Sunday, November 24, 2019

A Time to be Thankful

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, it is an appropriate time to pause and reflect on everything we have to be thankful for. 

In addition to my family and my health, many of my thoughts are about all of the great things happening throughout our division.  As I’ve visited schools, I’ve seen caring, dedicated people whose actions, both big and small, are making a significant impact on the lives of our students.  I have met parents who entrust us to educate their children and prepare them to be successful citizens once they leave our doors.  I have listened to members of the community who know the importance of high-performing schools to the health of our county. I have interacted with students and heard about their hopes and dreams, and the high expectations they have for themselves and want us to have for them. For Thanksgiving, I am giving thanks for supportive staff, students, parents and citizens and their vision for Isle of Wight County Schools.  With these pieces in place, we are in a position to do incredible things to help every child discover their unique gifts and talents.

Over the break, I hope you will take time to think about everything you have to be thankful for and remember those who are less fortunate.  Finally, I wish you a wonderful holiday as you spend time with family and friends. 

Friday, November 8, 2019

Honoring our Veterans

Our schools and offices are closed Monday in honor of Veterans Day.  On Thursday, there were activities and ceremonies throughout the division to celebrate Veterans for their service.   The programs are distinguished events that include numerous student performances.  From songs by the school band and chorus, to student speakers, and theatrical performances, the schools celebrate the brave members of the Armed Forces and their family members who support them.  I have never seen a school division and community celebrate Veterans Day quite like Isle of Wight County!

Below is a video that highlights moments from our Veterans Day programs held last year.  It's a beautiful tribute to the men and women who serve our country.  We will also be sharing pictures from this year's events on our Facebook page.  If you know someone who served in the military, or someone who is currently a member of the military, please share the video with them.  I realize many of them may not be able to attend ceremonies taking place in their honor and I hope this video and pictures on Facebook can convey our appreciation. We owe so much to the men and women of our military for the sacrifices they have made to ensure our freedom. 

Honoring our Veterans (video)

Monday, November 4, 2019

Recognizing and Celebrating Alumni

Windsor High and Smithfield High both celebrated Homecoming during October.  The tradition has been around for decades and it originated as a way to welcome "home" the football team after several weeks of road games.  While that may not be the case anymore, it is still a time when alumni will make the trek back to their high school to see their alma mater and reconnect with their classmates and community.

Both SHS and WHS took time recently to recognize some of their alumni for outstanding accomplishments.  On Friday night, October 25, the Dukes introduced the Class of 2019-2020 Windsor High/Georgie D. Tyler High Alumni Hall of Fame.  The purpose of the award is to honor graduates from both of the Windsor schools, who have made their Alma Mater proud through career, community, military, and or/philanthropic accomplishments. 

The inductees included Carla Duck, and Mr. and Mrs. Drake.  Carla is a 1983 graduate of Windsor High School.  Carla was an employee of Isle of Wight County Public in the technology department, at Central Office, and as an ISS coordinator at WHS.  She is a member of Chapel Grove Faith Community Church. She spends much of her time serving others through meal preparation for those in need in the local community and visiting those that are house bound.  Linda and Jerry Drake are 1971 graduates of Windsor High School. Mr. Drake retired from Union Camp and Mrs. Drake currently serves as a school bus driver for Isle of Wight County Schools. They are faithful supporters of every program at Windsor High School and have served as ticket takers at WHS events for the last 25 years. The Drakes serve as the unofficial hospitality committee:  sharing a story and a smile with all members of the Dukes family on multiple nights a week.  

That same night, Smithfield High recognized members of the 1969 undefeated football team, along with members from earlier undefeated Westside High football teams.  In 1969, Isle of Wight County Schools integrated and students from the all-black Westside High moved to SHS.  There were vocal groups throughout Smithfield who worried about the impact of desegregation.  The young men who played on the football team that year rallied the community as they continued winning game after game, finishing their season a perfect 10-0.  The members of that team helped to ease concerns and brought people together as they sat with each other in the stands and rooted for the Packers. 

Both Windsor High and Smithfield High have a rich history within the county, but we must also remember the other high schools that were part of this county that live on in the names of some of our current schools--Westside High School and Georgie D. Tyler High School.  One of the things I have seen from our emphasis on deeper learning and authentic experiences has been more connections with the community.  The recent recognitions at both high schools are excellent examples of making those connections and honoring those who are forever a Duke or a Packer.
Smithfield High/Westside High Football Team

WHS Hall of Fame Honorees (photo courtesy of Stephen Cowles, Windsor Weekly)

Friday, October 25, 2019

Celebrating Academic Excellence

During the months of October and November,  students throughout the division will be honored for academic excellence.  Students who finished the 2018-2019 school year with All As for their final grades will be recognized with an academic medal during special evening ceremonies.  Over 700 4th through 12th graders will receive a medal for their exceptional achievement.  In addition, seniors who maintained a 3.75 Grade Point Average though their Junior year received an Academic Jacket.  The personalized Varsity Letterman jacket is presented to the student by their parents, or someone special, who actually get to place the jacket on the student.  This is usually followed by several hugs and lots of pictures.

This was the fifth year of the medal and jacket ceremonies for Isle of Wight County Schools.  It was a tradition I started in my previous divisions and I wanted to make sure the students in Isle of Wight County had this same opportunity.  With the assistance of a great sponsor, SSC, I am pleased that IWCS was able to present an academic jacket to over 150 extraordinary seniors. 

The history of wearing a varsity jacket originated over 100 years ago. This time honored tradition is an outward symbol of hard work, determination and perseverance. Often the letter, pins and stars recognize athleticism and great accomplishments in a sport. The Superintendent’s Academic Jacket honors our students who have demonstrated great achievement in the classroom.

Honoring accomplishments in academics lets students know that we appreciate the many hours of studying, note taking, reading, writing papers, listening to lectures, working in groups, and staying up after everyone is asleep to finish a project. The jacket not only honors the students, but also their parents and loved ones, as well as the educators, that have supported them throughout their academic journey.  
We have posted pictures from the ceremonies at Windsor High and Smithfield High on our Facebook page.  We still have medal ceremonies coming up for our Hardy Elementary, Westside Elementary, and Smithfield Middle students.  It is a special moment for the students and their families and one that is well deserved.  

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Learning More about eSports and the New Team at SHS

The Virginia High School League (VHSL), the group that oversees public school sports, approved a one-year pilot program for esports at its May 2019 meeting.  Esports competitions have grown in recent years and many high school students are engaging in cooperative, collaborative, and competitive activities on their own.

Smithfield High School (SHS) is piloting an eSports team and the program has already generated a lot of interest from students.  Last week, the coach for the SHS team, Chris Borum, was invited on to the WTKR News Channel 3 Coast Live show, along with a VHSL representative, and talked to host Cheryl Nelson about the new program.

As you hear Mr. Borum talk about eSports, you will realize that it isn't about students sitting around playing video games.  The division's mission is to help all students discover their unique gifts and talents.   With more colleges organizing eSports teams, and offering scholarships to students to come play for them, it is another opportunity I'm glad we can provide our students.

Watch the segment below to learn more about eSports from the SHS coach, Chris Borum, and Darrell Wilson from the VHSL.

Bringing Varsity eSports to Virginia High Schools (link to video)

Friday, October 11, 2019

Two Degrees are better than One

At Thursday night’s School Board meeting, Susan Goetz, Director for Leadership, shared information with the board on expanding dual enrollment (DE) opportunities for our students.  The goal is to add enough courses that students could earn an associate’s degree by the time they graduate from high school.  DE allows students to receive both high school and college credit for the same course (hence, dual enrollment). 
IWCS already partners with Paul D. Camp Community College to provide several dual credit classes at Windsor and Smithfield.  The classes are popular with students but we are limited to the number of courses we can offer. The main reason we don’t offer more DE classes has to do with the credentials needed to teach these classes.  Community college instructors need 18 hours of graduate coursework in their content area.  Usually, teachers will take graduate courses in the field of administration, not their content area. 
We are looking at a possible plan that would increase the number of teachers qualified to teach DE courses.  Our recommendation is to pay for teachers to take classes to become DE credentialed.  They would need 18 credit hours, or 6 courses.  Tuition would be about $1,068 per class (using ODU tuition as an example) or $6,408 per teacher.  We will look at partnering with a university to offer classes or provide tuition reimbursement.  In addition, we would limit the number of teachers per subject area that IWCS will pay for courses.  To ensure teachers don’t get their degree and immediately leave, we would require them to remain in IWCS for 3-5 years after completing courses paid for by the division.
The good news is that we have several teachers that are very close to meeting the 18 credits required to teach DE, meaning we would not be starting from scratch to develop the faculty needed to make this happen.
There are still many unanswered questions:  Will there be any cost to take the DE classes?  Could students still get the degree if they didn't start the program until they were a sophomore?  We will be working VERY closely with Paul D. Camp as we continue to develop our plan.  Keep in mind that this is a long-range plan because it may take two years for a teacher to complete the 18 credits to qualify as a DE instructor.  That’s just the reality of the situation.  Because of this, I believe we can’t wait any longer to put something in place.  Our students should have the ability to graduate from high school with their school diploma and an Associate’s Degree from PDCCC.  And that should happen as quickly as possible.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Hobbs' House: How Repairing a Citizen's Home Became More than Nails and Paint

In March, I wrote a blog called Building Relationships in the Community through Building Trades which highlighted the work of our students who were helping to rehabilitate a senior citizens home.  The journey that began in early 2019 came to a close over the summer.  The students completed work on Mrs. Hobbs' house, leaving her with a much nicer and safer structure for her to continue living in.
As much as this project was about providing our students with authentic experiences, it was about learning the importance of giving back to our community.  However, I was overwhelmed at the bond that formed between the students and Mrs. Hobbs.  They became her boys and she was like an adopted grandmother to them.

We have created a beautiful documentary that captures the story of the "Hobbs House", as we affectionately call it.  But this became more than a story about a house.  It's a story of building relationships and showing kindness to one another.  I am very proud of the students who worked on Mrs. Hobbs' house and hope you enjoy watching their journey.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

High Expectations in Action

One of the characteristics we work on with our students is GRIT.  Actually, we use that as an acronym for Gumption, Resiliency, Integrity, and Tenacity.  We talk about having a growth mindset and facing new challenges with the mentality of..."I can't do that...Yet!".  

Recently, some of our students had an opportunity to demonstrate GRIT and growth mindset as they delivered the keynote address at the division's Convocation program.  These six students, who are now 7th graders at Smithfield Middle, were in my math class last year at Westside Elementary.  Back then, I shared my expectations with them on presenting in front of their classmates.  When the day came for their first presentations, they were, how can I say this,.......they were bad.  Some were a little better than others, but they all needed a lot of work.  Some had their back to their class and talked into the whiteboard.  Others were too quiet, or spoke too fast, or didn't make eye contact with the audience. 

I was honest with the feedback I gave them, which is important for improvement.  So often adults will tell them "Good job" when, really, it wasn't a good job.  I told them I didn't expect them to be great with their presentations--yet! But I knew they could get there with practice and kind, specific, and helpful feedback.

Flash forward to May as my staff and I were discussing a keynote speaker for our Convocation program in August.  This was it!  What better test of GRIT and growth mindset than speaking in front of an audience. 

The six students I selected were not necessarily the best presenters but I knew they would commit to this project.  I knew they could do this, but some of them were not as confident.  I worked with them for a few days in May and June, and brought them back together for a few more practices in August.  They knew at any time during the practice I could stop them and give them feedback.  They were not going to hear "good job" unless it truly was good work.  I was impressed at the pride they had in their performance and how eager they were to hear feedback that only made their delivery better. 

On the day of Convocation, there were some nerves (including from me as well) but there was a tremendous amount of excitement.  I told them how much I loved them and how proud I already was of them.  I knew they were ready, but how would they do?  Would they crumple in front of over 500 teachers and staff?  Or would they nail it?

See for yourself.  Remember--these are 7th graders in front of an auditorium full of adults, and they were doing all of their lines from memory.  This is growth mindset and GRIT, and it's exactly what we should expect of our students every day.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

IWCS and the County Fair: Providing Learning Experiences for our Students

Did you make it to the Isle of Wight County Fair last week?  If not, you missed out on a wonderful event.  I stopped by on Friday morning to see our students who were on a field trip to the fair.  All of our preschoolers, first, and second graders had an opportunity to visit the fair.  They visited the agriculture tent where they were greeted by one of our Agriculture students and a chicken from the Land Lab.  As they filed in the tent, some stopped to touch the bird's feathers, while others gave the bird a quick study.  Inside, they found more animals from our Land Lab, including goats, cows, and a donkey.  Farm Manager Daniel Judkins, Agriculture teacher Jason Brittle, and more Ag students shared information with the students about the livestock and answered many questions from the curious youngsters.  It seemed the most asked question was "Can I pet it?"  (Of course the answer was Yes)  They also saw crop plants that play an important role in the county's economy--cotton, peanuts, corn.

Opportunities like this are invaluable to our students.  Many of them have never seen these animals in real life, or they didn't realize that peanuts grow in the ground and cotton comes from a plant.  It is important to provide our students with exposure to these unique experiences.  It expands their understanding of real world situations and increases their chance for success both in and out of school.

The fair also demonstrates the partnership between the schools and the county.  IWCS was featured in one of the tents at the fair where we showcased student work from all of our schools.  A big Thank You to Instructional Coordinator Kristan Formella who organized our displays and the volunteers to man the tables throughout the weekend.  In addition, all of our schools decorated hay bales which were lined up at the entrance to the parking areas.  Both of our high schools bands performed at the fair and entertained the students during their field trip.

I had a fabulous time at the fair.  As much as I enjoyed it, I know the students enjoyed it even more.
And while it may seem like it was just a "field trip", it was a learning experience that provided students with exposure to new situations and environments.  Experiences like this are what our students need to better prepare them for the future.

Here's a short video from my day at the fair.  You'll see quite a few of our students, staff, and volunteers in the clip.  And, of course, the farm animals make an appearance.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Remembering 9/11

On Wednesday, all of our schools took time to reflect on the tragedy that occurred 18 years ago.  For many of us, we can tell you exactly where we were when we heard about the attack on our country.  The magnitude of the events on 9/11/01 were, and remain, unparalleled.  

It occurred to me that only a very few of our students were even born when 9/11 happened.  They only know it as a historical event and don’t have the same connection to it that their parents and teachers have. To keep past events relevant to our current students, we have to show them the significance of the events and explain the impact an event like 9/11 has on all Americans.

As part of Patriots’ Day, schools throughout the division organized age appropriate activities to remember the lives lost on 9/11 and to honor our first responders who work to keep us safe.

All schools received a Freedom Flag, the Commonwealth of Virginia's official symbol of September 11, 2001.  Smithfield High and Carrsville Elementary conducted ceremonies as the flag was raised and lowered in front of the school.  Local first responders were on hand and recognized by students and staff. 

At Westside Elementary, Mrs. Pryor’s students created a video that was shared with the school where they explained the symbolism of the Freedom Flag.  In other classes, students journaled their feelings about 9/11 and why they love living in the U.S. They discussed the event, why it’s important to remember, and had an opportunity to ask questions. 

Some schools delivered the message of the Freedom Flag in solemn, school-wide announcements. 
Windsor High shared a summary of events from 9/11 on the morning announcements prior to dedicating their moment of silence to those who lost their life that day and those who responded to the events.  A second Freedom Flag will be displayed at the WHS football field in September and the announcer will review the meaning of the symbols before home games. 

Smithfield Middle and Georgie Tyler Middle students participated in activities through their English or Social Studies classes that emphasized freedom and patriotism. 

Hardy Elementary shared the importance of the Freedom Flag and the first responders followed by a moment of silence.  Second graders read the story, September Roses and created American flags.  Windsor Elementary students made cards for local first responders that will be delivered to law enforcement and fire officials.

Carrollton Elementary students, faculty, and staff visited a “9/11 reflection spot” which featured an artistic representation of the twin towers on which faculty and staff members displayed remembrances of their experiences on that fateful day. Teachers shared the children’s book September 12: We Knew Everything Would Be All Right with their classes to honor the tragedy and sacrifice of September 11th while highlighting the bravery, hope, and grit demonstrated by first responders and communities as their stories continued.  

Students and staff throughout IWCS wore red, white, and blue to celebrate patriotism and demonstrate the resiliency of our country. 

I am constantly reminded that we have loving, caring students throughout our schools.  Empathy is one of the characteristics of GREAT students.  On Wednesday, our students demonstrated empathy through their words and actions as they remembered the events of 9/11 and the devastation directly inflicted on thousands of families.  They admire, respect, and appreciate our first responders who run towards danger as others run away.  I am incredibly proud of our students and our staff for the thoughtful displays of patriotism on 9/11.  Our community, and truly the nation, will be better for the lessons we are teaching our children now.

Commemorating 9/11