Our division has redefined summer programming for students. Traditional remediation programs are now supplemented with enrichment opportunities (K-8 STEM Camp), classes aimed at accelerating learning for students preparing for a greater challenge (Grade 6 Math Bridge and Pre-Algebra Bridge), and individual and small group literacy tutorials (Title I Reading Camp – below).

It’s been a successful summer of learning – and we look forward to expanding on our offerings and opportunities for students in coming years.

Tomorrow I’m going on vacation. Hopefully the sun will shine for most of the week and I’ll take advantage of every minute of salt water, sandcastles, and ice cream cones.

Today I began to unplug. I actually found myself reflecting … something I haven’t had a minute to do during the sprint of the last few months. Specifically, I’ve reflected on the major take-always from May, June, and July.

…. MAY

Assessment

All you have to do is set foot in a school or have a conversation with an educator and you can feel the tension – the pressure of high stakes testing. May feels different in our schools. It feels different for our children.

While Virginia’s SOL assessments are here to stay, I had the opportunity to lead a team of teachers and administrators through an awesome process this spring: we spent a great deal of time reconceptualizing the 13-year assessment framework for our students. We’ve reduced the amount of traditional assessments by about 40%. (This means we’ve effectively added that same amount of time back to teaching and learning.) We’ve added growth measures, and we’ve developed performance assessments. We’ve created the division’s Balanced Assessment Project.

We’ve made the conscious decision to create a more well-rounded, more comprehensive assessment profile for our students and teachers. We’re building an assessment system that we know is better than the one we’ve used for years.

University Partnerships

We’ve been working all year on strengthening our relationship with Virginia’s colleges and universities. After a second encouraging meeting with officials from James Madison University, it looks like we’re poised to provide some incredible opportunities to our students and staff. Some will be as early as the fall. Some will take more time to develop and deliver.

From working toward a program that will allow our seniors to graduate from Goochland High School with an official JMU transcript to providing our teachers with exceptional professional development opportunities – it appears that we’re at the beginning of a partnership that will become a cornerstone to our overall educational program.

…. JUNE

Apple Event

A team of about 15 administrators, teachers, and school board members attended an education event hosted by Apple in Reston, Virginia. Beyond the amazing resources afforded by the Apple platform, I left the event with one major take-away. It centered on the urgency for technology to exist as part of the learning environment, as opposed to an event within it. We need to move past the days when we stop instruction to make our way to the computer lab or when we ask students to put away their laptops (or mobile devices) to get back to direct instruction.

Of course this notion doesn’t minimize the importance of direct instruction; rather, it emphasizes the advancement that can be made when technology exists as a ubiquitous part of students’ learning environment. This kind of environment allows for true personalized learning.

Performance Assessments (or Tasks)

A “performance task” requires a student to create, manipulate or re-work intellectual academic content in a practical and authentic performance that demonstrates student learning. It’s an assessment of learning – and it sure requires more of students than a traditional multiple choice test.

I had the opportunity to work with a small team of teacher leaders in the development of our first set of division performance assessments in grades 4 and 5 and in middle school science. Our team consisted of teachers and principals from every level: elementary, middle, and high.

STEM Camp 2013

140 students in grades K-8. Design challenges. Guest engineers. Bridge building. Rocket launching. Underwater robots. The Science Museum of Virginia.

Wow.

…. JULY

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is something we’ve been working on for months … years. What’s happening lately, however, is that all of the discussion, all of the soul searching, and all of the thoughtful consideration is beginning to take shape. It’s taking the shape of a well thought out vision, mission, and set of values.

In this strategic planning process, I was asked last week to define the word “rigor.” The conversation ebbed from Bloom’s Taxonomy to grading to the idea that rigor, by its very nature, has to be individualized. The question sure made me pause, consider, and dig in on a word that we use daily in our work as professional educators.

Rigorous are performance tasks.

Back to strategic planning. How great would it be to work for a school division whose central mission it is to maximize the potential of every learner? Not to work for a division that hangs a hollow statement on the wall – but to be part of a team and immersed in a culture wherein every decision made is aimed at maximizing the potential of every child, every employee, and every stakeholder.

So … what have I discovered in the chance to finally reflect?

It’s given me the chance to connect the dots of the past several months. The discovery affirms what we’ve been working toward for the last 18 months: ENGAGEMENT.

Balanced assessment, college coursework in high school, technology-rich classrooms, performance tasks, hands-on science and engineering, defining or vision and values … each of them will play a significant role in our ability to engage our school community.

I talk (and write) all the time of my beliefs about the importance of engagement. I’ve shared the graphic by Gallup that shows us the typical engagement trend for students in school.

I believe our school division can create a different trendline: one that starts high and stays high.

This was one of the many images of the past week that captured the learning, brilliance, and wonder of Goochland County Public Schools’ STEM Camp 2013.

More than 130 elementary and middle school students completed design challenges, built bridges, developed circuits, launched rockets, built and test-drove underwater robots, and spent a day exploring the Science Museum of Virginia.

Interests were sparked. Discoveries were made. Relationships were strengthened. Talents were revealed. Accomplishments were celebrated.

You can take a 90 second look at the week here.

It’s safe to say everyone’s already talking about STEM Camp 2014.

(The camp was the product of the Goochland school-community’s STEM Advisory Committee – and way too many smart, talented, dedicated, caring people to list.) We thank each and every contributor.

Recently, the Virginia Department of Education announced that Goochland High School was recognized among the 100 Best W!se High Schools Teaching Personal Finance. W!se is an acronym for “Working in Support of Education” – a leading New York City based educational not-for-profit whose central mission is to develop personal finance literacy and readiness for college and the workforce.

During a ceremony last month on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange the organization recognized excellence in one-hundred high schools from across the country as part of its 10th anniversary ceremony of its award-winning Financial Literacy Certification Program.

Ms. Sarah Voyack and Mr. Joe Fowler teach Personal Finance for Goochland High School.

Throughout Virginia, the month of May has become synonymous with the state’s Standards of Learning (SOL) assessments. These “high stakes” tests begin in third grade and continue through high school. For our students this means question after question, test after test.

These SOL tests are a cornerstone of Virginia’s response to the accountability movement in education, one that was bolstered two decades ago. Strong, talented professionals welcome accountability – no matter the field. The associated challenge facing the education profession is striking a balance between the state’s current vehicle for accountability (SOL tests) and the kind of measures we know are best for our students.

Anyone who’s discussed the topic of assessment with me has heard me talk and talk about the importance of measuring individual student growth. I believe it’s critical for our students to meet the state’s minimum proficiency standards by way of the SOL assessments. And SOL tests measure achievement.

I believe it’s far more important for every one of our students to make the most progress s/he can during each of the thirteen years they’re with us. Only authentic growth assessments can measure this personalized progress.

This past winter we gathered a group of our teachers and administrators to begin exploring growth measures and to engage in a conversation about bringing some balance to what has become an assessment profile dominated by a fairly singular focus: the SOL tests and preparation for the same.

The committee’s work is the basis for a draft document we are building that will capture the division’s efforts to build a balanced plan for student assessment, while reducing the overall amount of tests our teachers and students face each year. Readers will notice an emphasis on growth measures, the introduction of performance assessments, the continued presence of traditional achievement tests (though greatly reduced), and a net loss in the overall amount of testing that takes place each school year. This last feature will result in an increase in instructional time. (That’s reason enough for celebration.)

You can see our draft document by clicking the image below:

Finally, we’d like to give our professionals the opportunity to discuss this project and ask questions before we close out the 2012-13 school year and turn our focus to 2013-14.

The Virginia Department of Education has developed a Web page and flyer with ideas for summer learning that may be shared with parents or students as the school year ends. Research shows that children who read for pleasure and explore new things in the summer do better and forget less when they go back to school in the fall.

Please take a look at all that this resource has to offer.