Continued learning key to success

Patrick County schools are fully accredited and increased student performance propelled the division’s ranking from 76th to 19th percent in Virginia, but the school board chairman recalled it hasn’t always been that way.

“We weren’t where we wanted to be,” Ronnie Terry said, and noted that in spring of 2013, students were struggling with reading skills.

“Only 59 percent of third graders passed” the Standards of Learning (SOL) reading tests and more than 40 percent of student scores fell below the state benchmark, he said.

In the same time frame, third grade students at one elementary school scored 38 percent on the SOL reading test, which meant 62 percent failed, Terry said.

By the spring of 2014, only 65 percent of third graders were passing the state reading SOL test, Terry said, adding that deficits in various areas were pinpointed. That, he said, required school officials to refocus their instructional practices.

After four of seven schools received “school improvement” status in 2014, a contractor from the Virginia Department of Education was required to conduct a review that included classroom observations, lesson plans, and daily instructional practices, Terry said.

At the conclusion of the review, staff members were required to adjust the way they taught, planned and other practices to meet state requirements, he said.

As part of that process, administrators, principals and teachers participated in extensive professional development opportunities that included workshops, regional/state conferences, and colleague visits, Terry said.

He noted conferences are a collection of mini-workshops that highlight instructional practices.

A single conference may include 20 to 60 or more learning sessions, which are opportunities for teachers and administrators to improve current practices, Terry said, and noted it would be impossible for one person to attend every session and bring back information to share with others in the division.

Some conferences are mandatory and based on work assignments, he said.

Examples of conferences include the Virginia Department of Education SOL Institutes, Virginia Association of Curriculum and Development, Special Education, Medicaid, Career and Technical Education (CTE), Reading/Math/Science/Social Studies state conferences, school law, facilities, Civil Rights, and others, he said.

The conferences also offer opportunities to visit with colleagues, which gives teachers the chance to observe their counterparts in other areas and learn from each other, Terry said. He added each visit provides a learning experience and helps teachers view instruction beyond their own classroom.

“In the past few years, our teachers have visited classrooms within the school division as well as those in other areas,” including Floyd, Henry, Franklin, Montgomery and Wise counties as well as the cities of Salem and Virginia Beach, Terry said.

School leaders also participate, with principals and administrators investing time with other school leaders to learn more about effective scheduling, observation feedback, resource management, data analysis, and more, Terry said.

School officials also encourage principals and teachers to conduct visits together, which helps to provide common experiences that enrich follow up discussions, he said.

Last year, a principal and teacher from each elementary school joined the county’s instructional team to visit Malibu Elementary School in Virginia Beach, Terry said.

The local team spent a full day rotating between 20 different classrooms, from kindergarten to fifth grade, to watch small group instruction. The staff there met with local teachers and discussed strategies for teaching reading, math, social studies, and science. The teachers also exchanged resources to use after the visit, Terry said.

Now, other school divisions ask to visit local classrooms, Terry said, noting a team of teachers and administrators from Alleghany Public Schools visited Stuart, Hardin Reynolds Memorial, and Blue Ridge schools last week.

This week, a team will spend a day with math teachers at Patrick County High School, he said, adding “continued learning is important for our staff and our students.”

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