Friday, May 5, 2017

When is Teacher Appreciation Week?

Every year, a week in May is set aside as Teacher Appreciation Week.  For this year, the actual week has been a bit confusing.  Many schools and businesses are celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week this week, while others have designated next week as the time for showing thanks to teachers.  I'm a person that likes to deal with certainties and this ambiguity was bothering me.  After some investigating, I found the following:

"National Teacher Appreciation Day, also known as National Teacher Day, is observed on the Tuesday of the first full week in May.  In 2017, National Teacher Day will take place on May 9th.  This day is part of Teacher Appreciation Week, which is the first full week in May of each year. " (Source)

I think the discrepancy has occurred all because of one day--Sunday.  This week is the first full week of school, but not the first full week on the calendar.  That will be next week.  I really believe that is why it is being celebrated by some this week, and others next week.  There is probably a lesson in here about paying attention to descriptive terms---like "full" before "week".

As I tried to understand why it wasn't being celebrated the same week nationwide, I realized what's most important in all this.  While it's nice to have a dedicated week for all the celebrations, we need to let teachers know they are appreciated throughout the whole year.  If you are an educator, take a moment to reflect on those times when you've received a kind gesture or a few words of appreciation--a parent thanking you for working with their child; an administrator acknowledging your contribution to a big school/class/grade project; a student creating a picture or card stating how much you mean to them--"You're the best teacher ever"--; or a former student stopping by tell you they are pursuing their dream and have you to thank for always being supportive of them.  These are the gifts that truly let you know the impact you have made on others.

Teacher Appreciation Week is a nice way to let teachers know on a big scale that we appreciate them.  However, I assure you that you are appreciated every day.

While many schools celebrated Teacher Appreciation this week, it will also be celebrated nationally next week.  Consider it "Twice the Appreciation".  Maybe before too long we can add 50 more weeks to these two and make every week Teacher Appreciation Week. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Carrollton Elementary Creates an "ARC" Between Expos and Reading

The month of April kicks off a flurry of school expos.  Between April 1 and June 15, IWCS will host 10 different events!  This is on top of the fall and winter expos already held at every school throughout the division.  

Before Spring Break, Windsor Elementary, Carrsville Elementary and Carrollton Elementary displayed student projects of deeper learning during their expo nights.  Next week, Windsor High and Smithfield High will hold their second semester exhibitions.  

Carrollton Elementary has organized their expos to showcase what the students are doing with the new reading program (ARC).  In the fall, students presented books they had written about a hero in their life.  As part of the planning process, students heard from professionals on best practices for conducting interviews.  They created multiple drafts of their story and presented their final book to the community, as well as the hero they highlighted.  For the next event, students became meteorologists and shared their knowledge of weather—causes, types, effects, and even how to predict weather..  To prepare, Carrollton invited a local weatherman to visit and talk to the students about their duties and responsibilities.   What a great opportunity for students to learn from experts.
The last expo, held earlier this month, was presented by 1st graders as they shared their research on animals.  The event, Animals Alive!, allowed students to focus on one animal and become their own expert on that animal.  They collected information that they used to author their own books.  The resource classes at Carrollton supported the project through their areas of expertise.  For example, the art teacher assisted the students with their illustrations, while the STEM teacher helped create puppets of their animal, complete with lights for eyes.  The students did a wonderful job with their books, but the best part was talking to the students about their work.  They truly do become experts on their topic and are eager to share what they’ve learned with their guests.  The students, even the first graders, are extremely comfortable speaking to adults.

The Carrollton Elementary Expo of Deeper Learning was an outstanding showcase of student projects, incorporating Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity and Citizenship.  A big congratulations to the staff and students at Carrollton Elementary School for embracing deeper learning and hosting three incredible student expos this school year.

Here are some photos from their Animals Alive! Expo.
student with their book on tigers

student with their book on eaglesanimal robot
student presenter
student with their book on elephantsstudent presenters speaking to parents
four students display their books on elephants

Monday, March 13, 2017

Addressing the Needs of All our Students

Our vision is to enable all students to discover their unique gifts and talents to prepare them to be college, career and life ready.  When we took a close look at the programs and facilities we were providing our students, we realized that we were not able to fulfill this commitment with our current learning environments.  
We have made several changes throughout the division to resolve this.  At the elementary level, we have updated our reading program for our K-2 students, provided additional math support and introduced coding classes to all students.  We have also replaced outdated furniture with flexible seating options that allow for more collaboration between students.  In addition, we evaluated our course offerings at the high school level and determined that the regional partnership with Pruden was not meeting the needs of our students.  

We are paying $952,000 annually for 220 slots.  However, enrollment has steadily declined, with only 125 students attending last year.  One of the drawbacks has been the lack of flexibility in scheduling.  Students don’t attend Pruden until their Junior and Senior years, and attending Pruden essentially locks in a student’s schedule for 4 of their 8 classes both years.  Students who may have been interested in a program at Pruden are not participating because they have other classes they want, or need, at their home school.    In addition, those students attending Pruden are not earning many industry certifications, with the most earned in any year being 66.  IWCS is also assigned a certain number of slots per program, which doesn’t allow an increase in high-interest fields, such as welding and culinary, in order to serve more of our students.

When we looked at the amount already allocated annually in our budget for Pruden, we realized that we could build our own in house program without having to increase our budget.  The $952,000 designated for Pruden could be used to purchase equipment, fund teachers and renovate spaces so that we can meet the needs of all our students.  By owning our program, we control the courses, sections and number of students we can reach. The flexible scheduling allows more students to “try-out” a program that wasn’t an option through Pruden.   After talking to the business community, parents and students, we focused on courses that offer industry certifications that would allow our graduates to be on a pathway to a good paying job after high school.  

We established phases to the program in order to stay within the existing allocation for Pruden.  Phase one was launched this year and we will be rolling out the remaining phases next year.  To avoid an extended roll-out of the plan, we have asked the Board of Supervisors to assume a $10 million dollar loan, or debt, which we can fund annually through the existing Pruden budget.  We would not need any additional funding from them to make this happen.  In a matter of 3 years, we can be serving over 400 of our students through our own program.  At the end of 20 years, not only will we have our own career program, fully equipped and manned for years to come, but we will have $750,000 in debt service payments become available for IOW County officials to use to benefit the schools or county in the future that would have been otherwise tied up in payments to Pruden.  By staying with Pruden, we will have spent $19 million on tuition with very little to show for our investment.  The numbers tell us that implementing the proposed educational plan will better serve all of our students and meet their needs for becoming college, career and life ready.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Planning for the Future of Isle of Wight County Schools

Our vision is to create a learning environment that enables every child to discover his or her unique talents and gifts. This is no easy task. We have stopped trying to make the current education system better and have started to reimagine education. We need to become the new Committee of Ten from 1893 and redesign the educational experience for all students that will help them thrive in a world that values them for what they can do, and not the facts they know. 
We could have waited for our education policy-makers to figure out the next steps; instead we have chosen to be proactive and take the steps necessary to change policy that affects the future of our students. We have had many discussions on what it means to be an educated adult in this new force environment. We have discussed the core competencies that matter most for work, learning, and citizenship today. These discussions were the starting point for us to reimagine education for our children.

Three key features keep coming to the forefront of our conversations: the skills needed, the will to learn, and the content knowledge. I believe that will or motivation is the most important and the one most damaged by our SOL test driven curriculum in schools today. I believe if students are motivated to learn then they will continue to develop new skills and thrive in the innovation era. We are not just talking about implementing changes that will make it fun. We want the proposed changes to increase student motivations that include perseverance and self-discipline. 

The skills needed by students is the next area of focus. Through many conversations with all stakeholders, there is a consensus about the importance of the five C’s: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, and citizenship. We believe that these skills can be taught and assessed every day in every classroom. This does not suggest that we should teach these skills instead of our content knowledge. In fact, you cannot teach critical thinking without engaging students in rigorous academic content. The content knowledge is the third key feature and we must select content to create a desire for lifelong learning. We have to manage our desire for content coverage and not let it overwhelm the skills needed to be successful in the innovation age.

In summary, we are obligated to prepare our students for the 5 C’s and competence in dealing with any career pathway they may choose. Our strategic plan is on our website for you to review.  We will be holding two community meetings in which we will have an interactive activity for stakeholders.  On March 15, we will discuss together why we are making changes during a community meeting at Windsor Elementary School.  We will discuss together how we will make those changes, and how we’ve incorporated them into our strategic plan, during a community meeting on April 19 at Smithfield Middle School.  Both meetings will start at 6:00 pm.  This is a great opportunity to learn more about the future plan for Isle of Wight County Schools. I hope to see you there.