Friday, October 12, 2018

It’s Always a Good Day to be a GREAT Citizen

You may have seen or heard the words GRIT and GREAT used by our schools to discuss characteristics we want our students to have.  GRIT, which stands for Gumption, Resiliency, Integrity and Tenacity, is about working hard towards challenges.  GREAT focuses on citizenship, and stands for Growth, Respect, Empathy, Accountability, and Trustworthiness.  Being a GREAT Citizen also means not being a bully, and standing up for others who are being bullied.  Our schools are emphasizing these characteristics throughout October in conjunction with National Bullying Prevention Month.  I wanted to highlight some of the activities taking place in our schools as they teach our students about being GREAT citizens.

  • Carrollton Elementary will be unveiling their Buddy Bench, where students can sit with someone and demonstrate kindness.  The bench was painted by members of the Carrollton CARE Club.
  •  Students at Carrsville Elementary are creating artwork that illustrates GREAT qualities and signing the Bulldogs Don’t Bully banner.
  •  Hardy Elementary students will hear the story of Spookley the Square Pumpkin who is often bullied for being different.  They will learn the importance of celebrating differences and that everyone can contribute to the greater good.
  • The Westside Eagles held a ceremony to bury bullying behaviors. Students wrote a bullying related behavior they want to bury on a slip of newspaper. Their slips were thrown into a pre-dug hole where a “Unity Tree,” will be planted, to help remind students of their commitment to a fresh start.
  • Isle of Wight County Sheriff James Clarke spoke to students at Windsor Elementary School and shared with them actions they can take to stand up to bullying.
  •  Georgie Tyler will observe Mix it Up at Lunch Day, which encourages students to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch.  The national campaign was launched in 2002 and will take place on the last Tuesday in October.
  •  Eighth graders at Smithfield Middle School participated in a program called Love Over Hate.  The motivational speaker shared the powerful concept of self-love, along with self-realization and awareness using music, conversation and interactive activities that kept the students engaged throughout his message.
  •  The Positivity Club at Smithfield High is the driving force behind the school’s anti-bullying campaign #PackFightsBack.  The club set up “Boar Boxes” throughout the school where students can report any instances of bullying.  They have designated the last Friday of the month as Blue Out day, to bring awareness to being a buddy, not a bully. 
  • Similar to Mix it Up at Lunch Day, Windsor High will host a "Strangers in a Ball Pit" day.  Students will have the opportunity during lunch to sit in a ball pit and make new friends at WHS using conversation starters as encouragement to connect with others.  Providing students with occasions to interact with those who are different from them helps to change biases and misperceptions.
  • Several schools also held a Pinky Promise Day, where students pledged to take a stand against bullying and showed their commitment by having their pinky painted blue.
The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to emphasize characteristics of a GREAT citizen.  The division’s Focus Document on GREAT Citizenship states our beliefs and our goals:  Isle of Wight County Schools strives to create a culture that focuses on individual growth in the area of citizenship for students, staff, parents and community members. We believe that citizenship is defined by the choices we make and actions we show each day. We recognize a significant connection between the behavior of our citizens and the success of our community. Our expectation is that our school community focuses on being GREAT every day!

I am proud of the efforts our students and staff are taking to bring awareness to bullying, but these efforts aren’t isolated to just October.  We teach, share, model, highlight and celebrate outstanding citizenship all year long.  It is our commitment to ensuring students have the skills to make them successful, not only while they are with us, but for the rest of their life.

Pictures from the Anti-Bullying Activities in Our Schools

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Building for the Future--New Facilities at SHS and WHS Prepare Students for Success

"Whatever good things we build end up building us."--Jim Rohn
I saw this quote and realized how appropriate it would be for my blog.  On October 4 we held a ribbon cutting ceremony for our new JROTC Fieldhouse at Smithfield High School.  The building will serve as the first dedicated facility specifically for the JROTC program.  The previous location for the program was cramped and supplies were stored in various areas throughout the school.  In addition, cadets were practicing formations and drills outside in a parking area, or in hallways during bad weather.  The battalion now has a beautiful facility with space for classrooms, storage and drill practice.  The new structure was made possible by the Smithfield Foods Legacy Project, a $3 million donation to Isle of Wight County Schools announced in 2017 to fund an innovative and multifaceted educational program.

In the spring of 2018, we opened a brand new facility at Windsor High School to house the Building Trades program.  The previous space did not have sufficient room to work on larger-scale projects.  The new space allows students to gain the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in careers related to building construction.

A few weeks ago, we opened a new athletic fieldhouse at Smithfield High School, near Packer Stadium.  The building is equipped with team locker rooms and a weight room.  It also has public restrooms for use during sporting events.  The facility is a welcome addition to the athletic program at SHS.

The journey to these finished projects wasn't without bumps along the way, which is not uncommon with new construction.  Delays due to weather, changes that arose during the project, and inconveniences faced by students, parents and staff have been the painful part of the process.  The end result represents a commitment to our students to provide them with opportunities, and spaces, to discover their unique gifts and talents--a dedicated space for the JROTC program, a fieldhouse for student athletes, and an up-to-date classroom for building trades.  It is exciting to see the progress we are making and to think about the benefit these facilities will have for our students.   There are still more to come with new spaces for Culinary Arts, Nursing and Manufacturing.  Stay tuned for highlights about those spaces in a future blog. Please scroll down to see pictures of the JROTC building, the Building Trades lab and the Athletic Fieldhouse.

JROTC Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Building Trades Lab

Athletic Fieldhouse

Friday, September 28, 2018

A Sweet Performance at Convocation: Willy, Charlie and the Oompah Loompahs

During our division-wide Convocation in August, Central Office entertained the group with a performance of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  In our version, teaching candidates for IWCS were put through several tests at the factory in order to see who was worthy of working for our school system.  Augustus Grump, the Boringard sisters, Veruca Brickbrain and Mike PBL, as well as Charlie and Willy, took us on an adventure, complete with a chocolate river, human blueberries, shrink rays and trap doors.  We even had our very own Oompah Loompah chorus!  Every member of Central Office participated in the production, whether in front of or behind the curtain.  It's our way of sharing an important message in a light-hearted way, while modeling the importance of taking risks.  I am so proud of the work of each person involved in the skit and I'm excited to be able to share the video of the performance with you.  We had a few microphone issues that were resolved about mid-way through, so you may want to select the closed captioning feature in order to catch all the dialogue.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 21, 2018

IWCS Convocation: Chants, Cheers and Champions

In August, we held our annual division-wide Convocation.  It's an energetic kick-off to the new year, where we celebrate our successes, reaffirm our mission and vision, and demonstrate our love for what we do.  We also find time to cheer, laugh, and sometimes even cry during the three hours we are together. This year was no different.

We saw lip sync videos from each school as part of the traditional school spirit contest.  The judges had a difficult time deciding on a winner, but Smithfield High emerged victorious and took possession of the coveted "spirit coconut".  We heard a powerful message from Manny Scott, one of the original Freedom Writers, on the importance of building positive relationships with students.  I shared a few remarks with the group and encouraged them to be Champions this year.  In the video you can see and hear the enthusiasm that filled the auditorium that day.  Enjoy!

Dr. Thornton's Convocation Message (video)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Going to Great Heights to Welcome our New Teachers

Our new teachers join us a few days before returning staff arrive, and each year I say a few words to the group.  But this year, I decided to shake things up a bit.  When I shared the vision and mission of Isle of Wight County Schools, I wanted them to understand that we mean what we say.  We go to great lengths--and heights--to prepare our students to be college, career and life ready.

So...I delivered my message standing on top of the tables, and had drummers banging their drums for emphasis throughout my remarks

I am happy to report that all of the new teachers are still with us-- none went running out of the room.  I think it's safe to say they have not had a welcome like that before.

As we prepare for a new school year, it's a good time to revisit our vision--to create a learning environment that will enable every child to discover his or her unique gifts and talents.

The video below contains excerpts from the New Teacher meeting.  Yes, you will see me on a table.  Yes, you will hear the drummers.  And I also had a very kind elementary teacher help me with my shoelace.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

A Look Back at Graduation 2018

In early June, we celebrated the accomplishments of our seniors during graduation ceremonies at Windsor High and Smithfield High schools.  Many of those students are wrapping up their summer and preparing for what's next, so it seemed like a good time to revisit that special day.  Below is a link to a video that highlights the two graduations.  We've also posted some pictures on our Facebook page.  Good luck to all of our recent graduates as they continue on with their lives, whether it's college, the military or the workforce.  Be Great!


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Honoring Seniors and the Teachers Who Made a Difference in Their Life

Each year  we host a Senior of the Month Banquet and this blog focuses on that event.  I decided to republish the thoughts I shared last year on the banquet.  I hope you will enjoy it.  In addition, the link below will take you to a video of the ceremony.  I hope you will watch it and here the heartfelt messages the students had for the teachers they were honoring.

Senior of the Month Banquet (video)

How good is your memory?  Do you ever walk into a room and forget why you went in there?  Or you are unable to find that important item that you put somewhere special for “safekeeping” that is really safe because you can’t remember where it is?  Even though we’ve all been there, it’s still frustrating.

But I bet I know something you remember without hesitation.  Can you recall a teacher who made a tremendous impact on your life?  I’m sure one teacher, or even more,  you had in school just came to mind and many memories about why they were special to you came flooding back.  Here’s the more challenging question:  Did you ever tell them how much they meant to you?  Probably not.
I realize students don’t often share with a teacher just how much they have influenced the student’s life.  Even when they do, it is typically not shared publicly.  On May 30, 2018, several of our seniors had a chance to do just that.  They honored a teacher who had made a significant impact on their life at our Senior of the Month Banquet.

Each month, Windsor and Smithfield high schools nominate a Senior of the Month.  The students are recognized at a school board meeting and also receive a $500 college scholarship generously provided by our business and community partners.  The Senior of the Month Banquet provides an opportunity for each of these 16 students to publicly thank a teacher who has made a difference in their life.  The students courageously stand before an audience of family members, scholarship sponsors and school officials and share why they are honoring their chosen educator.  They recall personal stories filled with poignancy, gratitude, and admiration.  Their heartfelt remarks bring about laughter, a few tears, and a tremendous amount of appreciation for both the teacher and the student.  The teacher receives a plaque to commemorate the occasion, but the remarks from their student are the real gift.  It is truly an incredibly special evening for all the guests.

Thank you to the teachers who were honored by the Seniors of the Month.  I know all of our teachers have had, or will have, a significant impact on many children throughout their teaching career.  Whether the praise is public, private, or even unspoken, there is an incredible satisfaction and validation when a teacher knows they have made a difference in a child’s life. Thank you to all IWCS teachers for making a difference in some child’s life each and every day.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Showcasing Our Schools: Westside=Best Side

Back in March, I began highlighting our schools in my Friday blog.  I started at Carrsville and moved up Route 258 to Windsor, then along Route 10 to Smithfield, Hardy and Carrollton.  This blog wraps up the series with a stop at Westside Elementary School. Westside has a rich history in its sixty year lifetime.The school served African American children in the county as Isle of Wight Training School/Institute, then as Westside High School until desegregation in the 1960s.  The school became Smithfield Elementary then Smithfield Middle until the early 2000s.  With the construction of a new middle school, the community recommended the building be renamed Westside Elementary to commemorate it's historical significance to education in Isle of Wight County.
There has always been tremendous pride associated with Westside.  You can see and hear it in the alumni who talk about the important role the school and staff played in their lives.  The students at Westside now share that same sense of pride.  The teachers use the saying "Westside Bestside" when they share information about the successes of their students on social media.  It's a mantra that reflects how they feel about their school, their classes and their work.
The video below highlights some of that Westside Pride.  Hear from students and staff as they explain what makes Westside the Best Side.


Friday, May 25, 2018

Working Together for a Better Community

The vision for Isle of Wight County Schools is to create a learning environment that enables every child to discover his or her unique gifts and talents. The mission is to enhance and expand on each child’s unique gifts and talents to ensure every child is college, career, and life ready. For this vision and mission to come alive in Isle of Wight County, it requires commitment from the School Board, school leaders, and all school staff. Another important group that may not always be acknowledged is the community.    The community of stakeholders is made up of taxpayers both parents and citizens without children, business partners, and the Board of Supervisors.  The old adage of “It takes a village” has never been more important in these very divisive times. We are fortunate to have two boards that have come together to look out for the interest of Isle of Wight County, first and foremost.  
Our future is based on strong economic growth, which is not possible without a strong, viable workforce. The Board of Supervisors (BOS) understands this more than any governing body that I have worked with before. For the budget proposed during my first year, we focused on the condition of our facilities and added line items to ensure infrastructure upgrades and schedules for furniture, playground and bus replacement, as well as cycles for painting and paving at all schools. The BOS funded an increase of $736,000 to meet these very important needs that had been neglected for too long. In year two, our school board and I agreed that we should try to meet the school needs while trying to be fiscally responsible and only ask when funds were needed.  We were able to improve our teachers scale without asking the county for any increase in local dollars. The BOS did fund an additional 2.7 million dollars in the Capital Improvement Budget to replace roofs at Carrsville, Carrollton, and Windsor Elementary school. In addition they agreed to take on the debt service for our new Career and Technical Education project that includes programs such as welding, agricultural sciences on the land lab, building trades, mechatronics, nursing, culinary arts, cosmetology, and global logistics.

This year, with increased enrollment, we met challenges in class size at the high school level that were not expected. Once again the BOS worked cooperatively with our Board to fund additional positions at SHS. The proposed budget for 2018-2019 had requests from several schools that would reduce class size and continue the quality education everyone has come accustomed to.  The request was large--$1,094,000. School Board members met and publicly shared the reasons behind the requests. The number of community members who came out to provide public input was more than I had ever seen.  The speakers were polite and stated their reasons for supporting the budget in a thoughtful and respectful manner.  It was encouraging to see.    The Supervisors came through once again by fully funding the schools operating request.  They also fully funded the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) requests to replace the HVAC at SHS (at a cost of $1.97 million over two years).

In my three years with IWCS, the Board of Supervisors have shown a willingness to work with the School Board to continue, and to even expand, the services provided to our students.  They understand that their investment in the youngest citizens of Isle of Wight County will pay dividends for all stakeholders in the long run.