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High School Update

PRINCE EDWARD – County school board members received an update from Cambridge Education Consultant Dr. Harold Lawson at their May meeting.

“…I believe that we are making significant progress,” he told the board. “Teachers are very responsive to suggestions and recommendations, the administration is cooperative and working openly with us.”

Prince Edward's High School has been in the turnaround mode since 2010. Out of the 128 Title I schools, the County's high school ranked in the lowest five percent among those authorized, but which do not receive Title I funds and was designated in the turnaround program that year. The criteria weighed for the designation was the academic achievement of all students in reading and math and that a school has not reduced its failure rate in reading/language arts and/or mathematics by 10-15 percent each year for the past two years.

School officials were tasked with certain criteria with the designation and selected Cambridge Education as their lead turnaround partner. The firm has been assisting the school and providing regular reports to the school board.

Federal funds, totaling about $500,000 in each of three budgeted years, fuel the turnaround effort and are aimed at helping the school to improve.

Dr. Lawson presented a report that offered details in efforts for teacher observation, professional development activities, professional development team, and a community of learners.

Specifically, he reported that since the first week of January he has been observing teachers, that they have conducted observations of core-content and non-core content teachers, teachers in technical education and teachers in non-technical education.

“Several teachers have been observed many times because there are many problems that we needed to address,” Dr. Lawson cited. “So we have worked diligently to try and to address those problems.”

As a result of their observations, he noted, they are beginning to see higher level thinking skills more in the classroom, looking at differentiated instruction (students are learning more, he cited, because they are addressing learning styles of different students) – seeing that occur at a greater rate, vocabulary development (which he cited is a great way to close the achievement gap) and evidence of increased rigor in each class.

“Now…that's not saying we're where we should be, because we're not, but I can see increased rigor in the classroom,” Dr. Lawson said.

In the area of professional development, he cited that after a teacher is observed they do a post-conference to provide feedback to the teacher, to talk about that individual lesson. Dr. Lawson cited they are helping them understand how they could do that particular lesson better.

He also noted they are also addressing specific topics that they see in areas occurring over time. They work with the teacher one-on-one-which he cited is targeted professional development.

Group instruction has also been provided, Dr. Lawson cited, and they've talked about teamwork. Teamwork, he said, is a major component in the development of a school. In addition, they have worked on school improvement and questioning techniques (important for students).

Dr. Lawson noted that through their observations they see a need to have a sustained professional development initiative at the high school. He noted they have identified teachers on staff (a group of teachers in a core group will plan professional development in June of 2013 for the following year).

Dr. Lawson also noted that they look for relevant topics, which they find by observing teachers, observing classes, talking to students and teachers.

If they find a real weakness, he cited, that's a topic they want to address. Among the topic areas he highlighted: rigor in the classroom and vocabulary development, questioning technique, lesson planning, and instructional strategy.

Also among the areas also cited in developing a community of learners: reinforcing SOLs across the curriculum, creating capacity and building sustainability within the faculty, and creating role models for students by having teachers more engaged in academic programs-engaged with students more.

In Other News…

*School board members were presented and approved the high school's program of studies for the 2012-13 school year (pending the outcome on the board's decision to cut the JROTC program). One point of discussion was whether or not to keep the JROTC program listed when it ends this year. Chairman Russell Dove noted that he would like to keep an open mind to it coming back. If finances and enrollment change, he would love to see it as an option in the future, he said.

The board approved the program of study, pending a later decision on the ROTC program with Dove opposing. (The board would later approve a budget that factored eliminating the funding for the JROTC program.)

*The code of conduct for each of the three schools was reviewed and edited with a committee providing corrections and updates. As part of the discussion, each of the three principals explained how bullying is handled and other discipline options for students who are repeatedly tardy rather than removing them for in-school suspensions.

The review did not address a review of the attendance policy (implemented last year), Dr. Smith noted. However, the superintendent suggested that it would be a good idea to review that policy as well.

“…I'm gonna start that very quickly so that we can take a look now at the end of the year what's working and what's not working in terms of attendance-daily attendance, but also period attendance and also individual class attendance at the other schools because the overall goal is to keep students in class,” he said. “And…if they're not in class, they're not learning.”

Although it's considered a separate document, Dr. Smith said he thinks the attendance policy needs to be incorporated in the code of conduct “because it is an integral part of the school's policy.”

They want it incorporated for next year's code of conduct, he said.

*School board members approved the renewal of the Virginia School Boards Association insurance for property and casualty, auto insurance, worker's compensation and student insurance coverage. Property and casualty increased $2,530; automobile coverage decreased $2,062; worker's compensation rose $18,075 (factoring experience rate and the projected salary increase); and student insurance increased $440.

The 2011-12 property and casualty rate has been adjusted to reflect the increase in property replacement value coverage.

Overall, the insurance is expected to cost $179,568.

*The board was presented information on summer academic programs, which will occur in June and July. In addition, the Southside Virginia Family YMCA will also be using the elementary school for its community program (spanning six weeks beginning June 4) and Family Preservation will operate a summer extension for about 20 students at the elementary school that it serves in the county's schools.

*School board members recognized high school Future Business Leaders of America chapter winners in the regional leadership conference held March 9. Regional winners included Jenny Thomson, competing in Business communication, first place; Da'Quan John, competing in Job interview, first place; Sarah Campbell, competing in Public Speaking II, first place; Debra Shumaker, Cassie Badger, Chelsea Robertson, Caitlyn Shantz and Madeline Buczek, competing in parliamentary procedure, first place; Katrina Lowe, competing in personal finance, second place; Kanisha Nash, competing in Health Care Administration, second place; Iesha Washington, competing in business plan, third place; and Edward Robinson, competing in economics, third place.

State winners competing in April include Da'Quan Johnson, first place Job interview; Sarah Campbell, second place Public Speaking II; Debra Shumaker, Cassie Badger, Chelsea Robertson, Caitlyn Shantz and Madeline Buczek, third place parliamentary procedure.

*School board members approved a consent agenda that included a trip for German exchange students to visit with host families and a school in Germany. The cost of the trip is paid personally by each student.

*The school board approved the special education annual plan for the 2012-13 school year.

*The board agreed to designate Director of Finance Cindy Wahrman as a designee with authorization to sign Virginia Department of Education documents in the absence of the superintendent.