot be fired. I believe most who cannot teach self-select in the first few years to leave the profession and those who don't are counseled out by competent supervisors—as Glass reminds us, almost 40 percent of teachers leave the profession within the first four or five years. Does this mean that there will not be exceptional cases where difficult teachers prove remarkably resistant to change and resilient in their staying power? Of course not. Every profession and organization deals with these issues, but I do believe they are the exception and not the rule. And by the way, our parents and community agree with me. Time and again surveys about our schools tell us that parents trust in and are proud of our teachers.

Suggesting that our teachers are not rotten doesn't mean we don't have room to improve, but what I also believe is that our teaching corps is our greatest asset if we intend to improve student achievement through instructional practice. Frankly, as we continue to refine our expectations for classroom learning, I believe most of our teachers want to and can rise to meet those expectations because like me, our teachers know we can all get better at our jobs. Yes, as an organization, we have a responsibility to build every teacher's capacity to do his or her very best every day for students. And yes, we have a responsibility to hold our teachers and ourselves accountable for improved classroom instruction and learning outcomes. But I think, too that rather than being quick to blame, given the tremendous challenges our teachers face and the tremendous effort required to teach in today's classrooms, we also all have a responsibility to honor and celebrate the many daily acts of kindness, growth and excellence that happen here in VBCPS because of our amazing teachers.

Highlights from the Superintendent's Calendar

  • Hosted a breakfast meeting for elementary school principals
  • Attended the Winter Reception and gave a State of the Division report, along with Farrell Hanzaker, at a joint meeting of the VBAESP and VBASSP
  • Met with Lynn Clements, Executive Director of the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center
  • Attended the African-American Male Summit
  • Attended an organizational meeting of the VBCPS Discipline Task Force
  • Spoke at the citywide Principals Meeting
  • Met with staff and members of Teachers Forum to discuss concerns about expectations for schools in improvement
  • Visited the following schools: Lynnhaven, Alanton and Bayside elementary schools, Virginia Beach and Corporate Landing middle schools and Kellam High School
  • Attended the workshop and organizational meetings of the board

The Week of Dec. 15-19

Well, this month marks the one year anniversary of the decision for me to join VBCPS, and what a great year it has been for me (hope you feel the same!). Honestly, as I sit here and reflect, it's hard to believe so much has happened in such a short period of time, especially these last six months. Of course, one of the more interesting moments was the opportunity to meet with my Student Advisory Council, which happened just this week. What an amazing group of students. Representing all of the high schools, these leaders were selected to represent students from every walk of life. Students at the meeting represented the Diversity Ambassadors, the Leadership Workshop, and students who were active in many ways in their schools—SCA, DECA, etc., or students who were just seen by their principals as leaders in other ways. It was remarkable to listen to them, and the good news is you will get a chance too as well.

At our meeting, the students came to consensus on three challenges they feel are facing our schools, and they joined groups to work on those challenges. Their task is to study the issue, develop recommendations for taking action on the issue, and then presenting that to the Board for its consideration later in the school year. The three challenges? Instructional practices that engage students, developing strong student-teacher relationships, and listening to student voices. It's wonderful and telling that their concerns in many ways mirror those of our community as it has worked with VBCPS to develop Compass to 2020.

I am excited about this work, as I know you are, and I could go on and on about it, but I would be remiss if I didn't focus on something else of terrific importance — the holiday season. In nearly every country and seemingly every religious tradition in the world, this time of year provides a chance to thank those we love and give to them gifts of affection and appreciation. These gifts come in many forms — from the expensive items we seem to count on these days to the handicrafts our children share with us, reminding us of simpler times. And, there are those gifts that simply cannot be purchased, like the simple acts of faith and charity that inspire us each year. Then there are those gifts that come as moments to be treasured, gifts that come in the form of people we admire and gifts disguised as opportunities placed before us. This holiday season, let us share in all of these gifts. Enjoy the expression of delight a gift given can bring to others; revel in the heart touched by acts of kindness and charity; and seek to appreciate the gifts all around us each day. I am blessed to work in Virginia Beach and consider the opportunity you've given me to serve our children and to serve you to be amongst the greatest gifts I have ever received. Happy holidays from the bottom of my heart!

The Week of Dec. 8-12

This week I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission. It was a meeting held in honor of the 66th Annual International Human Rights Day, and it was well-attended both by our city's Human Rights Commissioners as well as civic leadership and thoughtful citizens from across the city. The meeting was organized so that table groups formed to discuss human rights challenges in a number of different areas. We were asked to share our best thinking on the challenges and next steps associated with education, the LGBT community, and the Living in the Shadows community (those who live "under the radar" in our community such as undocumented persons, convicted felons, the homeless, the mentally ill, etc.). Needless to say, the conversation was both enlightening and challenging.

As each table group reported out on their discussion, what was perhaps most interesting to me was the degree to which most of the conversation kept coming back to public education. Identified challenges included addressing minority student achievement, working with parents in our communities to help them understand how to interact with the public school system, being sensitive to the needs of homeless children in our schools, registering undocumented students, providing a safe environment for all students — including LGBT students who've experienced significant bullying and students from religious minorities, providing young people with more positive minority role models (including teachers), dealing with the mentally ill student, and ensuring that issues of poverty don't impact student achievement.

There were many conversations about who was responsible for addressing these myriad issues. I took heart that so many in the room believed these were shared responsibilities. The general belief was that parents, community and government agencies, faith leaders, non-­-profits and the schools shared responsibility for ensuring that the many challenges we'd identified were addressed. Still, more than once the conversation came back to our schools as the first and most likely place to tackle these issues head on. I have to admit that I was struck by how much needs to be done — and by how complex the work we face in our schools is. It's not that I am lamenting this, and it's not that I don't think about these issues often — as a superintendent I think about the many challenges we face all the time, and I am clear about the leadership role we play in the community. But this was just a good time to reflect on the work we do, and the complexity of the work really stood out during this conversation.

75 years ago, public education was more or less expected to do one thing — teach children the basic curriculum. Social upheaval and shifting expectations, however, have placed a greater and greater burden on public education in the last half of the 20th century and the first decades of this one. So we do have an expanded role addressing community challenges. And, while I agree with those at this meeting who said others needed to play a role as well, the reality is that whether or not others are helping our students, this will not lessen the expectations we have for ourselves. When children come to our schools, no matter who their parents are, what community they come from, who they love, where they live, or what circumstances they are dealing with, we must and we will educate each and every one of them. We must ensure that each child has a safe, excellent experience and learns what we need them to learn in order to be successful, contributing members of our community. This is the great challenge of public education. It is also the great hope and the great joy of our work. What a blessing to do what we do!

Highlights from the Superintendent's Calendar

  • Attended High School League meeting
  • Met with United Way, Parks and Recreation, and Horizons representatives to discuss enriching our afterschool programs with a literacy focus
  • Attended meeting of the Teacher Forum Executive Leadership team
  • Attended meeting of the VB Human Rights Commission
  • Attended meeting of the Statewide K-12 Education Advisory Council at UVA
  • Hosted breakfast meeting for middle school principals
  • Attended focus group sessions seeking feedback on strategic priorities as a part of my transition work
  • Served as keynote speaker for the African American Male Summit Leadership Retreat breakfast

The Week of Dec. 1-7

As we move forward with Compass to 2020, our new strategic plan, we will be called upon to strengthen our partnership with families as we continue to build a culture of excellence. And really, is there anything more important in the life of a child than their family's involvement in their education? After all, as many have pointed out, families are their children's first teacher. Once a child comes to school, however, there seem to be widely varying perceptions about not just what family engagement in education is, but the degree to which it is important both to the educator and to the family.

As a Superintendent, I have my own thoughts about this, but as a parent, I have to confess that I am not always sure what the expectations are for my involvement. Am I expected to be at curriculum nights and PTA meetings? Or am I expected to be knowledgeable about what my child is learning and reinforce that learning at home? Do I need to come to school and be present in my child's classroom or would it be helpful if I volunteered to make copies or help in some other way? Is it all of the above? Are the expectations different for my kindergartner than they are for my middle schoolers? If I can't clearly define this for myself, how can I expect all of our families to come to the table with a clear understanding?

First and foremost, then, if we are to strengthen this relationship between home and school, we need to clearly define the nature of that relationship. What makes an effective partnership between home and school? In a study by the Harvard Family Research Project, William Jeynes found what most of us know to be true — that parental involvement is associated with higher student achievement. But what family behaviors, exactly, make the most difference? From the study (found at http://www.hfrp.org/publications-resources/browse-our-publications/parental-involvement-and-student-achievement-a-meta-analysis):

Two of the patterns that emerged from the findings were that the facets of parental involvement that required a large investment of time, such as reading and communicating with one's child, and the more subtle aspects of parental involvement, such as parental style and expectations, had a greater impact on student educational outcomes than some of the more demonstrative aspects of parental involvement, such as having household rules, and parental attendance and participation at school functions.

Of all of these, parent expectations had the greatest effect on student achievement — the more time parents (or family members) spend talking with their children about learning and their expectations and modeling that through behaviors such as reading with their children and monitoring their homework, the more likely their children are to succeed in school. Of course, while attending things like school functions had less impact, it is important to note that this still had some positive impact on achievement and so remains important in the life of a school.

So we have a sense of what family engagement looks like — it's getting families to pay attention to and clearly state their expectations for their child's learning. It's being comfortable building a relationship with their child's teacher so they can ask questions about that learning. And it's being actively involved in other ways at the school as well. Now what? How do we get families more involved? Speaking as one, I think more and more that it's about what is known in business as "the ask." Sometimes, we need to be clearer about what we want our families to do if we want them to be engaged and even when we are clear, we need to think about how to engage those who haven't heard us yet.

I think about high school band directors. They are masters of "the ask." No successful marching band program achieves its goals without a remarkable booster organization. Band directors know they will need fundraising for large trips, for example, but their real power lies in getting families to get directly involved in their child's experience — sewing uniforms, building sets, pushing equipment to the field, hosting or chaperoning competitions, all of these are just a few examples of the many, many ways successful band directors get their families involved in the learning. What's more, these band directors WANT their students' families to be involved, because they know their students won't be successful without them. If we are to get authentic family engagement, we can learn a lot from our band directors. We must be clear about what engagement looks like, and then we must ask our families to get involved by providing specific and actionable ways for them to support their child's learning.

Even more importantly, we must want our families to be involved. I think too often we have a fixed mindset about family engagement. We have a checklist of activities that we support at the school — the carnival, PTA, the curriculum nights, back-to-school events. And we check those off and feel like we've done our job. We want our parents involved on our terms and we make assumptions about what kind of interactions our parents need. But the reality is, we need to cultivate a broader sense of engagement, and we need to work on welcoming that level of engagement from our families. This isn't always easy. It can be difficult as a teacher to invite others into our realm of expertise — it's a moment of vulnerability to invite a parent into — and to really understand what is happening in — our classroom. I know it was for me as a young teacher. As I matured though, and especially as I became an administrator, I realized how important that relationship was in motivating and encouraging my students.

Part of what I learned, too, is that not all families want to or need to be engaged on the same level. Some will only want to come to school functions and others will want to be actively engaged on a daily basis with their child's learning and some will be far more comfortable building a relationship with the school than others. It's important, too that we recognize this and meet our families where they are as we think about how to grow their engagement in the learning process.

Ultimately, we need to get to the point where we genuinely want and are able to differentiate that level of family engagement - where it's OK that some can do the homework and others can come in and others need different ways to get involved. So we need to keep doing what we are doing — after all, the 15 parents who showed up to the math night left happy and better informed, the carnival raised much needed money and the band boosters helped put on an award winning halftime show. But we also need to do so much more because, at the end of the day, stronger ties to our families make us better educators. Just as we seek to make daily personal connections with our kids, so, too, must we strive to make a personal connection with their families. While we have many terrific models for this (our award winning Parent Connection program springs to mind immediately, as do our AVID classrooms that require parent attention to the learning process), I believe we must continue to strengthen our efforts as we work toward meeting our goals as a school division.

Highlights from the Superintendent's Calendar

  • Met with staff and leadership at VDOE to begin developing conditional accreditation MOU for Bayside MS
  • Job-shadowed by Emily Fuller, a VTfT/FEA student from First Colonial High School
  • Attended LEAD Mentor/Mentee luncheon
  • Met with representatives from Apple
  • Met with the Superintendent's Roundtable
  • Met with Hugh Greene to discuss Green Run Collegiate
  • Traveled to Williamsburg for the VASCD presentation of their Curriculum Leader of the Year Award to Dr. Magula
  • Recorded holiday greetings for the website (coming soon!)
  • Hosted breakfast meeting for middle school principals
  • Attended Ocean Lakes v. Oscar Smith football game
  • Visited the following schools: Luxford ES, Kempsville ES, Brandon MS, Kempsville HS and Kellam HS
  • Attended the Board workshop and regular meeting

The week of Nov. 17-21

What, exactly, is the difference between feedback and input? On the face of it, it's relatively simple. Input is sought at the beginning of a decision making process (writing code, engineering a system, designing a house or building an intervention system in a school, for example). Feedback comes after the decision has been made in order to determine if the system or process created is producing desired results. In the engineering world, that distinction seems clear enough: using a feedback loop, designers develop a process that takes a system's output into consideration, feeding that output back into the system (as an input) and allowing the system to adjust its performance to meet a desired output response. Or, more simply, outputs are "fed back" as inputs, which the system then uses to become better at producing desired results. Architects use a similar process. Through a design charrette they solicit client input, which is then used to draft construction plans; these plans are then reviewed to allow for adjustments before construction begins.

In education, I think we sometimes forget the distinction between feedback and input. Often, we say we are seeking input when in fact we are simply seeking feedback on whether or not a decision that has already been made "works" for the particular audience — is it producing the intended result? This happens both internally (amongst central leaders, principals, teachers and students) and externally (with community and parent stakeholders) and can be frustrating if there isn't a clearly established expectation that what is being sought is feedback and not input. When this expectation is not established, we hear things like, "They didn't really want my thoughts — they had already made up their mind," or "We're just being asked to rubber stamp something they've already decided on." And, to be fair, this can be frustrating for conscientious leadership as well; those seeking genuine feedback on a system's progress can find it challenging to have their intentions questioned or dismissed.

With that in mind, there is a clear need for input in educational design. Students, parents, teachers, principals and central leaders all want voice in how things "work" in the educational process — and there is ample reason to believe that developing a strong constituent voice empowers everyone with a stake in student learning to be a part of improving those outcomes. And that voice should be heard before decisions are made. For example, if we are going to write new curriculum in response to changing standards, teachers and students should have a say in how that curriculum is designed. In an educational system, there are literally hundreds of examples of these kinds of opportunities. It is our job to consider them and develop systems for soliciting authentic input into the system.

Of course, this doesn't mean there isn't room for feedback. Frankly, there may be times when just getting feedback is important. When parameters are such that decision-making is "boxed in," for example, it may be important just to get feedback on desired outcomes to ensure system progress. Or, feedback might be solicited to review outcomes based on decisions that are longstanding to see if there is a need to rethink and/or redesign those decisions.

In general though, as in other professions, we are best served if we have a clear process, or loop, for input and feedback that allows us to design solutions, seek feedback on that design and then adjust course when desired outcomes aren't reached. In a people-driven profession, this kind of loop is critical. Stakeholders at every level are given voice before decisions are made, during implementation of those processes once decided upon and after outputs are identified in order to monitor and ensure intended outcomes are happening. This loop is empowering and it is the essence of a truly collaborative organization. This is the kind of organization I believe we are now and have been striving to be and this is the kind of organization I believe we truly can become with the effort of our VBCPS team and our community.

Highlights from the Superintendent's Calendar

  • Attended the VBEF Teacher Grants Improving Futures (TGIF) Celebration — a huge thanks to our Education Foundation, which celebrated the granting of nearly $100,000 to our teachers for innovative instruction
  • Attended Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce CEO Welcome Breakfast
  • Recorded a PSA message with the Sense Before Sending Club at Cox High School
  • Attended a meeting with High School Assistant Principals
  • Met with representatives of the Virginia Beach Community Development Corporation
  • Attended the VSBA annual meeting opening general session and accepted (along with other board members in attendance and Dale Holt) a first place award for the Green Schools Challenge
  • Spoke (along with Councilwoman Wilson) at a Parks and Recs launch celebration of our partnership in the SOS (students on the swim) program
  • Attended a meeting with VIF and P21 (partnership for 21st century schools) to learn more about how other districts are addressing global learning
  • Attending a meeting of the VBCPS Equity Council
  • Visited the following schools: Newcastle ES (observe letters to sea program and learning walk), Corporate Landing ES, Holland ES and Pembroke ES for their annual Unity Circle
  • Attended a joint City Council and School Board five-year forecast presentation, workshop and regular meeting with the Board

The Week of Nov. 10-14

In a week filled with highlights, the shining moment had to be the Showcase Event at Kellam High School Wednesday night, where students and staff members from across the division came together to share the best examples of the work we have been doing to see that the vision our community laid out in Compass to 2015 is being realized. This event also provided an opportunity for people to learn more about the vision for our next steps as a school division as laid out in the new strategic plan, Compass to 2020: Charting the Course.

I have shared with the Board how much I am enjoying my entry into Virginia Beach. I've visited schools, visited with a wide range of stakeholders and listened to many, many thoughts about the state of our schools today. Although there are some clear challenges that we must work to address, overwhelmingly, what I am hearing is positive. Our students have rich opportunities to learn and we have creative and energetic teachers who make learning interesting and meaningful in so many ways across the school division. Nowhere was this clearer to me this week than at the Showcase Event.

As I walked around the commons area at Kellam, I met students from Plaza Middle School who taught me about their submersible robot (built with the support of a grant their teacher had secured) that they are using to monitor — via video — oyster beds in the Lynnhaven River. I met teachers from Providence Elementary who had created a board over which you could hover an iPad to launch videos their kids had made about how they are creating a Green School. I met engineering students from the STEM Academy who shared stories of their trips to the World Robotics Competition and I watched as students from the ATC programmed Baxter, our first of its kind k-12 mechatronics robot, right there in front of me. Exhibits highlighted not only these kinds of hands-on learning experiences but also the division's commitment to developing meaningful partnerships with parents and our community (such as Hermitage Elementary' s exhibit about the huge number of service projects that had connected their students to community partners) and our commitment to developing our own capacity to reach our goals.

So, the night was a resounding success for those seeking to understand the good work we are doing and to reflect on the achievements that Compass to 2015 has inspired. It was also a night to celebrate the work of our community as it has come together once again to help set the direction for where we go from here. As the Board considers Compass to 2020: Charting the Course for adoption at an upcoming meeting, I know it is appreciative of this work. I also know the Board is reflecting on the challenges we still face as a division — challenges like literacy and the need for all students to be reading on grade level, the achievement gaps that exist between our expectations for students and where they are today, the need to ensure that students have multiple pathways towards their desired future, the need to recruit and retain a dynamic teaching corps that loves teaching in VBCPS and the need to strengthen even further the partnership we have with our parents and community. I believe Compass to 2020 will serve as our guide on this journey, and I am excited and energized just thinking about the work ahead!

Highlights from the Superintendent's Calendar

  • Hosted the first Teacher Assembly meeting of the school year
  • Attended the SEAC Community Resource Fair
  • Met with Representatives of Regent University
  • Met with Councilman Dyer
  • Attended annual Superintendents/Commanding Officers Meetings at ODU
  • Met with Jim Spore and staff to discuss the upcoming joint presentation on the 5 year forecast
  • Attended Veteran's Day celebration at Corporate Landing Middle School
  • Attended SPISC Team meeting to discuss the development of a "profile of a VBCPS graduate"
  • Attended a meeting of the HRETA Advisory Council and Superintendent's Advisory Council with Sec. of Education Anne Holton
  • Visited with staff at Rosemont ES to celebrate their recognition as a Virginia Title I School of Distinction
  • Attended the High School League meeting
  • Attended and spoke at the Compass Showcase event
  • Brought opening remarks to SCOPE Cohort 9 meeting at PAHS
  • Visited PAMS and met with a team visiting to review their application as a School to Watch
  • Provided a Keynote at the Annual Optimist Club Youth of the Year Breakfast
  • Visited the following schools: Bayside, Lynnhaven and Independence middle schools, College Park and Williams elementary schools

The Week of Oct. 27 - 31

In nearly every interaction I've had with our community, I've heard the same questions and concerns expressed around career readiness. Are we adequately preparing our students for a complex future? Do our students graduate with the technical skills they need to be productively employed in our community? Are we preparing students for work in the trades that are so needed in our community? Have we considered the kinds of skills needed to fill jobs that are regionally important as we prepare our students? Do they have the soft skills (sometimes called globally competitive or 21st century skills) that they will need in order to compete with their peers across the state, nation and world, for jobs in the knowledge economy? Can they think creatively, communicate clearly and work with others to solve the critical challenges and problems facing our society? Do they have the entrepreneurial mindset and sense of curiosity that will drive the next generation of innovation in America?

Of course, these questions aren't unique to Virginia Beach; these are the kinds of questions with which school divisions all across this country and, frankly, all around the world are wrestling. But if we are to be the premier school division in this nation, we must be able to confidently answer these questions with a resounding "Yes!"

So what are we doing about this? The answer, not surprisingly, is quite a bit! This week I had the opportunity, for example, to visit the Advanced Technology Center (ATC), where I was literally blown away by the opportunities available to our students. At the ATC, located on the campus of Tidewater Community College, students have the chance to explore careers and earn certifications in areas as diverse as naval architecture, computer systems repair, advanced robotics, engineering, web design and hospitality management. [To learn more about what's new at the ATC, check out this link: http://www.vbatc.com/atcvideo.html.] I've also recently visited the Technical and Career Education Center, where students learn trades such as automotive technology and body repair, small engine and power equipment maintenance, carpentry, electrical, masonry and HVAC, as well as building career expertise in areas like dental assisting, practical nursing, electronics and modeling and graphic design. And, I've had the chance to visit a number of our Academies embedded in most of our high schools that allow for a specific career focus in such broad ranging areas as legal studies, health sciences and the performing and visual arts. Clearly, VBCPS is charting the course forward for our students as they think about their career options.

As with most things we are doing, of course, there is more work yet to be done. While these opportunities exist for our students, not every child is taking advantage of them. And, if we are to be truly exceptional, we must think about how we develop these skills in all of our students, including those who will need a similar mindset as they enter the military or college. This is a challenge we must attack systemically and from a variety of angles. How, for example, can our curriculum support the development of a rigorous, problem-solving environment where our students are pushed to think deeply about their world? How can we identify and develop clear pathways toward a future of their choice, and how can we develop strong partnerships with our business community as well as our college and universities to provide the kinds of preparatory experiences our students will need as they journey down these paths? How can our instructional practices challenge students through inquiry and collaboration to develop the habits of mind our employers and universities are seeking?

Our new strategic plan, Compass to 2020: Charting the Course, clearly outlines the work ahead. We must build and provide multiple pathways to student success; define and articulate expectations for student learning; and ensure that every student in our city has the opportunities described above. This will not be easy work, but it is important and it can be done.

Highlights from the Superintendent's Calendar

  • Met with CEO of Opportunity Inc. to discuss our ongoing partnership in workforce development
  • Hosted first Superintendent's Roundtable to bring together representatives from the various associations affiliated with VBCPS
  • Hosted a Media Meet and Greet
  • Visited Great Neck Middle School
  • Attended the Elementary Cohort 2 Principals meeting where they were focused on providing great feedback to students and parents about student learning
  • Attended the STEM Extravaganza at the ATC
  • Visited Hermitage ES to congratulate the faculty on their recent recognition as a 2014 Blue Ribbon National School of Excellence
  • Visited Strawbridge Elementary School to participate in kindergarten holiday fun!
  • Visited Tallwood HS for the 6th Annual Israeli and American Youth Student Exchange Program

The Week of Oct. 20 - 24

Last week was interesting. Several of us had the opportunity to attend the Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) meeting where a decision was reached on the accreditation status of Bayside Middle School. I am, of course, pleased to note that the VBOE adopted State Superintendent Steve Staples' recommendation that Bayside MS be granted conditional accreditation. That said, while there I had the opportunity to speak (albeit briefly), and my message was simple: I am operating from the premise that we will improve in every area so that we will not be standing before the VBOE in the future discussing the accreditation status of any one of our schools.

Of course, in order to follow through on that we have some work to do. Sixteen of our schools did not meet accreditation in one way or another, so our first order of business is to ensure that each of these schools has the support they need to ensure every one of their students is meeting their potential every day. This will not be easy work, but it can and must be done. We cannot be the premier school division in the nation if only some or most of our schools are ensuring that our students are minimally proficient on measures that our state and community tell us are important.

Our work, however, extends well beyond this. Getting all of our schools accredited is just a first step — a crucial first step, to be certain — but ensuring that every student is proficient on state tests would be what I describe as our floor. In order to be great, all of our students have to be standing on that floor together. But we also need to think about and reach for the ceiling—what I would describe as our highest aspiration for our students.

What are those skills that we want all of our students to leave Virginia Beach with in order to be successful in the world beyond our doors? What is the profile of a Virginia Beach graduate?

No one would say it's a student who has passed all the state tests and leave it at that. While we know that's important, we also know we want students who can think critically, who can problem solve, who can work well with others and who can communicate their thinking clearly and concisely. We want students who are prepared to compete with their peers around the state, nation and world. We want deep learners who are committed to solving the problems we face as a community and as a society.

During the first four months of my transition into Virginia Beach, I have been focused almost exclusively on trying to understand what we expect of our students, our teachers, our leaders and our schools. As we move into the next stage of my entry plan, the work shifts to planning and clearly articulating those expectations. For example, if we expect that – at a minimum – all students are standing on the same solid floor, then what goals, strategies and actions will we commit to in order to ensure that happens? In other words, what do we specifically need to do to never stand before the VBOE again asking for a conditional accreditation for our schools?

Beyond this, if we expect that our students will have multiple pathways to success and have a more personalized learning experience en route to becoming thoughtful, productive members of our community, what opportunities must we create for them? What must our classroom look like (and what does learning look like outside the classroom)? What experiences should we provide that will propel them towards this future? And what learning and experiences will we need as educators in order to better prepare our students to meet these expectations?

Over the next several months, we will continue to work on answering these questions. At the same time, we will continue to develop the next Strategic Plan, Compass to 2020. Taken together, it's my intention that in the new year, we will present an aligned vision of how we will move VBCPS forward and become the premier school division in this nation.

Highlights from the Superintendent's Calendar

  • Met with representatives of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation to discuss its committee work on Workforce Development and Entrepreneurship
  • Attended the Green Run Collegiate board meeting
  • Visited Kemps Landing/Old Donation School, Creeds, John B. Dey and Pembroke Meadows elementary schools
  • Attended the Elementary League and Middle School League meetings
  • Met with the Board of the Virginia Beach Education Association
  • Attended and brought remarks at the Academies and Advanced Academic Programs Night at the Virginia Beach Convention Center
  • Attended the VBOE meeting in Richmond
  • Spoke at a meeting of the Virginia Beach Rotary Club
  • Hosted a breakfast meeting for the high school principals
  • Visited Bayside High School for their homecoming game and pre-game festivities
  • Attended the Joint City Council School Board Modernization Committee meeting, the workshop and regular School Board meetings

The Week of Oct. 4 - 10

Transitions are an interesting time for any organization. While change and transition are often used interchangeably, the two are not the same. Change is situational — and changes can succeed or not, depending on whether or not things are done differently after the change has taken place. Unlike change, as William Bridges suggests in his classic study Managing Transitions, transitions are psychological — they are the processes organizations go through that determine whether or not change on any scale is successful.

According to Bridges, transitions entail leaving the certainty of the past, where we are in general most comfortable because we are familiar with the issues and factors that impact our personal or working lives. At the end of the transition process is the hoped for future, where imagined possibilities allow us to grow and develop to our fullest potential.

A natural part of the transition process also requires us to deal with ambiguity in that place between the past and the future. It is in this time that we ask ourselves where we have been and we wonder how will that look different over the course of this transition. It's here that we contemplate with a lack of certainty what the future holds in store for us. As Bridges discusses this part of a transition, which he refers to as the Neutral Zone, he urges caution because this ambiguity can cause us to reach back into the past looking for comfort and certainty when what may be called for is courage to forge a new path ahead leading to a more hopeful and brighter future. In so many ways, this narrative captures the transition process that VBCPS has been undergoing over the last four months since my administration began. We are so very good at so many things. We innovate, we are justifiably proud of our schools and we see the potential of so many of our students realized. Yet at the same time, the voices of our community, our teachers, our students, our parents and each other remind us that there is more to be done so that a brighter future like that contemplated in our newly forming strategic plan exists for every student in Virginia Beach. As we enter the planning phase of my entry plan and of our new strategic plan, we truly must be Charting the Course forward. We face exceptional challenges today that we couldn't contemplate in our past—shifting models of accountability, diminishing resources and expectations for learners who are prepared for a world none of us could have imagined as we left high school, to name but a few. To meet these challenges, we must boldly look not to the past as our only example but to our collectively imagined future. Together, we must extend our strengths and also develop ourselves more fully to reach our greatest potential if we are to help every student do this every day. I am energized today more than I have ever been in my career to meet these challenges and I look forward to our work together as we move ahead.

Highlights from the Superintendent's Calendar

  • Recorded a message for staff about our ongoing partnership with the United Way in preparation for our upcoming campaign
  • Attended a meeting of Region II Superintendents to discuss issues with state funding in this and the next budget
  • Attended the Hampton Roads Educational Technology Association (HRETA) Superintendents Advisory and Educational Advisory Committee meetings at WHRO
  • Attended meetings of the Superintendent Advisory Committee for SECEP and for the Governor's Schools for the Arts
  • Attended the Workshop and regularly scheduled formal Board Meeting Tuesday

The Week of Sept. 27- Oct. 3

On Friday I had the opportunity to tour Mount Vernon Presbyterian School on a visit that was a part of our partnership with EdLeader21, an organization dedicated to helping school divisions embed globally competitive skills (the 4 C's you've heard about — critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity) into their curriculum and instructional practices. Part of the organization's strategy is to create an environment where different schools and schools divisions can come together and share and learn from one another, which is what today's visit was all about.

I have to say, the school was impressive. Their defined mission? To be a learning institute built on inquiry, innovation and impact and to create learners who are globally competitive, college ready and engaged citizens. Sound familiar? It should. VBCPS espouses these same aspirations for our students. They had also clearly defined their principles and practices that they expected to see across the school. I was struck by both the power and the clarity of these: relationships are foundational for learning; curiosity and passion drive learning; learning demands interactive and flexible spaces; empathy influences learning; and, learners apply knowledge to make an impact.

What I loved about the school was that they were living this mission by applying these principles and practices. And they were doing so in two ways that I found fairly unique. First, they had created a culture where it was OK to think about getting rid of barriers to success. As they talked about it, they are constantly looking for breakthroughs — breakthroughs in boredom, breakthrough innovations and breakthrough impact on our society in particular. There is a culture there that says it's OK to experiment and innovate and that in fact this way of thinking about the teaching and learning experience is preferable to holding onto 20th century learning paradigms.

Second, they had created a process for encouraging this kind of thinking both amongst their staff and leadership and amongst their student body. The process was based on design thinking, or the idea that you can create a team of thinkers (teachers, students, leaders), give them a problem to solve and let their creativity drive the solution. The beauty of design thinking is that it insists that the people who will be impacted by the work become a part of the solution. So, for example, rather than being allowed to simply wish they had more flexible spaces for learning, students and teachers were tasked with coming up with designs for more flexible space given the constraints of their building—and as a result, every usable space had been transformed into a learning space that was either formal (newly designed classrooms) or informal (lounge space in former empty foyers or hallways).

As we come to the end of the first three months of my administration, I am struck by how much good work we do in Virginia Beach. At the same time, I find we have much work to do to create environments across all schools and in every classroom that encourage creative and critical thinking and ask students to solve problems and have an impact on our community. I am intrigued by the thought that we might glean from design thinking how to best move the division forward as we plan for the implementation of the next strategic plan and think about what the next five years will bring for our students, our teachers and our community.

Highlights from the Superintendent's Calendar

  • Attended the Superintendents' Professional Development Conference at the oceanfront
  • Attended a meeting of the EdLeader21 network of schools and school divisions

The week of Sept. 22-26

On Friday I had the chance to visit with the team from Opportunities, Inc., an organization focused on workforce development in Hampton Roads. Their mission is to make sure there is an adequate and well-prepared workforce in the region, and the meeting I attended was specifically to discuss the connection between k-12 education and the workplace. I enjoyed the meeting very much, not just because they are a terrific organization but also because it was an opportunity to hear the best thinking from-and share our best thinking with-our colleagues around the region on this critically important issue.

One of the things I've learned and am proud of about VBCPS is that we are mission-focused in this area. We have a clear understanding of workforce readiness, and I know with the help of our business and community partners we've defined the skills our students need if they are to be successful beyond our doors. Next steps for us, as we've hinted at in the development of the next strategic plan, include the development of multiple, clear pathways to success and the development of an entrepreneurial mindset in our students.

Multiple pathways for success can mean many things, but in its simplest form, it means that after 13 years of education, any student should be able to pursue their passion and interests in a way that will allow them to become productive members of our community. Multiple pathways include: the opportunity to be immediately employable in career fields that will allow our students to earn a living wage, which includes being able to pursue career certifications that are relevant regionally and the opportunity to join the military; the opportunity to pursue a post-secondary education that will lead to career credentialing, such as an associate degree through our incredible Tidewater Community College; and, the opportunity to choose to pursue four-year college and university options.

It's my firm belief that, while we offer much of this already for our students, we can enhance these opportunities and clearly define them for our students, parents and community partners. For example, we can create clear pathways to careers that we know are available in our region (careers in health care, STEM, maritime industries, hospitality and culinary and advanced manufacturing come immediately to mind). We can also create connections between students pursuing courses in these pathways and our business and industry partners so that our employers know our students before they graduate. And, we can make explicit connections between the courses students might pursue in these pathways and college transfer options available to them both in-state and nationally.

I also believe strongly that one of the best things we can do for our students is to develop their entrepreneurial skills. By most measures, startups and entrepreneurs represent the region's best opportunity for economic and workforce development. Small businesses and working entrepreneurs represent the fastest growing segment of our economy nationally and Virginia Beach has been recognized as one of America's best cities for small businesses. But entrepreneurship is not an inherent skill; it can and should be taught and developed and I believe we can create opportunities to do so in our schools. As with other career pathways, we can create connections between student entrepreneurs and the business and startup community. Imagine students who want to solve social problems or who want to serve on design teams tackling local business or community challenges, being given those opportunities while still with us.

We can make workforce development a focus—in many ways we already are. But I also believe we can broaden our thinking, deepen our community connections and become the leader in American education in this arena.

Highlights from the Superintendent's Calendar

  • Attended and spoke at the Teacher Forum Citywide Meeting
  • Attended Board meeting for Access College Foundation
  • Attended Horizons Annual Board Meeting
  • Was interviewed as a part of FCHS's Patriot Primetime (student advisory) for a session called Dare2Baleader (see photo above)
  • Met with legislative liaisons and staff to get input for regional discussion on school funding issues
  • Spoke to Alpha Delta Kappa teacher group
  • Visited Windsor Oaks and participated in a School Improvement Plan meeting
  • Met with Scott Drossos, a nationally recognized expert on digital learning
  • Attended and spoke at LEAD administrator's professional learning kickoff meeting for Cohort 2
  • Attended a meeting with Opportunity, Inc. to discuss workforce development and their strategic plan in this area
  • Met with/spoke to the following Board Members: Dan Edwards (scheduled meeting, at the Access College Foundation meeting and at a meeting with David Sawyer to discuss ongoing development efforts around a regional Governor's school); attended meeting of the Legislative Committee chaired by Carolyn Weems (Joel McDonald and Dottie Holtz also in attendance); Bill Brunke (scheduled meeting and in preparation for the upcoming Joint Modernization Committee meeting)

The week of Sept. 15-19

Region 2 Teacher of the Year, Bevin Reinen

This weekend I had the chance to take one of my daughters to the UVA Elite Softball weekend camp. It was an interesting experience. In our role as parents, we see our children in the very best light, and of course, we think our daughter is a terrific softball player. As a former high school principal, though, I am aware of the kind of special talent it takes to both play at the high school level and to be considered for a college team, which is my daughter's great aspiration (she'd love to play for the Naval Academy). So I wanted her and her mother to see the other campers this weekend and gauge for themselves where she stands in relation to them. In fairness to my daughter, she's an eighth-grader who was in camp with mostly high school sophomores, many of whom were regularly being invited to these college camps so the coaches could evaluate them as a part of the recruitment process. That said, my daughter understood even after the first day that her skill level wasn't as good as theirs (as a Dad, I can tell you that she's not far off, even at her age, but I also admired her self-awareness).

At dinner on Saturday, she and I had a long talk about it. She wants to be an elite level player. She loves the game and has natural abilities. The difference, she realized, between her and these other players was the focus. These girls lived and breathed softball. Their parents lived and breathed it. One parent shared with us that he and his daughter had travelled to camps or tournaments three of four weekends a month for the last year and a half. My ability or desire to do that aside, my daughter has other interests. In addition to softball, she wants to be really good at basketball. She also loves the viola at least as much as she loves softball, if not a bit more—her great desire is to make all-district orchestra this first year.

I want so badly for my daughter to realize her many hopes, and we talked about the kind of commitment it would take to do so. As a dad it's my job to encourage her, but I also know it's the rare athlete who can specialize across many sports and still maintain other interests. To do so will take an unflinching dedication, a great deal of coaching and support and a willingness to stay constantly focused on those things that are most important to her.

In some ways, I think education is like this. In so many ways, we are very good at what we do. Still, if we want to be elite—the premier school division in this nation—and if we want to be the very best at the many, many things at which we are expected to excel, we have more work to do. Just like a proud father, as the Superintendent of this division, I believe we can become the very best. But if we want to be a school division that has closed its achievement gaps, if we want to be a school division that ensures rigorous instruction in every classroom and if we simultaneously want to ensure that our students have the skills they need to be successful for whatever future they choose, then we must have intense commitment to each of these areas of our work. We must approach what we do with an unflinching dedication to success, we must provide and seek a great deal of coaching and support and we must stay constantly focused on those things that we know will improve our students' experiences in our classrooms, our schools and in our community.

Highlights from the Superintendent's Calendar

  • Attended first meeting of the Virginia Council on the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children
  • Met with the Editorial Board at The Virginian-Pilot
  • Visited Three Oaks ES for the surprise announcement of Bevin Reinen as the Region 2 Teacher of the Year
  • Presented a request for conditional accreditation for Bayside Middle School to the State Board of Education
  • Attended a Community Reception hosted by the School Board at Kellam High School
  • Spoke at the first meeting of VBCPS art teachers
  • Spoke at the Fall PTA Leadership Training Institute

We know there is so much a test score can't measure

In the world of education, nothing is ever simple. While at our very core, we all can agree that the most important thing to focus on is doing what is right for children, how we go about that is a matter of great debate. There are many schools of thought around how to measure student performance and if we are even focusing on the right things in our content.

One of the areas of debate getting national attention right now is the value of standardized tests and how, or even if, they should be tied to teacher performance measures. Recently U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a policy change that would give some states more time before they begin using standardized test scores as part of teacher evaluations. Originally, the 43 states and the District of Columbia which all have adopted the Common Core curriculum would have had to begin evaluating teachers this year based , at least in part, on their students' performance on high stakes tests. Under the U.S. Department of Education's (DOE) new plan, states can request an additional year to prepare for implementation of this new evaluation approach.

This change, as Secretary Duncan so aptly put it, states what I and many of my counterparts in education believe to be true, which is that "We know there is so much that a test score can't measure. We know it does not define a teacher, a student or a school."

Of course, Virginia is not a Common Core state and as such is not bound to this impending requirement. Here in the Commonwealth and in Virginia Beach in particular, the approach has been to demonstrate student growth by using a variety of measures. As Secretary Duncan and leaders in the education field are now acknowledging, parents and teachers are concerned that children are being reduced to test scores. This has factored into the nation's slower approach to redefining teacher evaluations. In fact, Secretary Duncan has said that the DOE will work through the fall to reduce over-testing.

That is good news. But educators across this country should not wait on the DOE to figure this out.

That's why VBCPS is a part of the Large Countywide and Suburban District Consortium working to redefine the way in which we measure student success. This network of leaders represents 16 of the nation's most diverse and high achieving districts. We believe that meaningful assessments are critical to a strong educational system. But we also believe that it is paramount we work together to make sure we are using the right assessments to measure student learning and that those accountability measures are focused on fostering improvement.

That is also why VBCPS is working with our state Department of Education (VDOE) as they look at guidelines for new, alternative assessments. In addition, with the leadership of Dr. Brian Matney, the principal of Landstown High School who is serving on the Governor's SOL Reform and Innovation Committee, VBCPS is leading the way providing exemplars for a new way of thinking about assessments that measure what we hold to be most important. After all, tests scores, good or bad, are not worth anything if they are not measuring the right things.

I believe we always have to put children first and focus on what is right for them. With that focus in mind, we can work to build an accountability framework that is not only meaningful and insightful, but also a true reflection of where we are and where we need to be. I would be most interested in the insights of our parents, students and community on this subject.

Read the Consortium's response to Secretary Duncan's announcement here.

If you were asked to design an assessment system that would measure student performance effectively what would it look like?

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Recent Comments

Posted by Roseann Cryer

I have two children in vb schools. I feel like many parents do that the sols are stress full. My daughter has come home telling me how they need to do good on this test. The teachers are evaluated on this so they put that on the kids. IT gives the child control over the fate of the teacher. We need to empower the teachers to teach in a way that the kids can learn from not just teach tests. Every kids learns a little different and most kids test different. I know there are better ways to test a child's comprehension of what is taught. I think teachers need to be held to a high standard of teaching and be well rounded but that should not come from performance of students. I think evaluations of teachers can come from other teachers and principles observing them and the students. I think many students learn at different levels they might all be in second grade but one can write well and spell with great hand writing. Another can be horrible at writing and spelling but they are in the same class. They can both improve but what is the standard and why is one great at it and the other not. If in 1st grade they did not learn it why is it given to the 2nd grade teacher to deal with what the 1st grade teacher either did not do or could not because of the child. Let's stop moving kids on who can't read. Your hurting them more by putting them in a class they can never keep up with. Why? Let's change our standards or help these teachers and kids. I would love to see parents being able to help in classes more and observe class more to help their child if needed. Some kids benefit from more one on one teaching time that a teacher of 20 some kids can't do. The mom does not feel like she can home school but she can come in and help her child more one on one. I think that would be helpful. I know it will be a crazy transition but we as parents need to help our kids and many don't but this might be a good way to help them. Thank you for all you do and the changes and new perspective you bring. Thank you

Posted by Renee Haynes

I can only speak from my experience of that of my children. I have one child who did well on the SOLs and another who failed part of it. My child that failed has a Learning Disability called dysgraphia. On the part that he failed, he told me he got tired and decided to just guess on the last 20 questions. So I am not sure in his case, it was a true measure of what he learned. His test score should not reflect on the teacher. He had an excellent teacher.

Posted by Janet Coulson

The SOLs are robbing our children of their passion for learning. I understand assessments are necessary, however, the current system limits both teachers and students. The teachers and students are so stressed about SOLs that it seems counterproductive to both teaching and learning. When teachers have to teach to a test creativity is lost in the classroom. Teaching to a test isn't the most effective way to engage students. To put this pressure on elementary aged children curbs their natural enthusiasm for learning. The current testing scenario may not serve us well in the long run especially if we have burned out our kids and our hard working teachers.

The Week of Sept. 8-12

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to attend my first ever Ed Camp. If you haven't heard about these, Ed Camps are locally held professional development opportunities that are driven almost entirely by teachers, are completely voluntary and are organized almost exclusively through social media. While Ed Camps typically find sponsors for space and refreshments, they are grassroots in every sense of the word and no teachers are compensated for their time. They are an example of a true 21st century professional learning experience, and it's pretty amazing to watch in action.

The Ed Camp process is probably my favorite part of the event. A typical Ed Camp works like this: the organizer gathers the attendees and asks them to reflect on what it is they want to learn about that day. At the Ed Camp I attended, topics ranged from using technology in the math classroom to differentiating instruction to writing a lesson plan for student engagement. After brainstorming a list of topics, attendees decide if there are topics on which they are willing to share their expertise. These attendees then become the session presenters or facilitators, and everyone else selects sessions as they might at any other conference or professional learning event (I attended a session on using Twitter in the classroom to get a sense of how local teachers might be feeling about that topic, for example).

What's so remarkable about the Ed Camp, obviously, is the opportunity for truly personalized learning that the structure creates. Teachers are given choice about their learning—and it's worth noting that everything I saw was relevant and immediately relatable to our Strategic Plan, and more importantly teachers in attendance are, at their own discretion, empowered to be experts and leaders with their colleagues.

It's my hope and intent that, as we review the professional learning we offer within the division, we will think about how to create structures that provide for similar personalized learning and will continue to empower distributed leadership within the organization.

Highlights from the week:

  • Met with Dr. Edna Baehre-­-Kolovani, Dr. Michael Summers, Dr. Daniel DeMarte, all with TCC, to discuss opportunities to further develop multiple pathways for our students to careers and college. It was a positive conversation and focused on building specific pathways that would address regional needs.
  • Building on that conversation, visited the STIHL plant to talk more about how we can help prepare students for careers in advanced manufacturing.
  • Spoke at the first general membership meeting of the VBEA.
  • Met with the Teacher Forum Leadership Council.
  • Met with the Citywide PTA Executive Board.
  • Attended the Region II Superintendents Meeting.
  • Met with Bonnie Sutton and Bruce Bradley with the Access College Foundation. Please note that I have been asked and agreed to serve on their Board and Executive Committee (with the understanding that the work could not interfere with my work here).
  • Visited Thoroughgood Elementary School.
  • Met with Dr. Kulberg with the Virginia Department of Health.
  • Attended a dinner reception with our cohort 10 members of SCOPE in Charlottesville.
  • Met with Capt. Chope at Oceana.
  • Visited with student teachers at HRs Student Teach at the Beach event (great event!).
  • Was interviewed live on WVEC about initial impressions about the school division.
  • Attended the Landstown football game.
  • Attended the Hampton Roads Sustainability Expo and celebrated our many, many schools recognized as Pearl Schools and those receiving the Sustainable Schools Network award.

The Week of Sept. 1-5

As anyone who is a student of communication will tell you, language is powerful. For example, consider the expression TGIF. The expression connotes a sense of relief that the workweek is over. While, in many professions, it also sends a message that the workweek is something to endure and that weekends are somehow preferable. Now, I don't begrudge anyone his or her family life but I believe we ought to savor and enjoy our work as much as we savor and enjoy our time away from it. This is especially so when we have the opportunity to come to work every day and make a difference in the life of a young person. Which is why I always think it's so strange when I ask someone in our field how they are doing and get a response like, "At least it's Friday."

So why share that? Recently, I got an email from one of our schools with their weekly newsletter attached. The first line of the email said this: "Congratulations on making through your first week." As with TGIF, the language here for teachers, at least in my mind, was powerful. While I doubt the author meant anything negative by it (in fact the next line was, "We had a great opening week!"), if we aren't careful a message like this allows us to feel like coming to work and teaching children is something that needs to be survived rather than enjoyed. What if, instead, the author had started with, "Congratulations! You chose the world's greatest profession because every day we have a chance to watch children learn something. And boy did we see that this week—what a great opening we had!"? With the same intent and a little thought, the message to his staff would have been far more powerful and meaningful.

Speaking of which… Congratulations! The division experienced a great opening last week! With few exceptions, we had an incredibly smooth opening from an operational standpoint. And let me pause here for just a moment and give a huge shout out to Dale Holt and his team for their work getting the schools ready, getting the busses rolling and getting our kids fed! More importantly, as my visits to schools all week long showed, kids were excited and engaged and learning something every day. So, here's to a great first week and here's to a great second week (and third and fourth and…)!

Highlights from the week included:

  • Visited the following schools: Arrowhead, Fairfield, Pembroke, Point O'View, Princess Anne, Strawbridge, Thalia, and Woodstock elementary schools, Landstown, Larkspur and Lynnhaven middle schools, The Bayside Sixth-Grade Campus, Green Run High School and Green Run Collegiate.
  • Sworn in as a board member of the Virginia Council on the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children.
  • Met with the executive directors of the VSBAS and VASS.
  • Attended a luncheon with the leadership of Virginia Beach Vision.
  • Attended the Kellam vs. Tallwood football game.
  • Attended the regularly scheduled board meeting.

The Week of Aug. 25-29

Recently, I got a surprise visit from my Dad. Even better, he showed up driving my grandfather's Model A Ford. Every time I see that car, I am reminded of summers spent on Cape Cod. When he was a boy, my father and grandfather built a cluster of small cottages on Indian Neck in the town of Wellfleet, just across from the harbor. To this day, I think the view from those cottages is one of the most beautiful New England scenes anywhere. But my favorite memory of Wellfleet and my grandfather is the 4th of July in that small town. We spent our summers there as boys, and each 4th of July grandfather would roll out his Model A for the town parade. And my brothers and I would pile into the rumble seat (the back seat so-named for it's distinct bounciness!), and Dad and Grandpa would ride proudly through town as we boys waved our American flags from the back. So it was with no small degree of excitement that I piled my own boys into the rumble seat last week for their first ride in Grandpa's "cool car." In many ways, it was a passing of the torch from one generation to the next, the sharing of a common memory and tradition, something I wanted this next generation of Spence men to experience for themselves.

In a way, isn't that what the first day of school is about? The opportunity to pass the torch to the next generation, to share our collective memories and traditions and provide for our students the opportunity to experience the world in their own ways with what we hope is the same sense of wonder that we had when we were in school (this sense of wonder is, after all, why I think so many of us are drawn to the teaching profession). As we open our doors to students this week, I am excited. I am excited to see our master teachers in action and I am excited to watch as our students explore the world, both learning about our past and creating for us a new and exhilarating future.

Highlights from the week included:

  • At the request of principals, arranged to share closing comments from the Administrator's Conference with faculty at Landstown High School. This presentation was videotaped and shared with principals across the division to share as they wished. If you'd like to see it, let me know and a copy can be provided to you.
  • Met with Carol McCormack of the United Way to discuss our partnerships and how we might further these efforts.
  • Met with Peyton White of the College Board to discuss our progress with AP enrollment and testing.
  • Gave opening remarks at the all-city coaches meeting and the all-city nurses meeting.
  • Visited and brought remarks to the faculty at Seatack ES, Kings Grant ES, Parkway ES, White Oaks ES and Glenwood ES. Visited Tallwood ES. Visited and shared remarks with students and faculty at Plaza MS and Salem HS.
  • Visited and brought remarks to the faculty at Windor Woods ES and was interviewed there by WVEC for a back to school story (http://www.wvec.com/backtoschool/Former-student-to-lead-Virginia-Beach-schools-273250151.html).
  • Visited and brought remarks to the Three Oaks ES faculty; joined with them in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Go here and scroll down a bit to see the video: https://www.facebook.com/VBSchools.
  • Conducted an online chat with the Virginia Pilot—a Q&A with our community about the year to come.
  • Participated in the "Supe'r Bowl" corn hole game at the pre-game festivities at First Colonial for the kick off of the new football season (pictured above with principal Nancy Farrell, whose team, alas, won).
  • Held a two-day retreat with Senior Staff.

The Week of Aug. 18-22

I thoroughly enjoyed the Legislators’ Breakfast that I and many of you attended this week. It was an excellent chance to meet several members of our delegation, and it was also a great chance to see democracy in action—that moment when several members of our delegation began to disagree with one another on a key issue (school start dates) that has been debated for years both locally and at the state level really showcased how smart, thoughtful people can disagree and still engage in a civil discourse. I also enjoyed attending the Council of Civic Organizations meeting, where we witnessed first-hand democracy from a different perspective—that of local politics, with interested and engaged citizens seeking answers to their questions about issues of importance in our community from their elected officials. Together, the two meetings painted a picture of democracy as a concept that’s not academic but that is meaty and messy and alive and well in our country. I think what I liked most about those two events was the clear sense that the discussions could remain both thoughtful and civil, even where there appeared to be conflict or disagreement.

And that’s the fundamental power and beauty of our democracy, isn’t it? That an educated citizenry can engage in real and productive discourse both with and through those they’ve elected to represent them. Obviously, this living and breathing democracy demands our attention if we are to develop responsible citizens through our work as educators. It was Thomas Jefferson, after all, who spoke to the idea that an educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.

So the question I keep asking myself as I reflect on these meetings is: How well are we preparing our students to participate in the democracy they have inherited as citizens of our community and nation? How well are we teaching them to think about the issues that affect us all and to advocate on behalf of themselves and others? More importantly, how well are we teaching them to ignore the poor models of partisan bickering they see so regularly today and to be more thoughtful and civil in their discussion of these issues? Clearly, we’ve established the expectation that our students will graduate as responsible citizens. Our challenge as we move forward will be to continue to find ways to engage our students in the processes of democracy so that they are both experiencing what becomes possible and developing their ability and desire to participate as informed citizens. By doing so, we will continue to ensure that democracy is, in fact, vibrant and vital and not just something future generations will read about in a history text.

Highlights from the week included:

  • Provided opening keynote remarks at TOCLI (new teacher orientation)
  • Visited Brookwood Elementary School’s summer slide program and taped a welcome back message for parents
  • Conducted an interview for an article in the Curry School (UVA School of Education) Alumni Magazine
  • Attended the High School League meeting
  • Met with education entrepreneur expert Scott Kelly
  • Attended a Strategic Plan implementation meeting
  • Hosted a city‐wide Principals Meeting with a focus on literacy
  • Hosted a breakfast with all new principals
  • Participated in the monthly Consortium of Large Suburban School Districts phone call
  • Met with various School Board members

The Week of Aug. 11-15

Education is fun. We have the chance every day to get up and interact with the most precious resource our community has: its children. It's a blessing to be able to do this work, and it has to be one of the most intrinsically rewarding professions in the world. But the work can also be incredibly difficult. If it is nothing else, public education is a microcosm of our larger society, and the many challenges we face in America today are reflected in our classrooms all across this nation and certainly here in VBCPS. For that reason, the events in Ferguson, Mo., this past week must give us all pause. They point to the continued troubling realities of race and poverty in our society - the savage inequalities Jonathan Kozol rails against so eloquently and that continue to be for so many the defining barrier to a truly excellent system of public education for all.

Just as the community in Ferguson must wrestle with these tragic events, so too must we wrestle with our own realities. And our reality is complex. We are, without any doubt, an excellent school division. I was recently asked what sets us apart, and it was hard to succinctly describe the difference between Virginia Beach City Public Schools and the many other school divisions that I have both worked in and with which I am familiar. We have such tremendous community support and are able to offer so many opportunities to our students. We have incredible, talented teachers and strong leadership across the division with few exceptions. We are forward thinking and are oft cited as being ahead of the curve when it comes to preparing our students for the world beyond our doors. But in this moment of pause, we must also consider that our reality is also this: we have schools so overwhelmed by issues of race and poverty that they cannot find their way to accreditation while others seem rarely to be concerned about performance on standardized tests. We have (in some cases enormous) gaps by race and poverty on nearly every measure that feels important to us - graduation, student discipline, test scores, literacy, college readiness; in fact, race remains the most reliable predictor of performance on any of these and other measures. And while it may be comforting to note that this is a national issue and not one unique to our city or school division, our reality is that if we are to be the premier school division in this nation, we have work to do. We must become a school division where all schools are accredited and need not fear the annual reporting of these various measures of success. We must become a school division where the only gaps that exist are the positive gaps between all of our students and the rest of the world.

The good news is that we are making strides in this arena. We have named the challenge in our strategic plan. We discuss these challenges openly amongst our leaders and teachers and are setting clear expectations for all students and for ourselves. Because of this, we are narrowing our gaps and we are making a difference. But there is work yet to be done, and this work will continue in earnest and with an intensity of purpose. It can, it should, and it must. It is our moral imperative.

Highlights from the week included:

  • Visited Birdneck Elementary School with principal Irvin Beard and met with students to talk about their summer reading
  • Received word that I have been appointed to the Governor's Virginia Commission for the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children; see this link for more information about this exciting opportunity: https://governor.virginia.gov/news/newsarticle?articleId=5805
  • Met with City Manager Jim Spore to discuss our ongoing partnerships, budget issues and other opportunities for future collaboration with the City
  • Visited with Captain Hughlett, Commander, Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, to discuss opportunities for mutual support
  • Attended the VBCPS Title I conference and had the chance to sit in on a number of school discussions about the importance of building relationships with students, a major theme of the conference
  • Met with various School Board members

The Week of Aug. 4-8

The big highlight for me last week was the Administrators Conference. I want to commend our central support team for organizing such an amazing learning event for our leadership—and our leadership team for their commitment to the professional learning that took place over two days. We learned from top thinkers in our field—experts like Mike Schmoker, well known for his insistence on focusing on those strategies and practices that promote student achievement and a provocative speaker, and Ray Jones, who continues to work with our leaders on understanding how these practices translate into the classroom environment and on providing feedback that improves teaching performance and builds relationships in our classrooms. Perhaps more importantly, we also heard from each other. Dozens of experts from our classrooms, our leadership ranks, and our central support team shared the best of what we do every day with each other, and, if the #Time2LeadVB was any indicator, our administrators were energized by this shared learning.

I also appreciated the opportunity to share my own hopes and aspirations with our administrative team. While we focused in the opening keynote on those core values that will shape our work together—values that revolve around doing what is best for kids every day, understanding that our achievement gaps are really the gaps between the high expectations we must have for every student and our current reality, and the insistence that at the core of our work every student must be challenged to read and be math proficient from the earliest grades moving forward.

During the closing ceremonies, I had the opportunity to address the team again. My parting message? What we do is important, but how we do it makes all the difference in the world. We must focus on building relationships, on loving our students, and on doing everything in our power to make them successful if we are going to be the premier school division in this nation. I am excited about that work ahead of us, as I know we have the right team in place all across the division to make this happen.

Highlights from the week included:

  • Attended the Administrators Conference, giving opening, keynote, and closing remarks as well as joining in on sessions throughout the 2 days, including session for principals on some structural changes to the school improvement process
  • Spoke with State Superintendent Steve Staples and Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney to discuss participation on the Virginia Commission for the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children; I have applied for this appointment at the request of the State Superintendent
  • Met with VBPD Chief Cervera to discuss our ongoing partnerships
  • Visited with Principal Greg Furlich and teachers at Rosemont Forest's Summer Reading Bears program
  • Attended a luncheon with Jane Bray and faculty members of the ODU School of Education
  • Met with WHRO President Bert Schmidt
  • Meetings with various school board members, attended the regular Board Meeting

The Week of July 28-Aug. 1

"I now pronounce you dreamers!" With that proclamation from Principal Mary Daniels, the induction ceremony for Seatack Elementary An Achievable Dream came to an end last week, but a new beginning for Seatack and its amazing young people began.

I love that, by the way-the idea that we are not developing students who are ready to pass a test but that we are developing dreamers, students capable of realizing their full potential, tapping into their passion, and pursuing their dreams with the joyous abandon that children are so capable of if we will just let them do it. And I love that the end of the summer program didn't signify the end of something old but, rather, the beginning of something new and special.

That's what we also witnessed at Horizon's closing ceremonies last week-students singing about the importance of community and showing off their amazing writing, science, and other skills that have made their summer learning leap forward rather than slide backward. Each of these students will return to school in a few short weeks better prepared for learning and ready to make their dreams come true as well.

As we head into August and turn our thoughts to the new school year in earnest, it is my deepest hope that we will find in each of our students this year a dreamer who, with the right support, attention and love, will see their greatest aspirations realized.

Highlights from the week included:

  • A pre-audit work planning conference
  • The groundbreaking ceremony for the new Kemps Landing/Old Donation School
  • A school summary summit to begin the work of looking closely at each school's performance, successes and challenges
  • A visit with students and teachers at the STEM Education Alliance Camp at Brandon Middle School
  • The induction ceremony at Seatack Elementary An Achievable Dream
  • The closing ceremony for Horizons’ summer program
  • A Design Team orientation meeting regarding the development of the next Strategic Plan
  • Meetings with various school board members

The Week of July 21-25

Engagement. A relatively simple word, but how easy is it to really understand? The truth is that engaging students means many things to many people.

There is so much packed into that one simple word that there's an entire strategic objective devoted to its pursuit. Personally, I like our definition of engagement-the idea that we will engage students in meaningful, rigorous and authentic work.

As you are no doubt aware, though, it can also be difficult to come to a consensus on the definitions of meaningful and rigorous. For some, meaningful might suggest what's meaningful to the student; for others, it might imply what's meaningful to the teacher, and for others still, we might be talking about what's meaningful to our parents, businesses and community. Definitions of rigorous vary from "hard" to "more" to work that really pushes students to think about a problem from many different angles and come to their own solutions.

Authentic is easier. It's the translation between what's learned in the classroom and what we should do with that learning in a "real world" setting (although I have to admit I’ve never quite understood that expression; for our students, the classroom is a very real world place).

So what does engagement really look like? That's one of the questions we've been working on, and one that I hope ultimately we will answer together in every classroom, but I can say with confidence that I saw authentic and meaningful engagement this past week as I had the opportunity to visit with students at the Diversity Ambassadors workshop and the Virginia Beach Leadership Workshop. I saw students thinking deeply about what it means to develop a sense of love and caring for one another and what it means to be a leader in one's school and community. As I talked with these young people, it was obvious to me that they were wrestling with very real and difficult challenges, and they were collaborating to come up with solutions that would work not just for them, but also for the school and broader community.

After visiting with them, I am hopeful not only that we can all have a clear understanding of what the engaged student looks like, but also that we already have examples of this kind of engagement all across our division!

Highlights from the week included:

  • A meeting with a representative of the Virginia Beach Economic Development Office
  • Staff briefings
  • The Virginia Beach Student Leadership Workshop
  • The student Diversity Ambassadors Workshop
  • A monthly phone call with Large Countywide and Suburban District Consortium leaders
  • Meetings with various school board members

Welcome to Charting the Course

Charting the Course is a transition plan written by Dr. Aaron C. Spence, superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS). It serves to chart the path for the first 120 days of his administration.

Charting the Course is built on the premise that fostering relationships, listening, questioning, analyzing, reviewing and thinking are the key activities of a successful transition. During his transition to VBCPS, Dr. Spence intends to spend a great deal of time listening, learning and understanding the stories of the division's challenges and successes.

"We will not immediately answer every question, solve every challenge or meet each strategic objective," Spence writes. "What we will develop is a collective understanding of our next steps so that we can begin to chart the course forward. We will lay the foundation for our work together — work that will allow us to achieve our mission and establish VBCPS as the premier school division in the country."

Framed by the points of the division's strategic plan Compass to 2015, the entry plan is organized to address division objectives in each of the strategic areas: Engagement; Assessment; Achievement; Opportunities; and Capacity.

While each strategic area is treated as a separate opportunity for learning and reflection, it is important to understand that these objectives are interconnected. The interplay between each strategic area strengthens opportunities for student learning.

You can download the plan in its entirety above. This site will be regularly updated to indicate progress and to include groups with whom Dr. Spence has met, activities in which he has participated and his reflections about what he learned throughout the process.