Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Congrats to the HCPS 2018 Teachers of the Year!

I was so proud to participate in last night's Teacher of the Year Celebration!  We have such great teachers in HCPS, and last night we were able to recognize a talented group of educators who represent each of your 15 schools and centers.  This is one of my favorite events of the year.  It is a reminder for all of us to remember why we entered this great field of education.  Thanks to all of our teachers of the year for the great work they do for our students each and every day!  It is our teachers who make HCPS a great place for our students to learn and grow!  I've included my remarks from the TOY Ceremony below:

HCPS 2018 Teachers of the Year
"The 2016 National Teacher of the Year, Jahana Hayes, is known for encouraging others to carry out the important work of educating our students. She says teaching is a privilege and an opportunity to transform lives and foster a sense of social responsibility in the next generation.” It is our great pleasure tonight to honor fifteen Henry County Public Schools teachers who change lives every day in our classrooms. Each of you dedicate countless hours to your students, ensuring that students are fully prepared for what lies ahead – both academically and socially. You spend evenings and weekends planning for your students and serving our community in a variety of ways. You exemplify leadership for your students and your colleagues.
George Bernard Shaw reminds us that “what we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.” To accomplish this monumental task each day, you work to individualize instruction and meet the needs of a very diverse group of learners. Collaboration and creativity are infused in even the smallest of moments. Though it may not always feel like it, our students notice and their families notice.
You are here this evening because your colleagues notice your tireless dedication as well.  At this time, I would like to honor our teachers of the year by sharing some commendations that they have earned from students, parents, and their colleagues:

Axton Elementary’s Sheryl Keck: “Mrs. Keck is at all times students focused and is always interested in supporting and uplifting her students and team members within the school. Her positive attitude and the mindset that all of her students will be successful is infectious among her students and peers.” –Ben Boone, principal

Bassett High School’s Kim Craig: “As I taught alongside Kim, it quickly became apparent that she works hard for students – not just her own, but ALL students. She willingly collaborates with other teachers to make that “better product” for students. It has never been about making something easy for her…it has always been about making a better lesson for her students.” –Hope Perry, former colleague

Campbell Court Elementary’s Sheri Harris: “Teachers like Sheri focus on more than just test results; they focus on developing well-rounded young people that will possess the skills necessary to be future leaders in our society.” –DeWitt House, The Harvest Foundation

Center for Community Learning’s Angela Beckett: “She was there for me when I needed her and even when I didn’t. No matter what the situation, she never judged me, she never looked at me differently – instead, she supported me, encouraged me, and made a huge impact on my life.” – Mary Ann Tucker, former student

Collinsville Primary’s Jessica Powell:As a parent, I knew from the day we met Mrs. Powell that she was different from the teachers my children had been assigned in the past. She engaged my daughter immediately by giving her options for educational delivery. The level of involvement and her attention to detail are superb.” – Amanda Wagoner, parent

Drewry Mason’s Elizabeth Joyce: “Elizabeth is one of the most supportive colleagues I have encountered in the profession. She is consistently willing to sacrifice her time to help and support her colleagues when needed.” –Ruth Clay, colleague

Fieldale-Collinsville’s Allison Saul: “Mrs. Saul is an exemplary math teacher; however, she is even more skillful at building relationships with her students. Each student in her classroom comes away at the end of the day knowing that they are truly cared for by their teacher.” – Shonna Pilson, Assistant Principal

GW Carver’s Janice Hodges: “As a fellow teacher, I learned through her example, how important the relationship is between teacher and parents. She makes such an effort to include parents in the everyday experiences of her students and provides a welcoming and supportive environment for her classroom.” – Genell Brown, colleague

John Redd Smith’s Darlene McNeill:Darlene McNeill not only thinks outside the box, she teaches outside the box.  To help her students remember concepts beyond the classroom, she has been known to bring her electric keyboard to class, playing and singing along with her students as they practice math and reading skills.  Mrs. McNeill is unassuming and does not seek accolades for her work with her students.  She encourages them to do more than they think they can.   She is an inspiration to both students and staff.” – Judy Edmonds, principal

Laurel Park’s Brandon Johnson: “Because of Coach Johnson, I walk a straight line, meaning I am on the path to being a positive contributor to our society. I not only speak for myself, but I speak for every student or athlete that Coach Johnson has touched when I say we will never lose contact. He found a way to make us all feel like a family.” – Jalen Hairston, former student

Magna Vista’s Joel Bunn: “As his student, it was never just a teacher teaching and a student learning; Mr. Bunn truly cares about what happens in each student’s life. He pushed me, made me believe, and took time out of his personal life to make sure I made it to graduation day.” –Nicole Arthur Kitchen, former student

Mt. Olivet’s Deitra Cassell: “Mrs. Cassell is the type of teacher that leaves a legacy. It’s hard to forget the teacher that started it all and put us on the right track. I could not have succeeded in high school and later in college if I had not had the foundation that Mrs. Cassell provided.” –David Bryant, former student

Rich Acres’ Leslie Howell: “Ms. Howell’s ability to show empathy was something I will always remember. Her ability to be relatable and easy to talk to was something I appreciated and was thankful for…going to her class was honestly the reason why I wanted to go to school every day.” – Lauren Nance, former student

Sanville’s Teresa Fisher: “Teresa has always been one to stay up on the latest technology and fun educational things to do with her students. Before I have even had a minute to think about learning something new to do with my students, I can count on learning about it from her first.” – Lori Morse, colleague

Stanleytown’s Tiffany Creech: “Mrs. Creech plans her lessons to promote creativity and critical thinking in her classroom. While she can reach the struggling student by providing the support the student needs to succeed, she can also challenge and promote growth with the advanced student. Her students are not afraid to take risks or make mistakes.” –Paula Davis, colleague

Renowned author John Steinbeck once said, "I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there as as few as there are any other great artists. It might even be the greatest of arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit." 

Thank you for crafting future of our students and leading them to stretch themselves beyond what they believe they are capable of being and doing.  Thank you for your commitment to education and the students of Henry County."

Mr. Brandon Johnson Named HCPS TOY

Friday, March 10, 2017

Computer Science, STEM, and Coding in Elementary Schools in HCPS!

 We had a great work session with our School Board last night.  Students from G. W. Carver joined the meeting to teach the School Board about computer science and coding skills that they are learning in their school.  In HCPS, we are working hard to expose our students to computer science and coding.  In fact, we utilized grant funding to hire a STEM Coordinator who works with all of our elementary students throughout the school year.  This is all a part of our focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).  We find that computer science helps our students with problem-solving, mathematical thinking, and agency.  All of these skills are important for their future success.  We are also hopeful that many of our students will consider a future career in technology and computer science.  As I walked around to the different stations last night, several of the students commented that they want to major in computer science when they grow up.  As many of us have heard, jobs are increasing in the STEM fields over the next several years.  In addition, there are currently several STEM jobs open and businesses are having difficulty finding qualified candidates to fill these positions.  We even have many of these jobs in our community!  We are going to continue our focus on STEM and computer science at all levels in HCPS.  We offer electives in robotics and coding in the middle school.  In addition, we have partnered with PHCC to offer a computer science, cyber security program at the high school level.  We are working to encourage more students to take advantage of these great opportunities in HCPS!

I've included additional information below that reinforces the importance of computer science, programming, and coding in our schools (excerpt  from P. Meade Presentation to the School Board, March 9, 2017).

Why should students have the opportunity to learn programming?

  • Creativity- Computer Science is an incubator for innovation and inspiration. Students are encouraged to think beyond their normal parameters and ask themselves, “What if?”
  • Collaboration- Not all work should be done alone. The best technology comes from a series of diverse viewpoints.  We have to use the flow of “give and take” when working with others to bring out the best in everyone.  
  • Communication- Students must be able to express their ideas, understand the requirements being presented to them, and estimate how much  work it will take to complete a job.
  • Critical Thinking- When a student masters problem solving, they master life!
  • Persistence- Never give up! No seriously, don’t do it! A challenge is an opportunity for us to show how dedicated we are to finding a solution.
  • Growth Mindset- Children are taught that a “fail” is a First Attempt In Learning- Answers are not always found on the first try so sometimes we must learn from our mistakes and grow from them.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

It's Official: The Bengal Tech Space is Ready to Go!

Ribbon Cutting for Bengal Tech!
It is official!  After a several weeks of anticipation, the new Bengal Tech space is open for business!  It was exciting to be a part of the ribbon cutting ceremony and the grand opening celebration recently.  Lots of students, families, and local officials came out to Bassett High School to tour the new space.  Based on the rave reviews we received from the visitors, I think the new learning space is a hit!  I'm looking forward to seeing all of the innovative learning opportunities and projects that our students will be engaged in during the year!

Bengal Tech is the second New Tech Network school in Virginia.  As a reminder, Magna Vista's Warrior Tech was the first.  The New Tech Network approach is transforming teaching and learning in Henry County.  Students who participate in Bengal Tech OR Warrior Tech are a part of a unique high school experience that focuses on 3 main tenants:  teaching that engages, technology that enables, and a culture that empowers.  By providing relevant project-based learning opportunities, our students are developing college, career, and citizenship-ready skills that will prepare them for their future, no matter what path they choose!

The expansion of New Tech in Henry County is important to our ongoing work torward making learning more engaging and relevant for all of our students.  We have been busy incorporating many of the concepts learned through New Tech into our pre-K through 12 curriculum.   As a result, all of our students participate in project-based learning and performance tasks regardless of their grade level or program.  We have also been busy revamping learning spaces in order to truly support our focus not the 4 C's (critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, and communication).

It is a great time to be a student in HCPS!  We are looking forward to continuing to make learning more exciting, relevant, and meaningful for all of our students!  If you are interested in learning more about our New Tech programs, please contact the high school principal.  You can also find additional information on each high school's website.  The links are included below:

Warrior Tech           Bengal Tech

Commons Area for Bengal Teach Students to Present and Collaborate.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Welcome to a New School Year!

We are off to a great school year!  It has been a busy couple of weeks.  Even before the students arrived, HCPS welcomed over 70 new teachers!  In addition, we welcomed all HCPS staff to a new school year with our keynote speaker, Dave Burgess.  Mr. Burgess challenged us to "Teach Like a Pirate!"  He encouraged us to use "hooks" to grab our students' attention.  He also challenged us to find our passion in our content and the work.  Finally, he gave us practical tips to engage and motivate students each and every day.  In addition to hearing from Mr. Burgess, several of our students welcomed us to a new school year.  What a great way to start the 2016-2017 school year!

Dave Burgess and Me after Convocation
During the first day of school, I had the honor of visiting all of our 15 schools and centers.  I was impressed with the level of student engagement that was evident from the very first week of school. It is clear that teachers were excited to welcome our students back to school, and our students are ready to make this the best year yet!

We have a lot of great things to be excited about this year. We are expanding on the great things that are already in place in HCPS.  We are also working to continue to make learning relevant and engaging for our students.  The list below includes some of our new initiatives for 2016-2017:

  • This past year, we have worked to ensure that all elementary and middle school classrooms have a SmartBoard or Active Panel to utilize for instructional purposes.  High school teachers apply for grants to get an interactive board in their classrooms as well.  
  • We have implemented a new digital program called MyOn that provides students with easy access to digital books.  Students can download these at school and they don't have to have Internet access at home to utilize this resource.  We are putting several efforts in place to help students read more often and develop a genuine love for reading.
  • We worked with teachers this summer to continue to revise our curriculum to ensure that students have a relevant, engaging curriculum that helps students master the 4 C's (Critical Thinking, Creative Thinking, Collaboration, and Communication).  This has been a focus for us for the last several years; however, adjustments are made each year based on student and teacher feedback.
  • We have remodeled several media centers to create more of a 21st century learning environment that supports the 4 C's.  We have completed two media center renovations (FC Middle and Mt. Olivet) and we are completing the media centers at G. W. Carver Elementary and Laurel Park Middle this fall, as well as creating an innovative new library at Bassett High School as part of the renovations for Bengal Tech Academy.
  • The middle schools are implementing a school-wide discipline model this year to reinforce behavior expectations and assist students with learning to take responsibility for their behavior.  It is anticipated that this will lead to a decrease in student referrals and suspensions.
  • We have launched Bengal Tech this year for 9th and 10th grade students at Bassett High School.  This is the second New Tech Network School in Virginia (Magna Vista's Warrior Tech was the first) and provides students with an integrated curriculum that is focused on project-based learning around relevant topics.  As a result of this project, the former media center at Bassett is being transformed into a collaborative learning space and the new media center is being developed in the back of the school.
Back to School Family Summit!

  • We have added furniture to common area spaces in our secondary schools in order to create opportunities for students to work collaboratively.  If we believe in the 4 C's, then we need to create areas for students to practice these skills.
  • This year, we are piloting a personalized learning approach at our alternative schools.  This will provide an opportunity for students to work at their own pace and earn applicable credits as they are ready.  It also helps students set personal goals and meet learning objectives as they are ready.  If this is a success - I have already heard good things from students - we will expand this opportunity to the traditional high schools as early as next year.  
  • We have expanded our online course offerings for students, and several students participated in online learning over the summer for Economics and Personal Finance and Heath/PE 9.  We hope to expand these course offerings to give students options beyond the traditional classroom setting.  
  • This year, we are launching a mentoring program to support our students.  Our hope is that we will recruit up to 100 mentors to meet with some of our students on a regular basis throughout the school year.  We want our students to get to know positive role models who can support them as they work toward future success.  
It is definitely going to be a great year in HCPS!  It takes all of us working together to provide the best educational system for our students and community.  Let's make 2016-2017 our best year yet!  

Interview with StarNews on the First Day of School

Friday, April 22, 2016

Congrats to the 2016 HCPS Retirees! Thank you for your service!

HCPS 2016 Retirees

I had the great honor of recognizing our 2016 retirees at the annual Retirement Banquet last night. We are so fortunate to have high-quality, dedicated professionals who have spent their career serving the students of Henry County.  Thank you so much for your service and dedication!

A copy of my opening comments and closing remarks are included below:

Opening Comments
"This evening, I’d like to take you back to 1986 for just a few moments: a gallon of gas was 89 cents, Halley’s Comet had its closest approach to Earth, Top Gun was one of the year’s most popular films, and many of you became educators that year.

Just like Top Gun’s Goose and Maverick, you were eager to impress your colleagues and willing to take risks as you worked to share your expertise and support student growth. From the launch of the Human Genome Project to tragedies like the Chernobyl and Challenger disasters, the year was rich with groundbreaking events to discuss with students and so many new things to try.

While some ideas and tools from 1986 have been replaced in your repertoire, many are still present in the work you do with students today. Most of us appreciate the advances made since IBM’s PC Convertible (the first laptop computer) was introduced in 1986, we are once again marveling at the uses for 3D printing, and we are ever-mindful of evolving acceptable Internet use standards. Though you probably didn’t use it for a few more years, the Internet Mail Access Protocol, which opened the way for e-mail, was defined in 1986. Today, we can hardly imagine working without it!

You have worked hard to change the lives of students and their families by greeting them with a smile, developing relationships with them, and showing them the value of working hard for the good of others.

You entered a profession dedicated to assisting young people in doing and becoming more than they ever believed possible. As you leave the profession, you are taking the struggles and successes of those students with you.

The memories you have will serve as lasting reminders that you have made a difference in the lives of so many in our community. We are honored tonight to recognize your dedicated service to the children of Henry County and to celebrate the memories that you have created."

Closing Remarks
"Bernard Baruch once said "Age is only a number, a cipher for the records. A man can't retire his experience. He must use it." Tonight we have had the honor of celebrating a combined 1,218.5 years of experience. The lessons you’ve taught and the time you’ve spent listening over the course of those years has shaped generations.

As you leave tonight, remember that retirement for an educator means giving up a job, not giving up the right to teach. Even after you retire, I hope you never stop imparting wisdom and teaching others the important lessons of life. As you say goodbye to students and colleagues and make plans for the time ahead, be mindful of the valuable lessons you’ve shared with our students: challenge yourself by learning something new and use your talents to do good for those around you. Continue to be a positive force in the lives of those who need your influence.

You are not just retiring from education. You are retiring from one of the most important jobs in the world, which is helping young minds to dream big. You will be quoted for a long time to come. You will be remembered.

On behalf of the staff and students of Henry County Public Schools, thank you for laying the foundation for the future of our community. Thank you for making a difference in the lives of children.

Congratulations on your retirement!"

Monday, March 21, 2016

Great Day at #MOETown: Superintendent's Office Hours!

Meeting with SGA Reps in New Collaboration Space
I had a great day at Mt. Olivet (#MOETown) as a part of my Superintendent's Office Hours a couple of weeks ago.  During the day, I had an opportunity to see high-quality instruction taking place in several classrooms.  In addition, I had the awesome opportunity to meet with student leaders to learn about strengths and challenges for their school.  The schedule below provides a list of some of the day's activities:

  • Walked the building to speak to students and staff as the school day got started.
  • Visited several classrooms to observe instruction and assist as needed (Mrs. Wright, Mrs. Mitchell, Mrs. Lankford, Ms. Wood, and Mrs. Cassell).
  • Met with Mrs. Minter, principal, and Mrs. Sandy Strayer, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, to review data and discuss progress toward meeting established goals.
  • Reviewed student writing throughout the building with QR codes that linked to a recording of students reading their work!
  • Met with a parent to obtain feedback related to the school.
  • Joined the first grade at the YMCA to watch them participate in their swimming lesson (What a great partnership we have with the YMCA!).  
Overall, it was a great day at Mt. Olivet!  I was impressed with the students' writing K-5.  I was also impressed with the powerful instructional strategies I saw during the day (focus on writing, nonfiction reading, and differentiation).  I was also impressed with the positive attitudes observed throughout the day and the opportunities provided to develop student leadership.  I look forward to future visits to #MOETown!

Hanging out with first grade at the YMCA after their swimming lesson

Friday, March 18, 2016

Great day at John Redd Smith Elementary--Superintendent's Office Hours

Learning to play the recorder in students during music class
I had an exciting and busy day at John Redd Smith Elementary as a part of my Superintendent's Office Hours a couple of weeks ago.  During my visit, I had an opportunity to participate in various activities with students.  In addition,  I was scheduled to assist in several classrooms.  I was very impressed with how engaged the students were throughout the day.  I was also happy to see the teachers at JRS working hard to implement innovative strategies in an effort to maximize student learning.  The list below includes some of my activities during my exciting and productive day at John Redd Smith Elementary:

  • Walked the building and visited several classrooms as the school day got started.
  • Visited Mrs. Garrett's room to observe her students as they started an engaging, hands-on learning activity.
  • Participated in Mrs. Joyce's music class as students learned to play the recorder.  I'm happy to report that I'm ready to test for my "orange" belt as a part of Mrs. Joyce's "recorder karate" system.  What a great way to motivate students to learn more!
  • Met with a grandmother to discuss a safety concern related to a nearby road that feeds into John Redd Smith Elementary.  
  • Met with Mrs. Whitlow and Mrs. Sandy Strayer, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, to discuss student data and the school's progress toward meeting established goals.
  • Observed and assisted in Mrs. Campbell's 4th grade class.  
  • Enjoyed school lunch in the cafeteria with Mrs. Whitlow and several 5th grade students who are excited about going to middle school next year!
  • Visited several additional classrooms during the afternoon to observe students and teachers in action.
  • Assisted with dismissal at the end of the school day.  It was extremely busy during this time, but the staff at JRS do an excellent job of ensuring that students are dismissed in an orderly and safe manner.
Overall, it was a great day at JRS.  The students were highly engaged in the instruction and the teachers are clearly working hard to implement research-based strategies in the classroom.  In addition, the teachers and students are excited about plans for the new school, Meadow View Elementary.  Even though the current building has many challenges, the teachers and staff have created a powerfully effective learning environment for students.  Keep up the great work, JRS!  I look forward to future visits.  
Talking with some very bright students in Mrs. Campbell's Class