The Albemarle County School Board wrestled Thursday night with how its high schools will embrace student-directed and experiential learning while adequately assessing knowledge and producing credits that colleges will accept.
The discussion comes as school officials are looking to increase high school capacity, either with an addition to Albemarle High School or with an entirely new school. Officials have set aside $500,000 over the next two fiscal years to decide what the expansion or new school will look like.
Board members Thursday focused more on how curricula are likely to change than how the school building will look.
“The concept of getting rid of what we are doing and to replace it with individual learning is exciting to me, and a high school I would want to go to,” board member David Oberg said. “If we could give our students the capacity to design their learning world … I wouldn’t look back.”
State lawmakers this year passed House Bill 895, which removed advanced and standard studies diploma provisions, and charged the Virginia Department of Education with identifying skills and knowledge graduates will need to contribute to the state economy.
School Board members all spoke in favor of pushing for more student choice, work experience and internships at the high school level, but some were worried that a move away from standard course material would set county graduates back.
“Colleges are still out there dictating what a student’s transcript is going to look like,” board member Pam Moynihan said. “We need to go out to the colleges and say, ‘What are you looking for?’ If they still want four years of math, four years of science and two years of physical education, then what we are doing is moot.”
Board Chairwoman Kate Acuff agreed.
“My husband is at [the University of Virginia], and I can say with confidence that it is moving more slowly than we are in terms of innovation,” she said.
Thursday’s meeting at Albemarle High School was the first brainstorming session in a six-month “visioning” process — a series of meetings to identify what a county high school circa 2022 will look like and teach, according to a staff report.
It is a continuation of previous efforts by division staff and the board to identify priorities for “high schools of the future.” A similar work session was held about two years ago.
As plans for the county high schools take shape, Acuff advised her fellow board members to rely on existing research and design learning practice.
“We do not necessarily have to start from scratch,” she said. “There is a lot of innovation going on in our schools and in our state and across the country.”
Previous planning led to design learning programs at Albemarle High, with the division’s Math, Engineering and Science Academy, and with Team 19, a student-directed learning approach aimed at students who otherwise would not engage in school.
In February, the board will start planning the actual school building or expansion, before approving plans and making a capital improvement program request over a period of five months beginning in November 2017.
Funding the high school project will either be done through the county’s regular CIP, or through a potential second bond referendum in November 2018, a staff report showed.
Funding via bond referendum would mean construction would begin in June of 2020, with the facility to open for either the 2021-22 or 2022-23 school year, documents showed. Funding through the CIP would shorten the timeframe by about a year.
Building a new school or adding to AHS while rethinking how students are taught will take a big community engagement effort, said board member Jason Buyaki.
“What we have to address is instilling confidence in parents and in the community,” he said. “The first question [we have to answer] is, ‘Why has education changed?’ We are not the industrialized society that we were, preparing students for the daily 9-to-5.”