The Albemarle County School Board has begun to review the first draft of a strategic planning document that stipulates where and how the division will concentrate its resources over the next two years.
At a recent board meeting, five major strategic priorities were discussed. Each priority, school staff says, is designed to aid in the division’s ultimate goal of graduating students with the skill sets they need to succeed as “21st-century learners, workers and citizens.”
“We’re aspiring to do something much bigger than to get kids to pass the tests they need to pass and walk across a stage,” said Superintendent Pam Moran. “We want every child when they leave us to say, ‘I know what I’m dreaming about, and I know what my action plan is to be successful in life.’”
The proposed priorities are to:
graduate students with “lifelong learning competencies;”
increase college and career pathway credits;
enhance teacher efficacy;
increase parent and community engagement; and
secure the resources necessary to modernize all learning spaces.
The priorities were developed by the superintendent and her staff following conversations the School Board held during a retreat in June. Each priority also comes with suggested metrics for measuring progress.
To achieve the first target on graduates’ preparedness, staff suggested that the division develop criteria for a diploma seal that would indicate mastery of “lifelong learner” standards. Students would begin developing a portfolio documenting their acquisition of such skills in elementary school, and would present their portfolio at the end of high school to receive the seal.
Staff also recommended an intensified focus on elective experiences, world language programs and work-based learning to arm students with skills obtained outside of the classroom.
For the second priority, staff presented target goals for the number of students taking an Advanced Placement or career/technical education credit.
School Board member Steve Koleszar wondered if the approach would grant students enough freedom to pursue paths unrelated to a professional track.
“Are we putting too much emphasis on college credits and career pathways?” Koleszar asked. “One of the things we’re trying to do is engage students’ passions. I don’t want to tell a kid they have to take an AP if their passion is some other thing.”
School Board members also expressed concern over the language of the final priority centered on resources. Several members noted that the board does not have direct control over the amount of money provided to the schools.
They agreed, however, that advocating for increased resources from local and state sources should be a top priority.
“This is an issue we need to mobilize around as a board,” Koleszar said.
A key to advocacy, board members said, is clear communication with the wider community about how the resources are used in the schools.
“We need to engage the community beyond those who have kids in the school right now,” said School Board member Kate Acuff. “We need to make the sale that it’s a benefit to the whole community to have excellent quality schools.”
Board members said they also would like to see an emphasis on efficient use of resources in the strategic plan.
“What we have control over is the optimization of the resources we get,” said School Board member Jon Stokes, “not necessarily the successful negotiation of more resources.”
The superintendent’s cabinet will incorporate the board’s comments into a revised plan that it will present for the board to consider in the coming school year.
Patrick McLaughlin, recently appointed strategic planning officer for the school division, said the ultimate question for crafting the strategic plan is, “Are we planners, or are we dreamers? Are we content with just making plans, or do we want to dream about what we can be?”