Teacher Norm Cooper talks to Auto Body Repair and Auto Service Technician students during the first day of school at CATEC

Both Charlottesville and Albemarle schools saw pass rates drop on Standards of Learning exams in English and science, reports from the Virginia Department of Education show.

Albemarle County students’ reading pass rate fell from 90 percent last year to 78 percent this year, while their writing pass rate went from 91 to 82 percent. Among Charlottesville students, reading pass rates dipped from 86 to 71 percent and writing from 81 to 68 percent.

Science pass rates declined from 92 to 84 percent in Albemarle and 87 to 76 percent in Charlottesville.

State and local education officials said they expected the declines due to changes in test format and rigor. The most significant change, Albemarle Assistant Superintendent Billy Haun said, is the change from test questions having a single correct answer, to possibly having two, three, or four right answers, all of which must be selected. Haun said that it usually takes two to three years to see pass rates rebound after changes.

Updates to the the social studies and math SOLs took place in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years. This year, math pass rates registered 75 percent in Albemarle and 69 in Charlottesville, and social studies pass rates for both local divisions held steady in the mid- to upper-80s.

CATEC board throws lifeline to firefighter training 

CATEC’s firefighting course will live for another year, thanks to the technical education center’s Board of Directors, which voted last week to fund the class.

The Charlottesville Fire Department has supported the approximately $21,000 per year part-time instructor position in the past, but cut the funding for the coming year. The Fire Department will, however, continue to support the program by donating equipment and offering training in areas such as hazardous materials cleanup, amongst others.

School officials said that due to reductions in English and pharmacy technician staff, CATEC can absorb the cost for the coming year. Moving forward, the Board will include the firefighting program into its regular evaluation of programs, a step CATEC didn’t have to take when the program was funded externally, CATEC Director Adam Hastings said.

During the course, which has an anticipated enrollment of 15 for the fall semester, students are introduced to equipment use, as well as live firefighting and search-and-rescue procedures.

Walton Middle School implements improvement measures

Walton Middle School Principal Alison Dwier-Selden last week told the Albemarle County School Board that after a summer of focused effort, Walton is headed in the right direction. The report is the result of complaints about discipline, school leadership, and educational quality.

“My work is to preserve what’s going well at Walton, and take care of the things that need to be improved,” Dwier-Selden said.

The principal divided her efforts between academics, discipline, and communication.

To address parent and student frustration with a repetition of electives, Dwier-Selden said, staff worked with students and parents over the summer to place students in their first-choice electives—a move she said reduced the number of schedule changes in the first week of school. Additionally, staff split sixth-grade language arts into standard and advanced sections to mirror the seventh- and eighth-grade structures.

Walton staff also developed a student code of conduct in response to complaints about unclear discipline procedures and consequences. Staff published the code on the school’s website, shared it with students, and sent it home to parents.

Aimed at improving communication with both students and parents, the principal said she will be emailing all parents each Friday and will be holding regular lunch meetings with students to gather feedback.

“Part of our job at the central office level is making sure we’re working in a continuous improvement role,” Albemarle Superintendent Pam Moran said. “We go in and do a full assessment. Walton is a great example of us looking at the full picture.”