The idea of “preparing students for jobs that don’t exist” has become a cliché among education professionals. But the phrase rings true for Stephanie Carter, the new principal of Buford Middle School.
She is among four new Charlottesville City Schools principals. In their first weeks on the job, each of them has employed a wide range of strategies to lay the groundwork for the 2018-19 academic year.
Before stepping into her new role, Carter managed the city division’s virtual learning and career and technical education programs for the past seven years.
“My personal experience has informed the idea of providing students with skills that are flexible and can apply to any job,” she said. “And I really understand the power of being able to provide educational experiences through hands-on learning.”
Carter also was the principal of the Lugo-McGinness Academy, Charlottesville’s alternative learning center.
At Buford, Carter will continue the school’s implementation of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, a framework for teaching behavioral expectations.
“Kids in middle school are in such a fundamental transition and development phase,” she said. “Helping them understand their emotions and understand how to manage stress is really important for them.”
Carter said she believes strongly in the potential of trauma-informed teaching to help children overcome adverse experiences in their lives outside of school.
“All of our kids need to be on a level playing field when they get to school,” she said. “The idea that we are trying to meet kids’ needs, and become a student-centered environment, is one of the things that excites me the most about being in Charlottesville City Schools.”
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Elizabeth Korab, the principal of Burnley-Moran Elementary School, oversaw a thorough makeover of the school’s interior this summer.
“We have thought a lot about how our school spirit can be seen in the physical space,” she said.
The school’s administrative office was repainted, and a damaged display case near the main entrance was covered with blue contact paper and decorated with the names of every student.
Korab said she hopes to make Burnley-Moran’s mascot, the bobcat, more central to the school’s identity. Several wings of the school building now are called “dens.”
A new bobcat mural at Burnley-Moran displays Korab’s motto for the new school year: “One BME.”
“I give the analogy of Ben & Jerry’s; there’s a bunch of different flavors, but it’s all going to be high-quality ice cream,” Korab said. “We want everyone to have their own flavor [of learning], but it all comes together for one high-quality experience.”
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Walker Upper Elementary School enrolls all of the division’s fifth- and sixth-graders. Adam Hastings, Walker’s new principal, describes it as “the first place in the city of Charlottesville where we ask everybody to get along for two years.”
“I think the events from last August and the ones from this year are a reminder that as a community, we are not as unified as we want to be,” Hastings said. “We put all these children in our building, and then we have to find a way to build community in our walls.”
Hastings previously was a dean at Piedmont Virginia Community College and is a former member of the Charlottesville School Board. He resigned from the board in March when he moved to Albemarle County with his family.
Hastings said many Walker parents have voiced concerns about the school’s climate: “Our culture, our student behavior and what is going on instructionally.”
“We made some big changes this summer to address those challenges,” he said.
Hastings adjusted Walker’s master schedule to double the number of recess periods offered each day and reduce class sizes for physical education and fine arts.
“We have leveled things out. It feels much more like elementary school and much less like middle school,” Hastings said. “Students have fewer transitions in a day and they are, for the most part, with the same group of 25 students each day.”
As a School Board member, Hastings helped to revise the city schools’ wellness policy. Hastings said he now will use that policy to promote health and physical activity throughout the school day.
“Our kids are 12 — they are bouncing off the walls. They need to get some of that energy out,” he said. “You can’t read a book if you can’t sit still. It’s about creating a culture of making it OK to be energetic.”
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Buford and Walker both will continue to experience capacity pressures this year.
Hastings said Walker’s enrollment fluctuated between 650 and 700 students during the first week of school. A school capacity study by VMDO Architects in 2017 measured Walker’s maximum capacity at 675 students.
“We definitely are full,” Hastings said. “We are anticipating a mobile classroom, and we have added an extra teacher.”
Carter said Buford will have roughly 30 additional students this year, pushing its enrollment above 530.
“We are looking at a big boom in the next two years,” Carter said.
One expansion scenario recommended by VMDO would expand Buford Middle School to include sixth-grade students; move fifth grade back to Charlottesville’s elementary schools; and repurpose the Walker building to host preschool classrooms and administrative offices.
“We are taking it one year at a time,” Hastings said. “As far as [Walker] teachers are concerned, we still have 700 students who need to be taught.”
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Eric Johnson, Buford’s principal for the past 11 years, is remaining in the city school division in a variation of the principal role as the director of the University of Virginia’s Hospital Education Program.
Charlottesville City Schools manages the Hospital Education Program in collaboration with the UVa Children’s Hospital and the Virginia Department of Education.
“The teachers are absolutely amazing,” Johnson said. “They have to be very resourceful and very flexible to respond to the needs of all the different kids.”
“There are a lot of things that are scary to a child when they go into a hospital,” he said. “We try to make the school situation as normal as it can be.”