May 9, 2017
Thanks to so many of you who have offered your ideas as part of our strategic planning process. We have held more than 40 meetings in our schools and at community events with students, staff, parents, community members, and other stakeholders. Your feedback has been invaluable.
We now have a draft of the plan, focusing on academic excellence, safe and supportive schools, and organizational supports. At the heart of this plan is the idea that we are all learners — not only our students, but our teachers, staff members such as our bus drivers, and our families at home. We are growing and working together for the benefit of our community.
This month’s newsletter focuses on the big ideas of our strategic plan and provides recent examples that support these emphases. If you see an item in this newsletter, you’ll know that our strategic plan says, “We want more of this.”
Thanks for partnering with us, today and in the future!
—Rosa S. Atkins, Superintendent
ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE: Learning will be equitable, centered on students, and develop life-ready graduates
We want to make sure that all of our students find success and opportunities in our schools and in life after school.
Special events celebrate our diversity, including Buford’s recent International Night or Walker School’s recent performance of ¡El Espectáculo!, the capstone project of our Elementary Spanish program. But more than specific programs or special events, we want to build a division-wide culture that values both differences and commonalities, every day.
Charlottesville City Schools has been recognized as a model of excellence and leadership in an urban school division. Congratulations to School Board member Leah Puryear, who was recently elected to the national steering committee for the Council of Urban Boards of Education.
Another example of our commitment to supporting all our students is helping our students with special needs meet their goals and be a full part of our schools. We are delighted that, for instance, Naia Fairchild, the CHS cheerleading manager who has Down Syndrome, was elected homecoming queen this fall. If your child receives services, consider completing the Special Education Advisory Committee’s parent survey to help us serve you better. Join the SEAC’s mailing list to learn more about workshops or other programs that might benefit your family; to join, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are committed to providing leadership opportunities for all our students. For example, this year our immigrant and refugee students have earned a number of honors and leadership roles, from School Board rep to senior class president to peer mentor to City Youth Council member, and more.
Students are building a bridge to a bright future, including our first-generation college students. Our AVID program strengthens study skills, guides students towards college-prep classes, helps students navigate the college admissions process, and more. At the end of the day on May 12, the CHS senior class will celebrate “Decision Day” with a bounce house and other fun ways to celebrate 13 years of hard work. Congrats, class of 2017!
Early childhood education remains a priority. Charlottesville City Schools offers high-quality preschool for qualifying 3- and 4-year-olds who face economic challenges, need to learn English, require special services, or more. This investment — funded primarily with local dollars — yields big returns. In upcoming years, our leaders will consider whether a dedicated preschool facility could help us expand services and reduce crowding at our elementary schools.
As part of its sold-out production of A Raisin in the Sun, the CHS theatre program was highlighted in the Daily Progress for its commitment to choosing plays that welcome and include all our students.
We want to foster the unique talents and interests of our students, and we want students to “own” their learning by setting goals, making choices, and reflecting on their progress.
Student-centered learning looks different in various schools and classrooms. It can be as small as students choosing how to start their day (reading, drawing, or journaling). In some of our engineering and other classes, students can advance through a curriculum at their own pace.
Student-centered learning connects learners with resources to advance their own passions, such as Buford student Reece McKee earning 3rd place in Virginia for the Geography Bee. (Aidan Peters of Walker also qualified for the state competition!)
Special, competitive opportunities like the Virginia Governor’s School help our students dive deep into areas of their own interest, from the arts to environmental engineering to a special NASA program (2 out of Virginia’s 12 slots were earned by CHS students this year)! Congratulations to our Governor’s School honorees: Anna Bon-Harper, Sophia Greenhoe (alternate), Nadiya Khaydari, Maire Lee, Sydney Lewin, Risa Purow-Ruderman, Demetrius Ragland, and Jonah Weissman!
Similarly, for a second straight year, a CHS student has earned a competitive travel fellowship to continue studying Mandarin in China through a U.S. State Department-sponsored program. This summer Lucas Higgins will travel with the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y); last summer it was Santiago Padrón.
Using tech resources can make learning personal and relevant to students. Recently, Walker ESL students “visited” their home country of Nepal with virtual reality goggles.
Hosting student-led conferences (this year at Clark and Venable) was an excellent opportunity for students to reflect on their learning and share their progress with the parents and grandparents — some of whom joined in via Skype from as far away as Jordan!
Clubs like BACON (Best All-around Club of Nerds) or classes like AVID can connect students with projects and that are student-led and personally meaningful, including the 2nd-place-in-Virginia Avoidcopter (a drone with avoidance capabilities) or proposals for social change pitched at the TomTom Festival.
And a tried-and-true way to help students learn with passion (and excellence) is through the arts. Both the CHS and Buford orchestras were named grand champions of their respective regional competitions this spring (and won many other awards along the way). Congratulations to both groups and their directors!
Virginia’s new “Profile of a Virginia Graduate” focuses on abilities and traits that will prepare our students to succeed in life. These range from communication and “soft” skills to real-world problem-solving abilities to STEM literacy to workplace experiences and industry certifications.
Our new, locally developed iSTEM program continues to roll out hands-on, real-life projects that cross boundaries between “sciencey” subjects and areas such as art, history, and reading. From solar ovens to wind turbines to working models of the human respiratory system (and much, much more), our students are applying their skills to the world around them.
CATEC students model future-readiness for us in a variety of areas, from culinary arts to our new partnership with tech leader CISCO. Students can earn college credits, industry certifications, and valuable skills such as resume-building and interviewing.
Tapping into community resources is another way to help students learn to navigate their community and their futures. Field trips and guest speakers (both live and virtual) build connections andtake advantage of the real world all around us. CHS history students recently visited the Vietnam War Foundation and Museum in Ruckersville, sitting in a Huey helicopter and gathering the oral histories of veterans.
When Charlottesville City Schools wanted to participate in the Hispanic Help Fair organized by Sin Barreras, we turned to the experts. Junior Marisol Rodriquez translated posters into Spanish for our booth, and senior Elizabeth Valtierra spoke en español y en ingles with the public who stopped by. What a great example of how our students can build communication and soft skills for the benefit of all!
Another sign of excellent communication skills: Congratulations to Ashley Clark and the CHS creative writing team! Ashley won 1st in Virginia for her short story! She plus Rachel Beling, Thomas Butler, Helen Gehle, Audrey Miller, and Qena Taylor earned 6th in VHSL creative writing.
And still more recognition of our students’ communication skills in a variety of media…. The VR film produced this year by Theatre CHS students was screened at the San Francisco Film Festival. Aleena Haidari won the Charlottesville Area Bar Association’s essay contest on the 14th Amendment, and her sister Waheda Haidari was a finalist in the Virginia War Memorial’s World War I art contest. Congratulations to all!
Charlottesville City Schools has made a strong commitment to healthy habits and strong communities. There’s more to be done, but here are some examples of what we’re already doing to foster a well-rounded sense of wellness.
Positive school culture is supported by the ongoing division-wide implementation of Virginia Tiered Systems of Support, or VTSS. VTSS recognizes that students’ academic performance and behavior are closely aligned, and it calls for a division-wide framework for supplying quick, consistent responses to students’ academic and behavioral needs. Within the VTSS framework, a program called Positive Behaviorial Interventions and Supports (PBIS) promotes community, celebrates good behavior, and deepens relationships. More information is available on our web site.
Our school counselors foster social-emotional health in a variety of ways. They offer classroom lessons, such as guiding blindfolded partners to solve jigsaw puzzles at Walker. They sponsor clubs and groups such as the Walker Peace Squad or the Jackson-Via Bully-Nots. And they work with teachers to form peer mentoring groups, such as the CHS Link Crew. Wrapping up its first full year, the Link Crew trains selected CHS 10th-12th graders to help their crew of new 9th-graders have a smooth first year of high school.
Relationships (and reading skills) can deepen even during the summer through our teachers’ and librarians’ Books on Bikes program! The BoB team visits neighborhoods in the summer to deliver free books, popsicles, and smiles. (A therapy dog even makes the rounds!) Join them for their summer kick-off bike parade on June 10!
When we speak about the wellness benefits of City Schoolyard Gardens, do we mean nutrition, exercise, or the mental health benefits of working in the garden? All of the above, and much, much more.
Our nutrition program has won awards for its commitment to nutritious, healthy foods, but there is always room for improvement. Working with the Local Food Hub, parents, and student focus groups, Nutrition Director Carlton Jones has been making plans for the future. Our new “Local on the Line” program supplies local foods (such as strawberries or salad greens, at left) in monthly menu items.
While gym and recess are very important, physical wellness is bigger than that. Throughout-the-day movement also comes from simple things like students working eye-to-eye on the floor or heading outside to create a calculus problem on the slope of a hill outside CHS.
Clubs and special events also support physical health, such as the family 1-mile color run that the Burnley-Moran PTO recently sponsored, or the Girls on the Run program at our schools. The Clark Girls on the Run recently got treated to running shoes at Ragged Mountain Running Shop thanks to support from Girls on the Run Board President Frank Grosch and the Piedmont Housing Alliance.
Athletics is a big part of the movement and physical wellness picture. The CHS boys’ soccer team has racked up 12 wins and no losses so far(!!), but beyond wins and losses, sports build fitness, relationships, and leadership. Girls’ tennis is also having a strong season, including a quarter-final win in conference play. Go Black Knights!
Our school spaces also support safety and learning. This year, our schools have seen the installation of clear exterior door signage (to aid responders in case of emergency), front door-locking management, a visitor screening system, and more. Aside from security, we want our facilities to support creativity, teamwork, and other 21st century skills, and we’ve been working with the always-supportive City of Charlottesville to create a funding stream for such improvements.
In many ways, these organizational supports make possible our goals for academic excellence and safe and supportive schools.
At the top of the list is great employees. It’s clear from our feedback groups that our community values the expertise and warmth of our teachers. Just this month, Laurel Bradley was honored as Z95’s teacher of the month (nominated by her student, at right), and CHS counselor David Wilkerson won the Colin Powell Award from Our Community Salutes! And this week, teachers from all of our schools will receive the Better Living Golden Apple Award. This year’s honorees include Melvin Grady (Buford), Jessica Powley (Burnley-Moran), Brian Kayser (CHS), Ashley Riley (Clark), Amy Jones (Greenbrier), Lisa Utz (Jackson-Via), Lorena Caballero Bower (Johnson), Michael McCrory (Lugo-McGinness Academy), Nicole Driggs (Venable), and Samantha Pagni (Walker). Congratulations to all!
Of course, staff doesn’t not work alone — we’re grateful to have the support of community partners and volunteers. This year, our Book Buddies literacy tutoring program will celebrate its 25th year on May 10 at the Jefferson School City Center. This program was created in the Charlottesville City Schools and has subsequently spread across the state and nation, building both literacy and valuable relationships.
For a second year, families with children entering kindergarten were invited to complete their registrations online. Online forms and streamlined processes help all of us focus on learning.
Our educational programs will increasingly rely on a robust network and technological supports. This spring, Charlottesville City Schools was nationally honored for integrating technology in support of innovative curriculum and improved student learning. The Center for Digital Education (CDE) ranked Charlottesville as top-10 winner (#5 among mid-sized divisions) in its 2016-17 Digital School Districts Survey Awards.
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