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Strategic planning initiative aims for greater input into Mecklenburg schools

SoVaNow.com / October 23, 2013
Mecklenburg County Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Thornton used Monday’s School Board meeting to announce a new initiative — a strategic planning process for Mecklenburg County schools that will allow “all critical stakeholders to voice their opinions and concerns.”

Thornton pledged to undertake the process assisted by assistant superintendent Melody Hackney, with both seeking input from teachers, administrators, parents, students and community members.

To start the process, Thornton and Hackney have met with faculty members at each school and asked, “What do you need to be successful to open a clear dialogue?” Thornton said some of the more consistent themes put forward by teachers include:

Offering honors classes

Returning to a 180-day school year instead of the current 166-day calendar

Implementing either alternating schedules or block schedules with the high school day, but not both

Reducing class sizes

Finding ways to implement effective, consistent communication between schools and the Central Office

Striving for a more solid foundation in reading and math at the lower grades

Putting teacher planning time at the end of school day, and return to an early start time

Already, since first meeting with the teachers, Thornton said, the Central Office has implemented several new procedures. Committees are being established to help teachers with their lesson plan formats, benchmarking and grading procedures, and members of the Central Office staff have worked with principals to evaluate and streamline purchasing procedures. At the elementary school level, administrators are looking into ways to supplement the “Everyday Math” program by focusing on fundamentals.

Hackney said she has also begun to meet with parent groups, seeking their input. The last constituency yet to be surveyed are students. They will be asked a series of questions that hone in on their hopes, fears and dreams, where and why are they successful and where might the school system be succeeding and also failing, she said.

Thornton hopes to have a draft framework of a strategic plan in place by November, which he would like to discuss with Board members at a Williamsburg retreat for the 2013 Virginia School Board Association conference.

The objective of the strategic plan, according to Thornton, is to draw a map by which Mecklenburg County Schools will be synonymous with high quality instruction, deeper learning opportunities, and high standards.

Before the division can achieve this vision, Thornton said, “we must address our culture, our priorities and our practices in five inter-related areas: students, effectiveness of educators, engaged parents and community, accountability and infrastructure.”

During board members remarks, trustee Dale Sturdifen commended Thornton, and Hackney in particular, for “listening to Joe the grocers in the community, getting input from teachers, and doing what is right.” He also expressed hope that as Hackney and Thornton proceed with the strategic plan, “they should go for what is right and if it doesn’t work [be willing to] go in a different direction.”

In other business, Hackney shared a new philosophy that she has introduced among Central Office personnel called the “Fish philosophy.” It was inspired by the fishmongers at Pikes Market in Seattle, Wash., who identified four practices to help bring new energy and commitment to the workplace. The four principles of the fish philosophy are: play — asking each worker to find the fun in their job; choose your attitude — choose to display a good attitude while at work; be there — promoting trust and teamwork; and make their day — serve as an inspiration for those for and with whom you work.

In other business, Thornton displayed a series of photos of Buckhorn Elementary School which he said showed that the school was returned to Mecklenburg County and the Board of Supervisors in “very good condition.” Admitting that the building was not “routinely cleaned,” and that the doors may have been left unlocked on more than one occasion, Thornton criticized previously-disseminated photographs, comments by supervisors and news reports that he said did not accurately reflect the Central Office’s use and upkeep of the Buckhorn building.

Thornton also said he received calls about the schools’ custodial services, wondering how Mecklenburg County has saved money by outsourcing the work to Service Solutions. According to Central Office data, the year before Service Solutions was hired, Mecklenburg County Public Schools paid out nearly $845,000 for salaries, benefits and supplies. Last year, Service Solutions was paid nearly $637,000 under its contract.

Trustee Glenn Edwards retorted that the only thing those “numbers show is our mismanagement of our custodians before Services Solutions got here.”

Edwards asked fellow trustees to consider donating used playground equipment, currently stored at the Central Office, to the Town of Boydton for a park. Edwards said Boydton officials agrees to “handle the expense of moving” the items.

Also, Board Chairman Robert Puryear asked Thornton to talk to the contractors currently working on expansions at La Crosse, Chase City and Clarksville Elementary schools to see if there is a way to connect the new gymnasiums to the additions going up at these schools.

Thirteen students from Mecklenburg County were winners at the 2013 Agri-Science Fair competition. In the Elementary Division (grades 3-5), the first place honor went to Sarah Storm of Clarksville Elementary, second place to Joseph Walker, also of Clarksville Elementary and third place to Madison Ragan of Chase City Elementary School.

In Division I (Grades 6-9), first place went to Meredith Clary (Park View Middle), second place went to the team of Wesley Crump, Michael Smiley and Nate Newcomb (Bluestone Middle), and third place to the team of Skylar Walker, Megan Seward, and Trinity Walker (Park View Middle).

In Division II (Grades 10-12), the winner was Anna Crump (Bluestone High), Blair Whitby of Park View High School came in second and Kristen Hall, also of Park View took third place honors.

Hannah Williams was named Bluestone High School’s Senior of the Month for October. She is currently the Cadet Commander of the Mecklenburg County AFJROTC. Her AFJROTC instructor, Bonnie Hoffman said, “Hannah is a leader who makes things happen. As Cadet Commander, she is in the top cadet leadership role for 110 cadets at BHS and PVHS. She leads the way in military appearance, discipline, and respect. I rarely need to ask her to do anything because she always anticipates requirements and successfully accomplishes them.”

After graduation, Williams plans to become an Air Force pilot.

The Park View High School Senior of the Month for October is Jacob Leonard Towery. He, too, is a member of the Mecklenburg County AFJROTC, serving as a cadet staff sergeant. Among his duties, Towery leads lower ranking cadets, marches in parades, completes community service projects, and attends ceremonies such as Veteran’s Day.

He is also a member of the Kitty Hawk Air Society, a distinction within the JROTC for cadets with a GPA of at least 3.0, good character and the recommendation of their teachers. His commander, Major Hoffman, said, “Jacob would make an excellent choice as senior of the month and represents our school well.” Others involved in the program learn to appreciate others and look for the good in one another.

During the flex days in August, the faculty of Bluestone Middle School was trained by Dr. James Pirkle, author of The Validation Plan. Validations — positive and uplifting messages shared from one student to another — occur every Friday afternoon in each classroom of Bluestone Middle School. Those interested in seeing the program in action, can come to the school on a Friday afternoon.





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