CHS students interviewing and photographing local African-Americans. Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Daily Progress

Highlights and News: January 24, 2017

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January 24, 2017

Johnson 4th-graders participate in a strategic plan focus group.
Johnson fourth-graders participate in a strategic plan focus group.

Dear families,

As you know, we are developing the strategic plan that will guide our Charlottesville schools through the year 2023. So far, we have gotten a great response from students, staff, and parents — and we want to hear from you, too.

Three opportunities are available for staff and parents:

  • A community-wide listening session will be held this Wednesday (1/25) at CHS at 7pm. Join us!
  • An online survey is another way you can share your feedback and ideas.
  • A schedule of school-based meetings is on the web site, as well.

This monthly newsletter will reflect on some of the ideas we’ve heard so far, connecting the ideas with recent activities in our schools.
Dr. Rosa S. Atkins, Superintendent

Early Feedback from our Meetings and and Survey Responses:

More Real-World Activities, Projects, and Writing

CHS students interviewing and photographing local African-Americans. Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Daily ProgressRecent examples:

  • This month, CHS photo and African-American history students partnered on an community project in which they interviewed and photographed local black leaders to document African-American lives, leadership, and experiences.  The images and content will be presented to the CHS community during their African-American History Month assembly.
  • CHS student Saad Khaleefa more than impressed the crowd at the annual community  celebration honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he read his essay describing this experiences as a refugee from Syria.  Khaleefa won the high school writing contest (and classmate Thomas Inigo was a finalist); the contest was curated by PVCC judges and sponsored by the Albemarle County Rotary Club Foundation.
  • Walker students designing and testing toy boats in a James River experiementThanks to the school division’s new iSTEM program, fifth-graders at Walker School designed, built, and tested boats for a journey up the “James River” in a classroom simulation. In addition to the STEM skills, the project incorporated history and language arts skills. Similarly, third-graders across the division designed and built garden structures to protect the schools’ lettuce from winter, among other projects. You can catch a broader glimpse of the work of this new iSTEM program at STEM nights hosted by the elementary schools this winter.
  • Burnley-Moran students have been writing letters to (and receiving correspondence from) senior-citizen pen pals throughout the year.  This month, they’re going to meet each other face-to-face!

More Use of Community Partnerships and Resources

Ms. Ruth from Clark speaking with studentsA few recent examples:

  • Clark Elementary organized a “community helper day” for its kindergartners, inviting special guests including their own award-winning crossing guard Ms. Ruth Hill. Other guests are future and current community helpers from CATEC,  with high school students representing fields such as firefighting, dental, and medical care.
  • Images from two performances at the Paramount Theatre: Grapes of Wrath and The SnowmanCHS eleventh-grade English classes took advantage of performances of The Grapes of Wrath at the Paramount Theater offered by the National Players. Thanks to the theater, the actors visited CHS to offer related workshops with English and drama classes. Similarly, a number of our elementary school students were able to hear the Richmond Symphony accompany a screening of The Snowman, also at the Paramount.
  • CHS biology students recently partnered with UVa Health professionals to present their research at a student symposium. 
  • Buford students will soon be watching Hidden Figures, a powerful reminder that each of us can use our talents to impact our world. 
  • Our partnership with City Schoolyard Garden offers hands-on learning across the curriculum. Students, staff, and parents are pleased with these ongoing activities and are glad to see expansions, including the green roof project on the new garden shed at Greenbrier.

Putting Students at the Center: Offering Choices and Pathways

16-17 Zero Robotics programming team from CHS
CHS Zero Robotics programming team: ranked 10th in the world

Recent examples include:

  • Our strategic plan process includes focus groups with students at all our schools, including our alternative program, Lugo-McGinness Academy. Students have brought important and unique perspectives but also share many of the same educational goals and preferences as their teachers and parents.
  • The CHS science club BACON (Best All-around Club of Nerds) offers a model for how students can take ownership of their learning.  Students pick the projects they wish to focus on and work independently on their goals. As adviser Dr. Matt Shields notes, “It’s about as far away as you can get from ‘My dad did my science fair project.'”  For a fifth straight year, the students working on the Zero Robotics team qualified for the international finals in the programming competition sponsored by NASA and MIT. Good luck at the finals, BACON!
  • CATEC winners Luis and Ed
    CATEC winners Luis and Ed

    Students at CATEC also offer a model of charting their own path and exploring possible careers ranging from health care to culinary arts.  New this year is the program’s partnership with tech giant CISCO, offering industry-recognized certifications in IT. CATEC recently hosted the regional competition for Skills USA, showing the range of the program’s offerings. CHS students Luis Becerra-Vargas and Ed Pollock, respectively, earned 2nd and 3rd in Culinary Arts at the competition.  Congratulations!

  • Even younger students can take ownership of their learning.  This year, thanks to a grant from the Shannon Foundation, Venable students will lead their own parent-teacher conferences. Using portfolios of their own work, students will reflect on their growth and learning as well as articulate their goals for the future.
  • Student coding circuitry in engineering
    Student coding circuits in engineering

    While students in all curriculum areas offered specific examples of ways their teachers offer choice and independence, Buford and CHS students enrolled in engineering classes say that choice and independence are at the heart of these classes. Students are given structured expectations about what they will learn and what projects will guide them through the curriculum, but on a daily basis, students work independently and with peers to accomplish these goals.

Improving School Culture, Community, & Wellness

Students Taking a bow at a school-wide Venable meeting.
Taking a bow at a school-wide Venable meeting

Recent examples include:

  • Across our elementary schools, classrooms and even whole schools host periodic or daily “morning meetings” to celebrate successes, define goals, and build community.
  • This year’s new Link Crew program at CHS has connected upper-class mentors with ninth-graders to help younger students make a good transition, establish connections, and have fun.
  • More than wins and losses, athletics is about character.  At a recent basketball game, CHS recently honored graduate Rashard Davis, who just helped the JMU football team earn a national championship.  Davis is known for his work ethic, values, character — and setting college conference records. Similarly, girls’ basketball coach Jim Daly recently tweeted, “Our leading scorer from last night [Daeja Wade] was back in the gym by 9am to coach a 1st/2nd grade basketball team — nice reminder of what a great group of girls we have!”
  • Walker students solving puzzles blindfolded with help from friendsWalker students recently worked on some jigsaw puzzles while blindfolded! The challenge — completed with a little help from some friends — was organized by the schools’ counselors, who organize monthly lessons to build connections, character, and culture.
  • Jackson-Via recently earned a grant from Charlottesville’s “Sister Cities Commission” to support the school’s Harry-Potter-like “house” system. Connected to Charlottesville’s sister cities in Africa, Bulgaria, France, and Italy, the “houses” are student groups designed to build both interpersonal and international connections.
  • Wellness and nutrition have also received attention in the focus groups.  While Charlottesville has won national awards for its commitments to healthy activity, local foods, and more, there is always room for improvement.  New nutrition coordinator has met with a feedback group of Walker students, and a parent group focusing on fresh and healthy school meals has also been formed. Find the group on Facebook here!
  • Lugo-McGinness Academy, the school division’s alternative school for students in grades 7-12, is leading the way for us to reexamine school culture and discipline, focusing on relationships, student growth, and self-awareness.

Tapping into the Power of Play

Recent examples include:

  • Teachers at all levels incorporate learning games into their curriculum using hands-on items like dice or internet game-show-like tools like “Kahoot.”
  • Perhaps the model of “purposeful play” comes from kindergarten, including Johnson students recently choosing from a range of centers to explore “community helpers” — opting to play with a hospital-themed doll set, a child’s construction work table,  dress-up stations, and more.
  • A recent pep rally at CHS marked the semester’s end with laughs and games such as life-sized “Hungry, Hungry, Hippos.”
CHS students play "Hungry, Hungry Hippos" at pep rally.
CHS students play “Hungry, Hungry Hippos” at pep rally.
  • When possible, students prefer an atmosphere of “fun but serious.” One example they offered is their fine arts classes where it is fun to sing or draw or play an instrument, but the atmosphere is still marked by work and accomplishment.
  • Recess remains a priority for students, teachers, parents, and child-development experts, especially when recess is augmented by regular “get the wiggles out” activities such as brain breaks, mini-dance parties,  “Fun Fridays,” and other times for unstructured activities.

More Ideas

Students in Walker orchestraMore ideas….

  • First-grade teachers collaborating with bee-bot robots
    First-grade teachers collaborating

    Continue to attract and support such high-quality teachers and staff

  • Continue to support equity in achievement
  • Continue our commitment to the arts
  • Reexamine our facilities and how they will support learning
  • This is just a sampling of ideas we’ve heard. If you think one is missing, let us know by filling out the survey or attending a meeting!

School Board Update

Outgoing vice chair and chair, Leah Puryear and Amy Laufer
Outgoing vice chair and chair, Leah Puryear and Amy Laufer

At their January meeting, the Board elected Juan Wade and Sherry Kraft as chair and vice-chair, respectively.  The Board expressed its appreciation to outgoing chair and vice chair Amy Laufer and Leah Puryear (both of whom will remain on the Board). In addition, the Board voted to approve the 2017-18 Academic Calendar, the 2017-18 Program of Studies , and the tuition for the CLASS summer program. The Board also discussed the budget for 2017-18, heard updates about the “Link Crew” mentoring program at CHS,  and more.

Upcoming Events

Poster for Theatre CHS's presentation of Into the Woods. Call 245-2962 for details.
Design by Sahara Clemmons, grade 10.

Upcoming events include:

  • Stage Left Theater presents Beauty and the Beast, 1/24, 6:30pm, Walker Auditorium
  • Community Strategic Plan Listening Session (open to all), 1/25, 7pm, CHS (Click here for a list of other listening sessions).
  • Buford offers Parent University, 1/26, 6pm
  • CHS Symphony/Choir Concert with Fine Arts Showcase, 2/1, 7:30pm, MLKPAC
  • School Board Meeting, 2/2, 5:30pm, CHS Media Center
  • Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) meeting, 2/14, 8:45am, Division Annex at CHS (call 245-2400 for more information)
  • CATEC Open House, 2/16, 4-6pm
  • TheatreCHS presents In the Woods, 2/16-18 at 7:30 (also 1:00 on 2/18). MLKPAC. Tickets available here.
  • Professional Learning Day (no school for students), 2/20
  • School Board Meeting, 3/2, 5:30pm, CHS Media Center

Remember that you can subscribe to our Google calendar of school holidays and as well as Google calendars for school-specific events. Instructions are at charlottesvilleschoools.org/calendar.