Friday, December 15, 2017

Spreading Holiday Cheer Throughout IWCS

If you were in any of our schools today, you may have seen a very festive group of people walking through the buildings. That  would have been me and my Executive Team.  We started a tradition where we visit all the schools, and hand out candy canes to elementary students.  There are also toys, donated by Toys for Tots, distributed to Kindergarten through 2nd graders. The costumes are loud and bright, and you really need to see them for yourself.  Here's a short video of our visit to Windsor Elementary School.  Just look at their faces light up as the candy canes and toys are distributed.  And the students were excited too!

Central Office Elves at Windsor Elementary School  (video)

Keeping it Cool at SMS

Last week I wrote a blog about the Cell Expo in Mrs. Peterson's room at Smithfield Middle.  While I was there, I stopped by Mrs. Browder's science class, where they were building insulation cubes. The students were preparing to test their cubes to see what insulation materials worked the best.  During my visit, I talked to the students and the teacher about the projects and captured their comments in a video.  I hope you will watch the movie below and see the deeper learning taking place in Mrs. Browder's 8th grade science class.  This is definitely a "cool" project.

Mrs. Browder's Insulation Project  (Video)

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Cell-a-bration of Cells in Mrs. Peterson's Science Class

There is always something exciting happening in Ellen Peterson's 7th grade science class at Smithfield Middle.  When I stopped by last week, the students had created Giant Plant and Animal Cells and were serving as tour guides inside of the models.  They were also studying cells under the microscope and using Virtual Reality goggles to simulate a roller coaster ride through a cell.  I had a great time visiting the class and could see, and hear, the learning taking place from the students.  The video below highlights my visit to her class and shows the importance of giving students hands-on, deeper learning opportunities.  And I'm sure you will enjoy a few laughs, possibly at my expense, but it was worth it.

Mrs. Peterson's Cell Expo  (video)

Friday, December 1, 2017

Reading Buddies

Members from the Central Office read to elementary students weekly as part of the Reading Buddies program. The video highlights our program and includes comments from some of our readers and our students.  I hope you enjoy the video.

Reading Buddies (Video)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Transportation Appreciation

We love our bus drivers and appreciate all they do each and every day.  I've put together a video that includes interviews with several of our drivers, where I ask them what they like about driving and what the challenges are with driving a school bus.  I also heard from the students about what they think of their drivers.  Finally, I rode on one of our buses as it took students home from Westside Elementary.  I hope you will take a few minutes to watch this special video that highlights our drivers and the job they do.

Transportation Appreciation  (video)


Friday, November 10, 2017

Honoring our Veterans

Today our schools are closed in honor of Veterans Day.  On Thursday, there were activities and ceremonies throughout the division to celebrate Veterans and their service.  I have never seen a school division and community celebrate Veterans Day quite like Isle of Wight County!  So I had to do a Veterans Day video blog.  The video below is from the Westside Veterans Day program.  One of the Veterans who attended the ceremony for the first time shared the following with us:

It was an honor and a great privilege to attend today's Veterans event at Westside Elementary. Today has been the most patriotic and heart felt event I have attended in my 23 years of service. I am still in awe about the love and support the students and staff showed us. I never thought our children in public schools cared this much. My children ages 11 and 8 do not have these events for holidays like this. I have to take them out of school, because those days are usually snow make up days. We will go volunteer somewhere to give back to those who have gone before me. Thank you so much for teaching our future generations the importance of supporting Veterans. I wish more districts would follow your lead on this, it really brings our communities together. Thank you all! 

Thank you again to all of our Veterans. 

I hope you enjoy the video.

Veterans Day Ceremony at Westside Elementary School (video link)

Friday, November 3, 2017

Giving Students a Chance to be Heard

Recently I started visiting schools and sitting down with students to hear from them on various topics.  These Student Advisory Committees are informal conversations between me and the students that allow them to share their likes and wonders about school.  They are usually very eager to tell me about their experiences during their time in IWCS. I asked them about classes or teachers that made them feel successful, and their comments reinforced the importance of developing positive relationships.  The video below is a compilation from a few of the groups talking about those teachers who had a significant impact on them.  One student calls his teacher his "lucky charm"! There is a lot more to share from the Student Advisory meetings, which I'll highlight in future blogs, so stay tuned!

Superintendent's Student Advisory Committees (video) featuring students from Windsor Elementary, Hardy Elementary, Georgie Tyler and Smithfield Middle schools.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Hardy Elementary's Outdoor Classroom

Dr. Jim, the roving Superintendent, shares his second Video Blog on the new outdoor classroom at Hardy Elementary School.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Demonstrating GREAT Citizenship & Building GREAT Relationships at Carrollton Elementary

Welcome to Dr. Jim Thornton's Blog.  This is Lynn Briggs, Director of  Community and Media Relations, posting on behalf of the Superintendent.  Dr. Thornton has created a Video Blog for his weekly message.  He went to Carrollton Elementary School in search of GREAT Citizens and decided to record his adventure to share with you.  While I did help to edit the final version, he captured all the video and conducted all the interviews.  I think he demonstrated one of other traits of being a good citizen, and that is GRIT:  Gumption, Resilience, Integrity, Tenacity.  Thanks "Dr. T." for sharing our GREAT students and staff through your first ever video blog.  Stay tuned for more video blogs from our Roving Superintendent, Dr. Thornton.  Enjoy!

Demonstrating GREAT Citizenship & Building GREAT Relationships

Friday, October 6, 2017

On the Right Path for Students

Isle of Wight County Schools’ vision is to create a learning environment that enables every child to discover his or her unique gifts and talents.  Our mission is to enhance and expand on each child’s unique gifts and talents to ensure every child is college, career, and life ready. I have attached several videos from the Virginia Department of Education that explain the new accreditation proposals and the new initiatives from the state.  You will clearly see that Isle of Wight County Schools is ahead of the curve and on the right path for students.  Our plan for deeper learning in all classrooms, where students have opportunities to collaborate, create, and communicate their ideas around relevant material is better preparing our students for entering the future workplace.  Our new Career and Technical Education offerings will provide certifications and job opportunities right out of high school.   

From the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE):

In November, the state Board of Education will take final action on revisions to the Standards of Accreditation that achieve two important policy directives of the Board and the General Assembly: the implementation of the Profile of a Virginia Graduate and the broadening of the Commonwealth’s school accreditation standards to include multiple measures of school quality.

These revised standards for students and schools are the result of more than three years of research, discussion, review and public engagement by the Board and the Virginia Department of Education.
The VDOE has prepared a series of videos to explain these significant reforms. These videos are available for use by school divisions in explaining these new standards for students and schools to internal and external audiences.  The four videos are arranged as a playlist on the VDOE YouTube channel and may also be viewed individually.
•        Introduction and Overview — Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples provides a broad overview of the revised Standards of Accreditation.

•        The Case for Reform — Diane Atkinson, Chairman of the Board of Education’s Committee on School and Division Accountability, discusses the policy background and development behind the Board’s revisions to the Standards of Accreditation.

•        Profile of a Virginia Graduate — Assistant Superintendent for Policy and Communications Cynthia Cave discusses the development of the Profile of a Virginia Graduate and the new graduation requirements that become effective with students entering the ninth grade in fall 2018 (class of 2022).

•        Continuous Improvement for All Schools — Assistant Superintendent for Student Assessment and School Improvement Shelley Loving-Ryder discusses how the revised Standards of Accreditation encourage continuous improvement for all schools, highlight achievement gaps, and recognize student growth.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Enhancing our Learning Environments

In my blog last week I talked about the importance of creating spaces in our schools that are warm and welcoming and encourage collaboration and communication.  On a larger scale, we have to look at the facility itself to make sure the building is contributing to a positive learning environment.  One of the six priorities in the Strategic Plan is to focus on enhancing the learning environment in our schools.

As part of our commitment to this, the division commissioned a report from Honeywell on June 3, 2016 that assessed the HVAC systems in all of our schools.  The report noted that many of our systems were well beyond their life expectancy.  For example, the HVAC roof top units at Smithfield High were installed in 1997 with a 15 year life expectancy and should have been replaced in 2012.  Windsor Elementary and Carrsville Elementary were also using outdated systems.

We are using the Honeywell report to prioritize systems for replacement and playing catch up to fix the situation as quickly as possible.  Both the Windsor Elementary and Carrsville systems completely broke down and were replaced this past summer at a total cost of $576,000.  The Smithfield High system has been added to the Capital Improvement Plan as a priority for next school year and is expected to cost $2,000,000.  Until then, we are monitoring the system daily because we know there will continue to be issues until the HVAC is replaced.

There are other big projects scheduled to improve the learning environment in our schools.  We appreciate funding from the Board of Supervisors for roof replacement for three schools—Carrollton Elementary, Carrsville Elementary, and Windsor Elementary.  Those projects will begin this fall. 

We are also looking at ways to enhance classroom space and shared spaces in some of our older buildings, like Hardy and Westside.  While we may want to see many of these changes happen soon, we realize both the funding and the work require detailed planning to make it happen.  Our school facilities and spaces send a clear message about our philosophy of education and an even more powerful message to our children and our employees about how deeply they are valued.  We are committed to facility improvements and will continue to address building needs through our budget in order to meet our goal of enhancing the learning environment in all schools.

Friday, September 22, 2017

New Motivational Spaces

The vision to create a learning environment that enables our students to discover their unique gifts or talents is moving forward in a variety of ways. Authors Daniel Pink and Paul Tough have synthesized recent research on understanding motivation in student success. Tough believes the key to student motivation is autonomy, competence, and relevancy. Students need a sense of security, belonging, and to believe they are a valued part of the learning environment. Tough found when students were engaged in deep and important work that challenged them, they experienced more exposure to an environment that made them feel autonomous and competent.

The physical environment by itself cannot provide creative instruction. It can, however, communicate to students the values and expectations the community has for them. Spaces should be designed to be warm and welcoming. This creates the sense of safety and security that students need to collaborate, communicate, take risks and become curious learners.

Our school facilities and spaces send a clear message about our philosophy of education and an even more powerful message to our children about how deeply they are valued. I want to thank the School Board, the Board of Supervisors, faculty and staff, and all those involved in creating and maintaining a positive learning environment for our students to thrive. Please watch the short video highlighting the new collaborative space at Windsor High School.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Modeling “GREAT” Citizenship for our Students

One of the 5 Cs that often gets overlooked in today’s schools is citizenship. I strongly believe that citizenship is an important part of the educational experience. IWCS developed a Focus Document (included below) which outlines our beliefs and expectations for students, faculty, and staff. One of the beliefs is treating all individuals with dignity and respect. 

We often have to make decisions that will affect our student’s education.  An example is the current review of our exam policy. We need to decide whether exams are an integral part of the educational experience that will prepare our students for college, career, and life and, if so, how much they should count in the overall class grade.

This decision, and all similar decisions, needs to be made with stakeholder input. When involving all stakeholders, we need to understand the importance of respecting people’s individual opinions. In modeling positive relationships and citizenship, we must demonstrate mutual respect and confidence that all stakeholders have the best interest of our children in mind when making a suggestion. If we have that common understanding, then we should have the confidence to know that whatever we choose to proceed with will be what’s best for our students and yield the desired result.

I have that level of confidence in our teachers, staff, and parents. If we all demonstrate this type of respect and understanding to our students, not only will we make sound decisions for them, we will help to create  great citizens for our community, our country, and, in fact, the entire world.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Welcome to a New School Year!

I had an amazing first day of school.  After all these years, I still get excited for the start of a new school year.  Even though my children have been out of the house for three years, my wife still had to take a First Day of School photo—of me.   Those First Day photos were definitely much better when my children were in them!  I was also busy taking photos as I visited schools throughout the division today.  I shared many of the pictures on Twitter and highlighted the great start we had in each of our buildings. 

Windsor High School was particularly creative with the “Unfirst Day of School.” Students were greeted by teachers lining the front walkway, and students entered the school through a beautiful archway of blue and gold balloons.   


The unique experience didn’t end there.   A traditional first day back for a high school students would include going to each class, getting a course syllabus, going over routines and procedures.  But the “Unfirst Day” was different.  Students were able to meet all their teachers for both first and second semester.  Time was set-aside for introductions between teachers and students, and relationship building sessions for the class. During the Academic Enrichment Period, students unpacked the new Isle of Wight County Schools’ GRIT focus document. GRIT stands for Gumption, Resilience, Integrity, Tenacity, all characteristics we want our students to possess.  Sharing the qualities of GRIT with students today emphasized the importance we are placing on helping them to develop a growth mindset.

Next, all students went through a rotation which included lunch, expectations for the year, a meeting with the new WHS Principal and Assistant Principal, and an information meeting with Guidance. Then the “Unfirst Day of School” ended with an Academic Pep Rally, honoring students with all A’s, perfect attendance, and seniors who will be receiving an Academic Jacket later this month.
Far from a traditional first day of school, students understood by the end of the day that relationships are important and that they have some very special people at Windsor High School that are advocates for their success. Hats off to new administrators Mrs. Laura Sullivan (Principal), Mr. Zach Haney (Assistant Principal), and all the educators and staff that make Windsor High School so unique!!!

 I hope the first day went well for you and your family.  My next blog will highlight the excitement of the first week in all of our schools, so stay tuned!