Monday, December 8, 2014

Warrior Tech Featured at VSBA Conference!

Students, Staff, and Board Members Presenting at VSBA Conference
Henry County Public Schools was selected to present at the Virginia School Board Association's (VSBA) Conference this past November.  The title of our session was, "Transforming the High School Experience."  Magna Vista Principal, Mrs. JaMese Black, Mrs. Favero, the director of the Warrior Tech Academy, Warrior Tech Facilitators (Brooke Hankins and Josh Bocock) and Warrior Tech students lead the presentation.  The presentation was well received by all who participated.  I was most impressed by the students.  Each of the Warrior Tech students described how Warrior Tech has impacted their learning.  The students shared how they have changed for the better during their past couple of years in the program. They talked about how they have learned to work with others, advocate for their own learning, communicate more effectively, and take on new challenges.  It was also exciting to hear the facilitators (teachers) talk about how Warrior Tech has had such a significant impact on their teaching practices.  It is clear that Warrior Tech and programs like this will help prepare our students for their future.  More importantly, we are helping our students develop skills that cannot be measured on any standardized test.  We are preparing our students for life!

Goal 1: High Quality Instruction

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"Take Your Legislators to School" was a Success!

Senator Stanley, Mary Franklin (Del. Marshall's Office)
and Del. Adams talking with Warrior Tech Students
This week, we invited several of our legislators to visit our schools to learn more about the programs we have available to students in HCPS.  We were fortunate to have Senator Bill Stanley, Delegate Les Adams, and Mary Franklin (from Delegate Danny Marshall's Office) take us up on the offer!  The tour started at NCI and the group finished with a tour of several classes and programs at Magna Vista High School.  Our legislators were very interested in our programs, and they asked several times how they can help support our efforts in HCPS.

I joined the group for part of the tour.  I was most impressed with our students.  Mrs. Black, principal of Magna Vista High School, selected several student leaders to serve as tour guides for the tour. These student leaders planned the tour for the visitors, and took the lead by explaining the exciting work they are involved in at school and sharing information about their learning experiences.  I was impressed by their leadership and communication skills.  This is another example of a time when I have been reminded of the importance of high expectations.  We have to always remember that students rise to these expectations each and every day.  Our students have incredible potential to be leaders, we just need to "get out of their way" and provide them with opportunities to show leadership.  Our legislators were very impressed with our school division, but I think they were more impressed with our students!  In my opinion, this is how you determine the effectiveness of a school and school division.  Our students need to be the ones who tell the story through their success.

Legislators learning about FFA Programs at MVHS
Goal 1: High Quality Instruction
Goal 5: Family and Community Engagement

Thank You General Via for Your Visit to HCPS!

General Via Speaking to Students at Bassett High School
I didn't know General Dennis Via very well before this week, but now I am one of his biggest fans!  If you don't know General Via, he is a hometown hero for Henry County and Martinsville.  He grew up in Henry County and graduated from GW Carver when it was a high school.  Today, he is one of 12 four star Army generals in the United States.  However, I would argue that General Via is much more than that.  He is an inspiration to all of us.  As a part of his visit to HCPS, he made it a priority to visit as many schools as possible.  At each school site, he took time to speak to students in order to "give back" to the community that supported him during his youth.  I was impressed with his message to our students.  Some of the items below represent just some of the important points that he shared with our young people during his visits to schools:

  • It all starts with education!
  • Find your passion and become and expert in it.
  • You must work hard every day because there are no shortcuts in life.
  • Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.
  • It is important to always be a good person and a good friend.
  • Good manners can take you far in life.
General Via with BHS Assistant Principals R. Proffitt and T. Gravely
In addition to his powerful message to students, I was also impressed with his commitment to thanking those who supported him during his youth in Henry County.  He talked about individual teachers and counselors who had a profound impact on his life.  It reminded me of the power a teacher, counselor, bus driver, custodian, and/or cafeteria worker can have on the life of a child.  Everyone in the school division has a unique opportunity to have a positive impact on a child each day.  At any time, any one of us can be the "caring adult" who changes the path for a child's future.  You never know how your kind words, warm smile, high expectations, or unwavering support can change the course of a student's life.  This was a powerful reminder for me as an educator.  Thank you, General Via for your visit and your powerful message to students and staff.  We look forward to welcoming you back to HCPS in the future.  You are a true hero in our eyes!

Goal 5: Family and Community Engagement

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Horticulture and Agriculture Program at MVHS = Relevant Learning for Students!

Greenhouse at Magna Vista High School
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to tour several of our schools with a fellow superintendent from Pennsylvania.  On our first stop, we visited Warrior Tech Academy at Magna Vista High School.  In addition, I took her down the hall to meet Mr. Holland and Mrs. Barker who teach the popular horticulture and agriculture courses at MVHS.  Whenever I talk to these fine educators, I quickly determine why students enjoy their programs.  Both Mr. Holland and Mrs. Barker are excited about their curriculum and their excitement is contagious.  As we talked to both of them yesterday, I was reminded of the importance of these programs for students.  Certainly, students learn a great deal about horticulture, agriculture, and veterinary science.  However, they learn so much more than that.  In HCPS, we are working on the 4 C's (Critical Thinking, Creative Thinking, Collaboration, and Communication).  In the short time that I was in the classes yesterday, I saw several examples of these skills.  For example, the students in Mrs. Barker's class were busy preparing for their annual Wedding Show.  I saw students being creative as they worked to select a theme that has not been used in the past.  In addition, they had to "think outside the box" to apply the selected theme to the show.  I also saw students working collaboratively  to complete the project as a team.  When I stopped by to visit with Mr. Holland, he explained how he works with students to make the learning relevant to life outside of the classroom.  Both teachers have students sell their products to see how the business side works.  I left feeling that we need to create more opportunities like this in all of our career and technical education programs.  In addition, we need to work toward creating this type of learning environment in the core classes (English, mathematics, science, and social studies).  Students should be excited about their learning and as educators it is our job to make the learning relevant.  Thanks for Mrs. Barker and Mr. Holland for setting a great example for all of us!  

Goal 1: High Quality Instruction

No Bullies in HCPS!

"Bullies Make Us Sick" Display at Carver Elementary
As Superintendent for Henry County Public Schools, I have the opportunity to visit schools throughout the year.  Last week, I visited G. W. Carver Elementary.  As a fall activity, each of the classrooms decorated a pumpkin to put on display in front of their classroom.  I was immediately drawn to this display in from of Ms. Shelburne's preschool class.  The pumpkin display had the caption, "Bullies Still Make Us Sick."  Mrs. Edmonds, the principal, told me that the class created a similar display last year.  This year the teacher and students decided to continue with this important message and they added the word "still" to emphasize how important it is to get this message out.  As a part of our strategic plan in HCPS, EnVision 2018, we are working to maintain a safe and orderly environment in all of our schools.  I've learned over the years that our parents and students play a critical role in this process.  It is so important for students to report any safety or other concerns to a responsible and caring adult in the school.  It is my expectation that HCPS staff address any and all concerns in a timely manner.  Sometimes our students would prefer to report these concerns or issues to their parents.  As a result, it is so important that our parents contact the school principal to immediately share these concerns so that they can be addressed.  Certainly, our parent/school partnership is vital in matters like this.  We want all students to feel safe and respected in our schools.   It is important for everyone to work together to ensure student success!
Goal 3:  Safe and Orderly Schools

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Marching Bengals: Excellence in Action!

Marching Bengals Entertain at Drums Along the Blue Ridge
I had the opportunity to see the Marching Bengals present their exhibition performance at the Drums Along the Blue Ridge event this past weekend.  The performance was incredible!  I was inspired by the professionalism, work ethic, and talent displayed by our students.  I saw previous performances during half-time at football games this season, but this was the first time I saw it all come together with completed props, choreography, and new band uniforms.  I attempted to take a quick picture (displayed here), without missing any part of the performance.  As I left Bassett High School that evening, I reflected on the powerful performance.  Based on the roar from the crowd, I could tell that everyone else was as inspired as I was.  I was reminded of the fact that students learn so much from participating in band.  These skills will serve our students well beyond high school.  The students should be proud of their accomplishment.  I was also encouraged by the support from our parents and community.  This is a great example of how our community comes together to support students.  I'm looking forward to their continued success.  Way to go Marching Bengals!

Goal 1: High Quality Instruction
Goal 5: Family and Community Engagement

Friday, October 10, 2014

Creativity and Communication at Axton Elementary!

Lego Build Depicting Jamestown Settlement
I had a great visit at Axton Elementary today. As a part of my visit, I always stop by classrooms to observe great teaching and learning first hand.  When I entered Ms. Kirks' class, I was intrigued by the project the students were completing.  Using Legos, the students were asked to create a model for the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown.  Prior to this activity, students learned important facts about Jamestown and reviewed information about the reasons Jamestown was established, the challenges the early colonists faced, and historical figures who contributed to the success of Jamestown. It was clear to see that the students were highly engaged in this activity.  Most importantly, I could see how this activity provided opportunities for students to demonstrate creativity and communication skills.

Clearly, the students had to be creative because they had to "think outside the box" to complete this task.  Students had to find ways to use available resources to create a model of Jamestown.  As I visit schools and see students working with Legos in activities like this, I am always impressed by their creativity.  In addition, the teacher had several students share their models with the class.  This provided the students with an opportunity to develop their communication skills.  Students had to share the aspects of their model and how each component was connected to information they learned about Jamestown.  What a great activity!  I'm confident that the students in this class will remember important information about Jamestown long after today's lesson.  

Goal 1: High Quality Instruction

The 4 C's Are Alive at Laurel Park Middle School!

Critical Thinking Mural at Laurel Park Middle
I recently visited Laurel Park Middle School.  I was impressed to see teachers implementing the new HCPS curriculum.  I was also pleased to see that teachers are working together to incorporate the 4 C's into daily instruction: Critical Thinking, Creative Thinking, Communication, and Collaboration.  This is an area of focus for HCPS as we are working to ensure that all of our students are well-prepared for college, career, and citizenship.  I was also excited to see the murals that have been posted throughout the school.  As an example, I've included the mural for "Critical Thinking" in the picture to the right.  What a great way to remind students and teachers of the 4 C's.  I'm looking forward to seeing the 4 C's in action as I stop by Laurel Park for future visits.  Go Lancers!

Goal 1: High Quality Instruction

Teach Like a Bengal at STE!

I had a great visit at Stanleytown Elementary last week.  I was impressed with how hard the teachers and staff are working to increase student achievement.  The school has taken on the theme, "Facing the Giants."  The Stanleytown faculty and staff plan to use this motto this year to support their efforts to rally together to meet the challenges ahead.  I was very intrigued by the bulletin board that I saw when I entered the school.  It simply stated, "Teach Like A Bengal."  The letters in B-E-N-G-A-L were used to create the acrostic poem noted in the picture below.

Bulletin Board at Stanleytown Elementary
I like the bulletin board for several reasons.  For one thing, it sets the expectation for all of the professionals in the building to follow.  Staff members have made the commitment to approach their work with enthusiasm.  In addition, they are focused on adapting their instruction to meet student needs and networking together to improve their professional practice.  I also like the focus on goal-setting.  As educators, we frequently set goals for our students.  However, it is important for us to also set challenging goals for ourselves in order to continually improve our teaching practices.  Finally, leading and learning are additional traits that all great teachers must possess.  We certainly expect our students to learn a great deal each day, and we hope to see growth in their achievement over the course of a school year.  What about teachers?  It is evident that the teachers at Stanleytown see the importance of  continuous learning for themselves.  If we are going to be better teachers, we need to be lifelong learners.  In addition, we can always learn a great deal from our colleagues!

Although this seemed like a simple bulletin board display in the hallway at Stanleytown Elementary, it delivers a powerful message.  It lets everyone know that the teachers and staff at this school have made a commitment to do whatever it takes to serve the students in their care.  I'm looking forward to visiting the school in the future to see these traits in action.  Stanleytown has certainly inspired me to "Lead Like a Bengal!"

Goal 2: High Quality Professionals

Note:  There is also a great bulletin board for students that says, "learn like a Bengal!"

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Student Advisory Meeting

List of Strengths for HCPS
Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with the HCPS Student Advisory for the first meeting of the year.  I must admit that this is my favorite group to meet with during the year.  Certainly, it is important for me to meet with all stakeholders throughout the school year, but I would argue that this is an extremely important group to meet with because our students are directly impacted by decisions that are made at the central office level.  As I have said many times, our students are are most important customers!

During the meeting, I asked student representatives to work in groups to discuss strengths and challenges for our school division.  I was impressed with the list that they developed.  Students highlighted such things as access to technology, focus on safety, athletics, and diversity as particular strengths for our school division.  They even discussed the school division dress code as a strength.  I am very encouraged by the feedback that the students provided because many of our improvements in these areas are the direct result of student feedback from previous years.

Student Advisory Members Collaborating
I am also looking forward to the work that this group will accomplish this year.  Rather than simply providing input on school division initiatives or issues, I always encourage the student advisory group to take on a challenge each year.  This helps to encourage student leadership and provides the students with a sense of accomplishment at the end of the year.  Last year, the group decided to focus on ways to create innovative, 21st century learning spaces.  Feedback from last year's advisory group is being utilized to create innovative learning spaces as a part of our strategic plan, EnVision 2018.   This year, the students have decided to work on professional development for teachers.  Students want to help teachers understand the unique needs of today's learners.  I'm looking forward to learning more about their specific ideas at our next meeting.  Certainly, this group is a great example of the caliber of students we have in HCPS!

Goal 1: High Quality Instruction
Goal 2: High Quality Professionals