Monticello High School parent David Blaine called it “the race to the middle.”
At a community meeting with Albemarle School Board member Ned Gallaway Thursday, Blaine and others took the division to task for what they see as a lack of academic rigor, and inconsistency in course offerings in the middle schools.
“We are foregoing what the top tier of kids could be doing,” Blaine said. “Their needs are not being met, and that is a vastly expensive cost.”
Blaine said his daughter, who is enrolled in a 10th-grade advanced honors English class, is similarly frustrated. “We’re moments away from being nine weeks into the school year and they are making it through a 90-page novella,” he said. “And here’s an advanced-level honors course that’s getting [weighted] a 5.0.”
Gallaway said the division has improved the high school programs of study recently, and thinks the board’s plan to replace the SOLs with its own assessments, should the state allow it, will help improve rigor in the classroom.
“We need a different type of education happening in our classrooms, and our teachers need to feel confident that they’re not restricted by that,” Gallaway said.
For the last two years, Albemarle has piloted the College and Workforce Readiness Assessment, a task-based exam designed to test critical and analytical thinking skills. Each year, high school students and college freshman from around the country take the test.
Last year’s results showed that while Albemarle’s students scored higher than most college freshman, they didn’t perform as well on the critical thinking as they were academically prepared for.
School Board Chair Steve Koleszar said that the CWRA will offer a clearer path toward incorporating more rigorous instruction.
“This is a case of using assessment to drive more rigor to lay down to our teachers and our staff and say we want to go to the next level,” Koleszar said. “We don’t want to compare ourselves to just Virginia and SOL test scores, we want to compare ourselves to the best in the country.”
In addition to high school concerns, other parents criticized the lack of consistent elective offerings throughout the county’s five middle schools.
Parent Stephanie Morris expressed concern over Walton’s lack of electives.
“Why were we not given a foreign language last year, and meanwhile my kid can go up to Sutherland and have German 1 and honors choir and all of these different course structures?” Morris asked.
Revisiting the division’s middle school programs of study, Gallaway said, will allow the board to ensure elective offerings are fairly distributed.
Albemarle Assistant Superintendent Billy Haun said schools differ when it comes to enrollment and teaching availability, “so it’s going to be hard to match all schools elective-for-elective. If you’re going to teach guitar, you need to have someone who has the skill to be able to do that. If we had a middle school that wanted Latin, they’d have to find the teacher who could do that, and have enough students to run the class.”
Additionally, Haun said, this year Walton is offering an advanced manufacturing elective that is part of a collaboration with Charlottesville City Schools and the University of Virginia.
Gallaway said that even though parents addressed specific issues, he thinks the board’s focus is appropriate.
“When you hear people talk about rigor, that’s what we’ve been talking about,” Gallaway said. “Our work sessions are designed around that, and rigor is discussed a lot.”
Despite that, he thinks the board could do more to address the consistency of opportunities.
Gallaway, the board’s one at-large member, plans to hold another community conversation with constituents in November.
MEET YOUR EDUCATOR
STEPHANIE CARTER, Coordinator of Virtual Education, Charlottesville City Schools
What has been the most challenging aspect of becoming an administrator?
The time constraints! A high school is an exciting, dynamic place and the days fly by.
How do you respect your school’s history and culture while taking the necessary steps to prepare young people for the future?
The administration depends heavily on the faculty for a historical perspective and for joint decision-making. While the administration and faculty respects and honors the history of the school, we are not afraid to try something new, to be innovative, and to push boundaries if it will enrich students’ educational experiences and prepare them for the future. As the virtual education and STEM administrator, I am excited about the opportunities we are presenting our students now and in the near future.
What are you doing to engage the community at your school?
We are extremely lucky to live in a locality that truly believes in education and supports the local schools. The culture of Charlottesville inherently engages in our school community, but we welcome the community into our school through events, volunteering opportunities, tutoring programs, speaking engagements, and advisory committees.
In what new ways do you support student learning?
Administrators’ core responsibility is educational leadership. The administrative team supports learning by guiding teachers in best instructional practices, advocating for resources, maintaining a safe environment that is conducive to learning, analyzing data, and making data-driven decisions.
- Seventh grade students from Buford Middle School will attend a career fair at John Paul Jones Arena from 9:30-11:30am Wednesday, October 23. Students will hear speakers talk about work-readiness and can visit with representatives from multiple fields. For more information, call Buford Middle School at 245-2411.
- The Charlottesville High School choir’s fall concert takes place at 7pm Thursday, October 24 at the Martin Luther King Performing Arts Center at CHS. The city-county honors middle and high school choirs will perform Thursday, October 29 at Monticello High School. For more information, including show time, call Monticello High School at 244-3100.
- The Charlottesville High School PTO will meet at 6:30pm Tuesday, October 29. For more information, call CHS at 245-2410.