There are a number of issues important to Jefferson County Schools, as we work together to meet the challenges and opportunities of 21st century teaching and learning. Together, I believe, we are up to the challenge, with a focus on excellence in teaching and learning.
Many of the challenges now facing Jefferson County Schools have been long in the making. For example, the need for new schools has been evident for quite some time now. The older schools in the county are showing their age, with increasing maintenance costs, outdated design, and, yes, even the lack of the power supply needed to support 21st century classrooms. For quite some time now, there has been a recognition of a change in how students engage in learning, how they process information in the Digital Age. Yet, the curriculum and instruction management model of Jefferson County Schools remains a throwback to an earlier time. As well, professional development for teachers, the frontline of 21st century education, remains stalled in a bygone era of one-size-fits-all at a time when personal learning networks are empowering teachers to create relevant and individualized professional development opportunities. A future focus is needed to address these issues and future challenges.
As is underscored in the ongoing redistricting debate, there is a primary focus on how many students can you fit in a school. There are guidelines and targets, but it comes down to a mathematical equation of number of students in Jefferson County divided by existing building square footage. Absent in the debate is a recognition that a classroom filled with students sitting elbow-to-elbow in neat little rows is not a classroom supporting 21st century teaching and learning. A student-centric learning experience, enhanced by communication, collaboration, and technology is undermined in a classroom designed or arranged by necessity to accommodate bodies, rather than strengthen the capabilities of teaching and learning in the 21st century. As a member of the Jefferson County School Board, I will draw on my classroom teaching and technology integration experience to lend a voice and direction to the building of new schools and the retrofitting of existing schools to deliver on the promise of excellence in teaching and learning for Jefferson County Schools moving forward.
Student achievement in Jefferson County Schools, as reflected in yearly student proficiency scores, cannot and will not rise with a narrowly-focused curriculum and instructional model that takes the easy road of promoting programs for students and schools that are already achieving. The hard work, the necessary work, is to broaden the focus on students and schools that are not currently achieving. This requires a different focus, a new perspective, and, yes, a new lens through which to view and address student achievement in Jefferson County Schools. I propose a four-point plan in support of broader student achievement.
Effective Instructional Leadership – The School Board needs to take responsibility, as outlined in state law, to provide “a proper framework and the governance strategies” for monitoring and improving student achievement. They oversee the school superintendent, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, all 5 coordinators of differing levels of curriculum and instruction, and school principals, who have the leadership responsibility for improving student achievement. There is a need to examine and evaluate the current multi-level curriculum and instruction model that continuously delivers poor results.
Data-driven Strategies – There is no shortage of gathering data. In fact, a few years back, when the high schools’ coordinator position was being refilled, it was decided to make them not only responsible for overall academics at two high schools, but to saddle them with the responsibility of being an “instructional data analyst for secondary mathematics,” which includes middle schools. That is a tall order. In short, there is data available. Yet, there is no meaningful follow through in effective use of the data to drive instruction and improve student achievement.
Meaningful Parent and Family Engagement — Parent and family engagement is recognized as a key to student achievement. It is not enough to say, we try, without working to identify the barriers that exist to greater participation of parents and family, including socio-economic circumstances. I advocate a sustained outreach to engage parents and families to help them meaningfully understand how to monitor their child’s progress and how to work with educators to expand student opportunities and student achievement. I propose a Parent/Family Academy focused on strengthening parental and family engagement in support of student success now and in the future.
Professional Development in support of student achievement – There is a clear need to revamp how Jefferson County Schools delivers professional development for educators in the 21st century overall, but there is a glaring need for purposeful and focused professional development to the benefit of teachers in support of student achievement. A one-off professional development falls short. Data exists for instructional leaders from the school board and superintendent, through a level of curriculum and instruction coordinators, to school principals. What is missing is ongoing and relevant professional development that engages and empowers teachers. Let’s not forget that teachers are knowledgeable and licensed professionals. They are dedicated, underpaid, and love their jobs and students. They are in the best position to evaluate the data, add their classroom experience to enhance the usefulness of the data, and to deliver on the goal of increased student achievement.
Nearly two decades into the 21st century, Jefferson County Schools does not have a bona fide computer science curriculum. That needs to change. Computer science has moved from an outlier to a fundamental skill in the 21st century. College and career readiness demands it. There isn’t a job or educational pathway that doesn’t require knowledge and skills in computer science. Whether a student is on track to go to college or in a career technical vocational program, computer science should be a component of the curriculum. There are individual teachers in Jefferson County Schools that have been doing wonderful things to promote computer science skills in their classrooms, but what has been sorely missing for some time is meaningful leadership, direction, and support for computer science teaching and learning from the Board of Education. There is already a blueprint for implementing a computer science curriculum outlined in West Virginia Board of Education policy that defines content standards for Technology and Computer Science for all grade levels and includes specific computer science courses that should be offered. (Read More)
There have been calls from the Jefferson County community for a School Resource Officer (SRO) and metal detectors at both county high schools and all four middle schools. In a recent public forum in Shepherdstown, students focused on the need for increasing preventative social and mental health services within their school and did not want their school to become akin to a prison lockdown. Beyond “thoughts and prayers,” what are federal and state elected officials doing to provide real resources to make our schools safer? Parents, students, and the Jefferson County community have questions and want answers. A community summit, a community conversation is needed regarding this important issue. (Read More)