VIRGINIA ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENTS

VASS Remarks at Nov. 17 Board of Education Meeting

Catherine Magouyrk

President Cannaday, Members of the Board of Education, and Dr. Staples, I'm Catherine Magouyrk, Superintendent of Manassas City Public Schools. MCPS houses almost 7,700 students with 63% of its students identified as Hispanic, 17% White, 11% African American and 9% other. 42% of our students are identified as English Language Learners, 13% receive Special Education services and 57% of our students are economically disadvantaged. Our teachers and staff work hard to support our students.

In 2012, six out of eight schools in the division were in school improvement and Osbourn High School was on the verge of state intervention and take-over based on its low student performance and Graduation Completer Index. The Division was also in a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice regarding its ESOL services.

Today, 7 out of 8 schools are now fully accredited for the 16-17 SY, with no schools in focus or priority status. Osbourn High School was recognized by US News and World Reports as a silver medal high school, placing them in the top 16% of all Virginia high schools. Metz Middle School is currently partially accredited in reconstitution, and working towards full accreditation, but our community sees Metz as not accredited. We have increased student achievement in all areas, but continue to struggle in reading. We are a one high school city so the performance of OHS and our other schools is detrimental to the City’s economic development and home values.

I am here today to ask that you think about Divisions like Manassas City as you consider changes to the Standards of Accreditation, Standards of Learning, graduate profile, and other policies that directly impact our students and teachers. My overarching request is that we move slowly.

Our Profile of a Graduate is embedded in our CTE program which requires the participation of all students. We must make sure that the accreditation pendulum moves to the middle so that all students benefit.

The last SOL Reading test revision in 2013 devastated the division. Teachers and administrators have worked diligently to meet student needs and have begun to see positive performance results; however, the SOL standards and tests are changing again and I am fearful MCPS will lose ground once again. I ask the State Board to consider extending the life cycle of the standards to allow students and teachers the time to master the current standards. To require students, teachers, and school division personnel to reboot their curriculum, resources, pacing guides, and professional development takes a toll on teaching, learning, morale, and budgets.

I support the proposal for locally verified credits to include English and mathematics for all students who fail the SOL tests in those subjects. We say we value teachers, yet we use a single SOL to determine if students receive credit towards their graduation, even after teachers affirm that students have learned the content and have received a passing grade.

I want to express our gratitude to Dr. Staples and his staff for listening to the school divisions’ concerns regarding the VGLA. The VGLA has provided students with Limited English Proficiency a path for assessment without discrimination for many years.

In closing, I yearn for an education system that supports learning, holds schools accountable, but allows for teacher and student creativity and student engagement. As long we continue to measure our schools where teachers and students feel the brunt of the schools’ performance on their evaluations and graduation opportunities, we will not see true innovation take place.

Thank you.

Linda Reviea

Dr. Cannaday, Board Members and Dr. Staples. I am Linda Reviea, Superintendent of Staunton City Schools. We are one of the many VA school divisions who have a greater than 50% economically challenged student population. Our children come to school carrying additional burdens that their more economically stable peers do not. When students are more challenged, the job of teaching them becomes more challenging.

Our school division has a school which has been denied accreditation. When we applied for reconstituted status in July, we were not informed until the following December that we would not be granted approval by the BOE because our SOL test scores had not shown an increase in each SOL tested area each of the previous 3 years. If we had been told this during the summer, we would not have wasted precious time and resources to complete the paperwork.

Our School Board was committed to our plan and we forged ahead. We were more than ½ way through the school year and had already implemented our improvement plan before a Corrective Action Plan was created. In fact, the Corrective Action Plan was our School Improvement Plan. The visit by VDOE staff to “help” our school, though well intentioned, was superficial at best as one cannot know a school and its unique characteristics in a 2-hour visit.

Our experience has been that the mandated school improvement meetings are about compliance – nothing more. The resources taken out of our school division to attend these meetings has been tremendous. The sessions treat all schools with a one size fits all mentality which is both unrealistic and unproductive.

Even in light of these factors, our story is one of hope – but not because of our label. Our improvement is because of self-analysis, commitment and hard work by our school division. However, this work has not resulted in a label change. Our school has suffered from a revolving door of teachers with a greater than 50% turnover in 2 years. This year we have already had 3 teachers leave after starting the year fully staffed.

Our children are hard working. Our staff teach, support and nurture each day. It is demoralizing to know that regardless of all that we do, it is only a set of test scores that matter. Our school met the benchmark in 3 of the 4 tested areas and increased in Reading by 8 percentage points – however, we remain denied.

I challenge you as you consider revisions to the accountability system to look beyond compliance; beyond SOL test scores, and identify indicators of progress that are not just another set of criteria stacked against children who come from challenged environments. Find a way to include measures of student achievement on the alternative assessments being implemented across VA. Let’s focus on meaningful measures of individual student growth and recognize success.

In Staunton our motto is making a difference in the future, one child at a time. Perhaps it is time for VA’s accountability system to view the achievement of children as the individual, unique learners that they are.

In their book, Excellence through Equity, Alan Blankstein and Pedro Noguera state:

“We continue to focus narrowly on accountability and standards… we continue to rely on pressure and humiliation as a means of prodding schools to improve. The strategy has not worked and it is increasingly clear that it never will”

It is my hope that you will use your considerable influence to lead us in a different direction as VA seeks to develop a fair, equitable and meaningful accountability system.

Thank you.

Scott Brabrand

Dear Dr. Staples, President Cannaday, and members of the Virginia Board of Education,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today about the future of Virginia public education.

Our schools, like every school, have a story. And it’s one that is still being written.

 I believe under your leadership we can create a bright new chapter.

I offer 2 suggestions at reform:

First, while I applaud the accreditation changes you have made – such as accredited with warning to partially accredited, 1 additional change remains to be made.

We must eliminate the destructive and punitive label of denied accreditation.

We have to remove the label of denied accreditation.

Think about government and the word denied.

What do we deny in government?

We deny felons the right to vote.

In our history we have denied some people service in restaurants or movie theatres based on the color of their skin.

To deny—for government to use the word to deny -- is a powerful word. And I think we have to look at our current society in context at the power of labels.

This is not a retreat from accountability. The state is beginning to develop deeper partnerships with schools, school systems, and school boards around this important work of school improvement. This work must continue.

However, the label itself only increases the very challenges these schools and school districts face.

Ask yourselves this:

  • Does it become easier to attract teachers to schools that are denied accreditation?
  • Does it help keep the teachers we have who are doing the hard work in these schools?
  • Do we have any state data that shows schools with the denied accreditation label see an increase in enrollment by non-economically disadvantaged students and families?

You just saw the report that Scott Kisner referenced from the Commonwealth Institute. We are in the middle of the re-segregation of public schools in Virginia. Do we have a label that is only accelerating that trend? I hope not. We have to be sure that we are not accelerating a trend or a situation that is negative for Virginia Public Schools.

The label is seen by our teachers and principals as a final blow to their hard work to realign their lesson plans to the new standards and to provide increased rigor in the classroom for their students.

As you know Lynchburg City Schools had 2 schools that were denied accreditation this year – a first in over 140 years of the school system’s existence. Lynchburg is home to the largest private K-12 school in Virginia and continues to see a growing number of homeschool students, and this label is only increasing the concern among our community stakeholders about our public schools.

Here is the reality – Virginia now has 94 schools denied accreditation, 62 schools under reconstituted status and 84 more schools in their 3rd year warned. We are rapidly expanding a label that only accelerates public distrust of public schools.

Why not say approaching partial accreditation? Or why not note accreditation by subject area? Both of our schools denied accreditation were fully accredited in 2 of the 4 subject areas.

Second, as you continue to decide labels on schools you must determine whether you are going to apply quantitative or qualitative criteria. I am proud that my colleague from Roanoke City came to advocate for her schools and received a different label. I too have worked hard to advocate for my schools and have worked closely with Dr. Staples and the Office of School Improvement to systematically apply key strategies for school improvement. I was invited to rescind my application for reconstitution for two of my schools.

Roanoke’s story matters. And so does Lynchburg’s story. You see, every school in every community has a story. However, I firmly believe you must either hear all of these schools’ stories or none of them.

Honestly if we want to approach this next chapter of public education as a true partnership, we must find a way for you to hear all of them and to use these collective stories to help you enhance state support for our schools.

Please begin this new chapter in public education by eliminating the denied accreditation label and adding true qualitative measures to your accountability system that includes the whole story for all of our schools.

Sincerely,

Scott Brabrand

Superintendent

Lynchburg City Schools

Virginia Association of School Superintendents
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