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  Windsor Elementary and Carrsville Elementary were also using outdated systems.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!