Year in Review
On May 24, 2018 I was given the distinct honor of being named Virginia’s 25th Superintendent of Public Instruction. It has been a busy year in the Commonwealth, and as the team at the Virginia Department of Education and I gear up for Year Two, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on our accomplishments over the last year and what the future of education looks like in Virginia. As I transitioned into my role as Superintendent of Public Instruction, a talented group of business, education, and legislative leaders assisted in refining the Department’s priorities for education in the Commonwealth. This group, the Virginia is for Learners Advisory Committee, understood that addressing challenges across the education continuum would require collaboration and a diversity of perspectives. Much of what we accomplished my first year had a foundation in the recommendations that came from this Committee. Additionally, I have made it a personal goal to visit every school division in the Commonwealth during my first two years at the VDOE and have seen some amazing work being done in our classrooms, schools, and communities. It has been the honor of my life to serve with “Team VDOE” as we work together on innovating our schools in Virginia.
Working in tandem, the Governor, the Board of Education, and the staff at the Department of Education are driven by several top priorities. From my first day, we were collectively focused on:
Teacher Compensation, Recruitment, Training, and Retention – We recognize that we cannot do this work without thinking about the teachers who are the heartbeat of public education. One of the most exciting things to come out of our General Assembly session this year was when the Governor signed the budget and approved the highest state share of a pay increase for teachers in nearly 15 years!!! We will continue to focus on practices to create better conditions for our teachers in schools.
We know that recruiting and retaining teachers and eliminating barriers on the road to licensure has to be one of our highest priorities. With the passage of the omnibus teacher licensure bill during the 2018 legislative session, and implementation July 1, 2018, we saw extensive revisions to licensure. One major bill permitted teachers with a valid out-of-state license, with full credentials and without deficiencies, to receive licensure by reciprocity without passing additional licensing assessments. In addition, the regulation permitted a local school board or division superintendent to waive certain licensure requirements for any individual who holds a provisional license and is employed by the local school board. With this legislation going into effect in time for the start of the 2018-2019 school year, we saw a dramatic drop in the number of vacancies at the start of the school year.
Early Childhood Education – We know that to solve achievement gaps, we must start before the first day of kindergarten. We reached many important milestones for early childhood this year. The VDOE has established the Division of School Readiness, which is responsible for supporting birth to five programming, including the Virginia Preschool Initiative and Early Childhood Special Education. Following her appointment by the Governor, Jenna Conway, Virginia’s first Chief School Readiness Officer, has led Virginia’s efforts on behalf of the administration and the VDOE working closely as member of the VDOE with the Children’s Cabinet and the First Lady of Virginia. The Division of School Readiness submitted a report to the State Legislature in November 2018 entitled The Plan to Ensure High-Quality Instruction in All Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) Classrooms whichestablished higher expectations for pre-K programming. Through revised program regulations and dedicated financial investment in continuing VPI + classrooms, divisions around the state are making progress in meeting the ambitious programmatic goals outlined in The VPI Plan.
Accreditation – Immediately upon my arrival at VDOE, we knew that a seamless rollout of the new accreditation system was essential. As the school year began in the fall, schools anticipated the implementation of major enhancements to the Commonwealth’s school accreditation system. The revisions to the Standards of Accreditation, approved by the state Board of Education in November 2017, were designed to:
- provide a more comprehensive view of school quality
- place increased emphasis on closing achievement gaps
- encourage continuous improvement for all schools
Under the new system, schools would be scored on multiple school quality indicators as performing at one of three levels: Level One (at or above standard), Level Two (near standard or improving), or Level Three (below standard). Schools were rated “Accredited” or “Accredited with Conditions” based on performance in three categories: Academic Achievement, Achievement Gaps, and Student Engagement. Only schools that fail to implement state-required improvement plans are rated as “Accreditation Denied” under the new system. Progress towards English-language proficiency for English-language learners (ELLs) is now also included in school quality measures.
“Virginia is for Learners” and the Profile of a Virginia Graduate – The Profile of a Virginia Graduate has been the guiding vision for enhancing classrooms in the Commonwealth for many years before my arrival at the VDOE. The enhancements to the accreditation system were also driven by the work to develop and implement the Profile of a Virginia Graduate, which identifies the knowledge and skills students should attain during high school in order to be successful: critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, communication and citizenship otherwise known as Virginia’s “5 C’s”. Harnessing this momentum, educational leaders representing PK-12 and higher education have convened to discuss how to best support the practices and mindsets associated with the Profile of a Virginia Graduate. I’ve been impressed as I toured schools at the focus on deeper learning and real-world, relevant skills being exhibited in classrooms every day.
The combined message of the enhanced accreditation system, Profile work, and innovative learning networks was launched in April 2019 as the Virginia is for Learners public information campaign, created to set future-focused strategies to accompany the major changes that the Commonwealth has made to public education over the past several years.
Excellent and Equitable Classrooms – Every student, no matter who they are, where they live, or whatever their background deserves an education that will maximize their potential. Equity is a lens that we will put on all of our work to ensure that every child has what they need, when they need it, to be successful. This focus on equity is also driving work in our schools and classrooms. Schools are embracing innovation and students are showcasing deeper learning in their classrooms. In March 2019, twenty-six school division innovation teams from across the state convened for the first Innovation Network Summit. Through these cohorts, we will strengthen and coach teams from every region to increase innovative practice in divisions, schools, and classrooms. The focus of this work is to operationalize the competencies, skill sets and dispositions identified in Virginia’s Profile of a Graduate. We will support structural changes that result in equity for learners in the best, challenging, deep, and engaging learning possible. We will continue to promote this lens on equity in our schools, funding, and policies. School divisions have requested flexibility in funding to support student needs, so we were excited to receive the support from the Governor’s amendments to the 2018-2020.biennium budget will boost the At-Risk Add-On and Supplemental Lottery Per Pupil Allocation. Working closely with the Board of Education, we expect that equity in the Standards of Quality will be a major focus in year 2. With the hosting of our 2nd Equity Summit in July 2019, we are poised to continue to move this shift in focus forward in our schools.
Safe Schools – Another major success of the General Assembly session was the approval of additional school counselors as we made significant progress toward the Board of Education’s recommendation of a counselor for every 250 students. We know that there are many factors that are a part of keeping our schools safe, including School Resource Officers, Improved School Climate, and facility enhancements, but mental health must also be a major focus. The increase in school counselors along with the requirement that they spend 80% of their time working with students, will have a huge impact on improving our school environments.
It wasn’t all work this past year! We had the opportunity to celebrate some major successes. One of the greatest honors of the school year was our very own Virginia Teacher of the Year, Rodney Robinson, being named the 2019 National Teacher of the Year. Rodney is a teacher at the Virgie Binford Education Center, a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Justice Center, and teaches incarcerated youth. His dedication to ensuring that all students have the opportunity to maximize their potential shines through in everything he does, each and every day. As a member of both a school division team and the instructional staff of a state-operated program, Rodney’s commitment to excellence and the social-emotional learning of his students has made a tremendous difference in the lives of Virginia students. I look forward to his message of equity as we work toward a future where all students feel seen, heard, appreciated and valued.
I want to thank the Governor, the Board of Education, and the educational staff in Virginia for placing your trust in me. It has been a busy and momentous year – one that has left me in awe of the commitment, dedication, and passion everyone has for the success of each of our students. From the bus drivers who are the first to greet our students, to the teachers who stay late in the buildings developing lesson plans, to the school boards who help develop policy, to the educational leaders meeting with business partners to establish new opportunities and pathways, to our parents who every day send us their most precious gift – you are the reason I love my job and I am humbled that you have chosen me to lead this work.
As I look at Year Two, I am excited by the future. We have a lot to look forward to in the upcoming year and I’m ready to see where our forward thinking may take us. Our goal is to always give every student in the Commonwealth a world class education that will prepare them for life outside of public PK-12 education.
Thank you for partnering with me to maximize the potential of ALL children in Virginia because Virginia is for ALL Learners!!!!