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