Albemarle County Public Schools Fund

This PEF committee-advised fund supports programs and initiatives in need of support in Albemarle County’s public schools.

The Profound Difference Teachers Make in the Classroom

Research shows that the single most impactful factor in student learning is the teacher in the classroom. Currently, teachers operate under a 200-day contract that provides a week for preparation and organizational meetings for the new school year. A handful of other dates on the calendar, set aside for meetings with parents or professional learning often are used instead as inclement weather replacement days. Time limitations once classes begin leave little time for teachers to design project-based learning and performance tasks. Often, in place of in-depth testing and feedback, teachers are compelled to use multiple choice tests to assess student performance and identify specific learning strategies to address academic needs. This restricts the ability of teachers to work individually with students and to offer a broader range of academic and research challenges and opportunities at a time when higher education and workforce requirements are more demanding than ever before.

Albemarle County Public Schools seeks funding that would improve the ability of teachers to transform this industry-wide instructional model to one that is more responsive to the 21st century learning and development needs of students. This funding would permit the school division to extend the number of teaching days to 220 each year, which would allow for more research and preparation over the summer, increased interaction among all teachers to share best practices and for the design of assessment models to promote lifelong success skills in such areas as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication.

Development of the Master Teacher

Recognizing the pace at which instruction and student skill development must change, the Albemarle County School division had in place a modest professional development program for teachers that provided them with $200 a year to be used to participate in industry programs that promoted best classroom practices and their own professional capabilities growth. Ten years ago, budget pressures forced a 50 percent reduction in the program and more recently, another 50 percent reduction in funding, leaving the program at 25 percent of its original scope.

The resulting impact has been significant—teachers no longer are reimbursed for membership in professional organizations that enhance the teaching profession. Since teachers now must compete for much less funding, the overall number of educators who are not able to benefit from professional development opportunities can be as high as 75 percent of the workforce.

Albemarle County seeks funding that would extend to all teachers the opportunity to participate in and benefit from interaction with their peers within the division and nationally, that would provide more opportunities for participation in workshops, training sessions and research on the most innovative and productive evidence-based instructional methods, that would provide teachers with the ability to serve internships at external organizations that match their discipline and would extend the service of teachers to specialized programs in the summer for students.

Currently, summer programs are remedial with almost no benefit for teachers in extending their expertise and knowledge. With adequate funding, programs around such themes as technology study, fabrication, computer science and the humanities can be offered during the summer. These advanced programs not only will increase learning opportunities for students but increase the abilities of teachers and enhance the sharing of best practices that would advance all studies.

Technology Access Initiative

Among the most severe barriers to education today is the digital divide and the ability of students to access the broad range of information online. With more of a focus in our curriculum on project-based, student-driven learning, we are moving towards a model that develops within our students, more well-developed abilities to research complex topics, engage in critical thinking and analysis and collaborate with peers and subject matter experts around the globe.

Large percentages of Albemarle County residents do not have the ability to connect via broadband from their home, placing their children at a learning disadvantage. Often this is not a question of expense but geography. Carriers choose not take on the cost of providing services in those areas where the customer base is limited.
Additionally, with an increased amount of learning moving online, there is a need within the division to provide not only infrastructure but the devices that turn access into content. Currently, about one-third of all students in the division have daily access in the classroom to a computer or other mobile device. Equalizing learning around 21st century opportunities requires providing each student with the capability and knowledge to access, research, interpret and apply the broad base of data and information now online. These are skills essential to lifelong learning.

As an example of the educational benefits of this initiative, students in a world history class this past year were able to Skype in real time with an Egyptian activist in Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring. Elementary school students conducted a music concert and cultural lesson with a class in Hungry, in real time on Skype.

Funding would support the division’s efforts to provide broadband to all areas of the county and would enable professional development for teachers in the use of enhanced technology in the classroom and expand student access to computers and mobile devices.

World Languages in the Elementary School

Research shows that the earlier that a child has access to a foreign language, the easier it is for a student to comprehend that instruction and learn and use more than one language. Research also shows that students who take a language course perform better in their other academic subjects.

Among the strategic goals of the Albemarle County Public School division is to prepare students for success in a global economy and a global environment. In today’s highly interconnected world, the ability to communicate across the globe and within diverse cultures no longer is a luxury but a social, economic and political necessity.

Currently, due to budget pressures, with the exception of a small pilot program at one school, students in the county are not able to take a world language course until the sixth grade. More than 6,000 students, nearly half of the division’s total, do not receive instruction in a world language.

The division is seeking funding to begin world language instruction in all of its elementary schools beginning at the kindergarten level. This support would provide for the hiring of teachers, specialized programs to interact with students of different cultures and the changes that would have to be made to the elementary school day to accommodate the additional instruction.

Home-to-School Transportation for Magnet Schools

Currently, more than 1,500 high school students depend upon the school division’s transportation system to attend school every day. Several hundred students attend one of the division’s magnet schools, including the Math, Engineering and Science Academy at Albemarle High School, the Health and Medical Science Academy at Monticello High School, the Environmental Studies Academy at Western Albemarle High School, or the division’s charter high school, Murray.

Attendance at a magnet school is open to all county students regardless of the specific high school attendance zone in which they reside. Due to budgetary constraints, the division is unable to provide transportation for students who live outside a school’s attendance zone. In effect, although access to these schools is open to all residents in the county, in practice, entry is limited by the transportation requirement. This inhibits the ability of all students to benefit from these programs.

The ability to remove transportation as a barrier to participation in these programs would increase the number of students who would take advantage of these highly specialized learning opportunities, enrich the programs and better serve the community by providing a more diverse student base and allow the division to enhance program quality and scope through the addition of resources to meet this broader demand.

Transformation of Classrooms into Ergo-Dynamic Learning Environments

For several decades, the principle that governed much of our nation’s remarkable progress has been Moore’s Law, first postulated by a founder of Intel, who said that the capacity of a computer chip doubles every 18 months. The change this has brought about continues to be instant and sweeping, affecting every component of our quality of life—from how we communicate—to how we conduct research—-to how we learn, manufacture and create value. This change, however, and the innovation it brings, has not reached the classroom in any fundamental way. While technology has impacted self-driven learning, education as an institution remains largely unchanged.

This past year, several Albemarle County educators had the opportunity to visit the 21st century university classroom at the University of Virginia’s Medical Center, where desks and seat rows, blackboards and lecturers no longer exist. Students now sit around tables to foster collaboration. They access 3-D technology to provide the latest information and insight, generating greater understanding of complex and real-world challenges. They design their own learning projects, increasing their engagement and ownership of their instruction. They are assessed not based upon multiple choice tests but performance-based tasks that require deep mastery of the subject matter.

This year, this instructional model was incorporated into the county’s new Health and Medical Sciences Academy, serving as a transformational change designed to match what is happening in the work places and laboratories of 21st century organizations. The county’s goal is to prepare graduates for success in higher education, in the workplace and as citizens. Meeting this goal requires a classroom approach equal to the explosive change that has taken place in these environments and to the increasingly challenging demands of the future.

Albemarle County Public Schools seeks funding that would support the continued development of 21st century classrooms to match 21st century workplaces, from furniture that is ergonomically designed to facilitate learning, to technological resources that instantly connect students with peers and experts from around the world, to program initiatives that foster project-based learning among students— the “4 Cs,” critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication.

The new principle in education is non-traditional “Learning and Maker Spaces” in place of classrooms, the concept that learning takes many forms, happens under a myriad of circumstances and requires an end application to a project or product that incorporates new knowledge and insight.