Back in the swing of things: A guide to city and county school happenings

Back in the swing of things: A guide to city and county school happenings

Summer may be over, but the fun doesn’t have to stop there. After the beach trips and visits to train museums, the start of the school year brings its own kind of magic, between new supplies and unfamiliar faces and environments. In this issue, we’re checking in with public schools—what changed over the summer and what to expect this year.


What I did this summer

Just before school starts (bummer, dude), we asked you to tell us how your kids spent their vacations. Here’s what your neighbors were up to over break.

“My son Ashton is 16 and for the last five years he has done a coat drive for his birthday. In those years he has gathered almost 7,000 coats, with the help of everyone who donated. Every summer he spends hours helping me plan the details and enjoys meeting with those who make this event possible. Already this summer, he has set the date for this fall’s Ashton’s Birthday Wish coat drive and spoke to many who will be involved.”—Kim Ryan





“We are a family of five from North Garden. Our kids are ages 7, 3 and 8 months. We are spending our summer traveling in an Airstream travel trailer and are on our way to Montana (hopefully!). We will be checking out the national parks, including Glacier, Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore. My oldest will be doing the junior ranger program and has already received one badge from New River Gorge. We’ve already made plenty of stops, including the Indianapolis Children’s Museum and lots of small parks so the kids can play and run.”—Lani Pokrana



“We went camping for the first time as a family of four at Small Country in Louisa. My oldest son, Levi, practically lived on this sand mountain the entire trip!”—Crystal Jones







“I am the new volunteer program manager intern for the summer at Open for Service. Throughout the summer I will be running the volunteer program by helping to encourage new volunteers and promote the organization through social media. Through the years, in our small but diverse town, I have made friends who were not always the same as me. …Some who even felt uncomfortable in their own bodies or were not always accepted by other people. My parents really opened my mind by opening our home to everyone. My mother has been helping a refugee family over the past year. Having parents who view everyone as equals taught me to accept people regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or anything else that sets them apart.”—Asha Gupta, 14


“We’ve done a few things this summer. Perhaps the most exciting so far has been the tank museum in Danville. Highly recommend for young boys. So. Many. Tanks.”—Sam Preston with son David, age 8



New and improved

Here’s what the city and county have been working on over the summer.

Help is on the way

Got a bad cough or a scraped knee? If you’re a middle or high school student in Albemarle County, you could have found a nurse right away, but in an elementary school, you might have found yourself out of luck. Prior to the 2015-2016 school year, nurses in county elementary schools were only staffed for six hours per day. That’s less than a full day of school for a student, and it doesn’t cover accident-prone bus loading and unloading times. To solve this problem, Albemarle County Public Schools has been slowly growing its contingent of full-time elementary school nurses; in 2016-17, 11 out of the 16 elementary schools were staffed with all-day nurses. For the 2017-18 session, all 16 schools will have full-time nurses.

Staying focused

ACPS student enrollment has increased by about 8 percent over the past decade. In those same 10 years, the county’s percentage of economically disadvantaged students (those on free or reduced lunch) has increased by 67.4 percent. To address the growing population, the county has created a Social Emotional Academic Development (SEAD) program for the 2017-2018 school year.

Strategic Communications Officer Phil Giaramita says that the program will be focused on helping students who need extra attention “in such areas as bilingual support, home and school counseling and assistance with technology learning resources.”

The SEAD program will be piloted at the four schools with the highest proportion of economically disadvantaged students (Agnor-Hurt, Cale, Greer and Woodbrook) and will involve incentives for teachers to gain better credentials, creating a more inclusive school environment and monitoring the academic development of at-risk students.

Equal opportunity

The 2017-2018 school year will be a big year for the city schools: It marks the first year of their new, five-year strategic plan. Described as “transformational,” the plan will shape the goals and growth of Charlottesville City Schools over the next half decade. The plan focuses on creating equity in school programs, improving both student access (by increasing the percentage of underrepresented students in advanced programs) and student achievement (by increasing the percentage of underrepresented students with high AP scores). These changes are part of the city’s goal to keep up with “Profile of a Virginia Graduate,” which is a set of state requirements ensuring that a diploma means students are ready for life after high school.

What’s next

It’s a time of growth for the Charlottesville City Schools. The city is wrapping up a facilities capacity study, which is indicating that the city school system—in which a new school has not been built since Charlottesville High School in 1974—is over-enrolled and over capacity. The next move once the capacity study wraps up, says city schools spokeswoman Beth Cheuk, is “fostering community conversations about the next steps we want to take to make sure that our facilities are equipped to match the anticipated growth in our enrollment.”

Room to grow

Woodbrook Elementary School is getting a makeover this year. When students step into the school in August 2018, they might not recognize it: The renovations involve the sprucing up of seven old classrooms as well as the addition of 16 brand new ones. And the makeover is more than surface-level. The changes involve the introduction of multi-age classrooms, where kids from different grades will learn together. The school expansion, which will increase Woodbrook’s capacity to 600 and includes everything from a maker space to a new gym, will be ready for the 2018-2019 school year.

Safe space

Breathe easy, parents: Baker-Butler Elementary is about to get even safer. As part of a county-wide security initiative, Baker-Butler is opening for the 2017-2018 school year with a newly secured entrance. The new entryway will funnel all visitors through a central point, requiring them to walk through the main office before entering the building while school is in session. Small renovations are underway to shape the school for the new security measures, which county officials intend to use to control access to the school and ensure that there will be no unregistered visitors.

On the right track

Planned renovations for the Charlottesville High School track hit a slight road bump this summer when no contractors immediately jumped at the opportunity to take the job. But never fear, runners: The city is re-opening contractor bidding this fall, in hope that the renovations—like a new eight-lane track and rehabbed bleachers—could be completed within the 2018-2019 school year. City schools spokeswoman Beth Cheuk said that with the new bidding session fast approaching, “Now is time to identify and begin planning so that the first of these improvements will be on the to-do list for next summer.”

Around we go

In the dense city landscape, Venable Elementary School feels like a breath of fresh air; a splash of green among urban gray. Despite its downtown location, the school manages to fit in outdoor elements from a playground to a multi-use trail to soccer fields. This coming school year, Venable will add another outdoor feature with a newly installed track for kids. For students who aren’t fans of the dreaded indoor Pacer running test, a few laps on the track might seem like a welcome proposition.


Meet your teach

Students aren’t the only fresh faces on the scene at the start of a school year. This year, both the city and county are getting new teachers, so we asked them a few questions by way of introduction. Welcome!

Jess Dollar

New third or fourth grade teacher at Brownsville Elementary School

Are you new to Charlottesville? My husband and I have been living in Charlottesville for a year now. I love being so close to the mountains and being able to go hiking at places like Humpback and Spy Rock. I’m excited to work at Albemarle County Public Schools so I can truly engage with the community here in Charlottesville.

Favorite part of your job: What I love about teaching is that I get to see a group of young learners change from the beginning of the year to the end. It’s amazing to watch them blossom and grow and to help them develop the potential they have.

When you were in school, what was your favorite grade/class? I’ve always loved writing—from a second grade “writing workshop” to fourth grade writing prompts, and on to more complex assignments in middle and high school. I remember my 10th grade English teacher asking us to look at classic artwork and write stories or poems based on the images, and one of my college professors, who incorporated personal journal writing into our coursework. Writing is an important part of my life, and I’m excited to inspire kids to write, too.

Tal Thompson

New fifth grade teacher at Stone Robinson Elementary

Are you new to Charlottesville? My brother, his wife and brand new baby live in Charlottesville. My family is excited to live close to them and begin starting new traditions as well as begin playing in the mountains.

Favorite part of your job: Igniting the love of learning in children, inspiring the belief in higher potential with my students and collaborating with my peers to develop amazing experiences for children.

Proudest moment on the job: In 2015, I was a runner-up for America’s Top Teacher on ABC’s “Live! with Kelly and Michael.” Being recognized by my community was a fulfilling and proud moment for sure.

When you were in school, what was your favorite grade/class? Any class that used music and movement was my favorite.

Mousumi Franks

New Spanish teacher at Walker Upper Elementary

Are you new to Charlottesville? I’m not totally new in that I went to college and grad school here, but I haven’t lived here in a very long time. I’m looking forward to four seasons and living in a smaller town.

Favorite part of your job: The kids! Getting to laugh with them is the best.

Proudest moment on the job: The proudest moment at my job is any time a child tells me that I’ve helped them make learning easier or made them want to do more with what I teach them. The feedback from the kids is what makes me proud to be a teacher.

When you were in school, what was your favorite grade/class? In college I learned what I love to do. I can’t say there was just one, because the whole thing a process. I’ve just always liked school.

Jamir Kai

New Spanish teacher at Monticello High School

Are you new to Charlottesville? I’ve been here for five years with my husband and we’ve fallen in love with all the adventures to be had: on mountains, kayaks or even the Downtown Mall. It’s also lovely being in such a diverse community.

Favorite part of your job: Using music, movies and language to connect students to new cultures.

Proudest moment on the job: I’m going into my first year. But, so far, my proudest moment was getting my two degrees. Many awesome moments on the way.

When you were in school, what was your favorite grade/class? Spanish is the best! But in college I took a course called “Unsolved Mysteries of the Universe,” which just rocked my world.


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