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School Board Recap: September 26, 2023

During the Sept. 26, 2023, School Board Workshop, Academics leaders provided an update on student performance data during the 2022-2023 school year and shared examples of RCPS’ holistic, intensive approach to closing achievement gaps and ensuring students have what they need to succeed. In addition, Constituent Services & Government Relations Officer Dr. Alan Seibert provided an overview of draft legislative priorities for the upcoming General Assembly session.

Superintendent’s Updates

Dr. White began the workshop by sharing several updates on student and staff achievements and other important news around the division, including:

  • Parent Handbook: On Friday, Sept. 22, families received a text message with the link to this year’s online Parent Handbook, which can also be translated into many different languages. A printed copy will be sent home with students in the coming weeks. Parents/guardians who did not receive the text message are encouraged to reach out to their student’s school to be sure their contact information on file is correct.
  • Join Your PTA/PTSA: Dr. White encouraged families to take advantage of the back-to-school season and join their school’s PTA/PTSAs. Membership drives are currently underway, so families are encouraged to reach out to their child’s school to join the PTA or to help with a chapter at the school.
  • Education Impact Award: Woodrow Wilson Middle School Social Studies Teacher Jason Long has been named the inaugural recipient of WSLS’s Education Impact Award, sponsored by Blue Eagle Credit Union. Dr. White stated: “Mr. Long is truly beloved by his students, and we appreciate all he does to engage his students in high-quality instruction.” Both Mr. Long and Woodrow Wilson received $250 to use toward items needed for the classroom and school.
  • 52 Weeks of Reading: Dr. White reminded families of RCPS’ new 52 Weeks of Reading program, generously sponsored by Cox and Gentry Locke Attorney. Dr. White read “Knight Owl” last week for the virtual story time. Each Wednesday at 7 p.m. throughout the year, guest readers read books and provide discussion questions to viewers.
  • Administration Building Signage: RCPS signs at the William B. Robertson Administration Building on Campbell Avenue have been installed. Dr. White reminded the Board that some staff have already moved into the building because they were previously housed at the Ruffner Operations Center, where construction is underway for the new Charles W. Day Center for Career and Technical Education (DAYTEC). While DAYTEC classes started at alternate locations at the start of the school year, the building is expected to officially open in January. Construction will soon begin on Campbell Avenue, and it is anticipated that remaining staff will move into the new Central Office next summer. Dr. White thanked Chief Operations Officer Chris Perkins and his Operations team for their hard work.
  • Big Feet Meet: RCPS once again hosted the Special Olympics’ Big Feet Meet. More than 800 students from 40 schools in the Roanoke Valley competed in running and walking events, javelin, softball throw, and shot put. William Fleming students assisted with the event. The Special Olympics has a goal of using sports to develop school communities where youth are agents of change — fostering respect, dignity, and advocacy for people with disabilities.
  • Career Quest: More than 3,500 7th grade students in RCPS and across the Roanoke Valley are participating in this year’s Career Quest at the Berglund Center. This is an annual opportunity for our students to talk with area employers and explore a variety of career opportunities. Dr. White thanked the Greater Roanoke Workforce Development Board and everyone involved who provided this experience for our students.

Student Performance Data Report

Chief Academic Officer Archie Freeman and members of the Academics Department provided an overview of assessment scores during the 2022-2023 school year, how teachers and administrators are working together to use the data to pinpoint what students need to succeed, and additional support to reduce chronic absenteeism and improve mental health. Mr. Freeman noted that all schools remain accredited, and that there are also areas for improvement.

Executive Director of Research, Assessment and Accountability Dr. Julie Drewry presented data showing that for the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening, which is used to identify students who would benefit from additional intervention related to reading, more students met the benchmark in spring 2023 compared to 2021 and 2022.

The Measures of Academic Progress (MAP Growth) assessment is an adaptive assessment that pinpoints what a student knows and what they are ready to learn next to help teachers tailor instruction. Dr. Drewry said teachers have embraced the assessment because it helps them support their students’ growth. In addition, Dr. Drewry said overall the assessment is very accurate in predicting SOL pass rates.

The MAP results show the percentage of students above the 50th percentile in both reading and math achievement remained steady in comparison to the 2021-2022 school year, with some growth. This indicates that “while our students are not where we want them to be quite yet, our students are showing growth and making definite progress,” Dr. Drewry said.

Students who attended RCPS+ scored higher on the MAP Growth assessment. This shows that students who attended RCPS+ experienced a greater retention of skills, Dr. Drewry said.

Dr. Drewry also presented data about SOL scores in spring 2023. Dr. Drewry explained that there is a difference between federal and state calculations of accreditation. What was shared during the meeting was the Virginia Department of Education’s calculation, which incorporates growth into SOL pass rates and school accreditation. Results available on the VDOE’s School Quality Profiles reflect the federal accreditation.

Overall, RCPS saw a slight decline in pass rates compared to spring 2022, and Dr. Drewry said this was common in school divisions across the state. RCPS’ scores showed some disparities between subgroups, particularly between Black students and students with disabilities compared to other subgroups. RCPS’ average pass rate for science increased compared to the year before.

The graduation rate for the 2022-2023 school year was 86.41%, while the graduation rate for the 2021-2022 school year was 87%. Dr. Drewry said the graduation rate increased by 16% for students who are English Learners.

Assistant Superintendents for Elementary and Secondary Education Dr. Eric Anderson and Dr. Lori Wimbush explained that division administrators, principals, and teachers are working together to use this data to adjust and provide targeted resources and support, including sharing best practices with one another, classroom observations, monthly meetings, and more.

“Think of educational data as a machine that receives and uses inputs and helps run the educational process, producing outputs that include progress, success, and student achievement,” Dr. Anderson said.

There is also an emphasis on ensuring specialized teachers, such as those who teach students in Special Education or students who are English Learners, receive tailored professional learning. For example, this year there are dedicated training cohorts for these teachers rooted in the Science of Reading, said Executive Director of Special Education Dr. Ben Lewis and Executive Director of Academics Greg Johnston. 

Mr. Johnston also shared updates on curriculum and instruction, which includes new methods of delivering professional learning, being strategic about targeting areas of growth, and emphasizing progress monitoring, targeted small group instruction, cross-curricular lessons to reinforce essential reading and writing skills, and increasing before and after-school programs.

Dr. Drewry also presented data about the chronic absenteeism rate, showing that the rate remained similar between the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years.

Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Hayley Poland said that student support staff have shifted to provide additional professional learning and align staff to the highest needs based on data. Mrs. Poland shared that there is an emphasis on preventative practices and communication, an all-staff approach to attendance, and interventions to lessen the impact of suspensions on attendance.

An “all-staff approach” means 1st period or homeroom teachers are consistently checking in on students and their families if they miss a day of class. Mrs. Poland explained that this has always been important, but that it is now being reinforced more consistently, especially as schools “reset” after readjusting to in-person learning after the COVID-19 pandemic. Hurt Park Elementary School is one example of a school that is “all-in” on student attendance, with staff immediately checking in on families when students miss a day of school.

Dr. Jamison said it was clear from examples provided that RCPS is using some of the same types of interventions that experts say are needed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. White agreed. “You can walk in schools just about any time and find departmental meetings, you’ll see grade-level meetings, and our teachers are huddled during their planning time looking at where their students are, and that’s their pivot point [to tailor instruction],” Dr. White said.

“How do we make more than a year’s growth in a year’s time?” Dr. White asked. This comes through prioritizing students’ well-being, as well as increasing instructional time through creative solutions to accelerate student growth, she said.

Dr. White said many community partners have shown an interest in supporting student achievement through volunteering and tutoring. More information will be available in the coming weeks about tutoring opportunities through Governor Youngkin’s ALL IN VA initiative to close achievement gaps.

Mr. Freeman also asked for families’ help in ensuring students attend school daily and participate in tutoring opportunities.

Legislative Updates

Constituent Services & Governmental Relations Officer Dr. Alan Seibert presented RCPS’ draft legislative priorities for the upcoming General Assembly session, which includes school safety and security, a commitment to serving all students, statewide improvements to employee compensation, and modernizing assessments and accountability measures. More information is available by visiting BoardDocs.

Dr. Seibert also shared an update on the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) 2023 Model Policies on Ensuring Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools. He said that RCPS’ policies have always been rooted in protecting and respecting all students. School systems are required to have policies consistent with the model policies, which does not necessarily mean adopting the model policies themselves.

The Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) analyzed its policies that it offers school systems through its policy subscription service, to which RCPS subscribes. The VSBA determined that its policies are consistent with the Model Policies. School Board Attorney David Collins and staff also conducted an extensive line-by-line review of RCPS’ existing policies as compared to the new model policy. Based on that review, RCPS has determined its policies, practices, and procedures are in line with the VDOE’s model policies.

To replay the September 26th School Board meeting, click here. Visit BoardDocs to view the meeting agenda. The next School Board meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on October 10th at William Fleming High School.