November 19, 2019
Henley Middle School
Seven parents and a high school sophomore from Western Albemarle High School joined the community conversation with Superintendent Dr. Matthew Haas on Tuesday, November 19. We’d like to express our deep-felt appreciation to Ms. Tracey Cardwell Roberts, who served as the evening’s hostess.
Dr. Haas opened the discussion by asking participants to list some examples of what they felt was among the school division’s strengths as well as areas for improvement.
Receiving high marks was the quality of teaching, range of course offerings, the openness of schools to parental feedback, the division’s new anti-racism policy and its focus on positively addressing student mental health and stress issues. This included the addition of counselors and the elimination of weighted grades. Some of the comments concerned whether private counselors could be incorporated into the range of services available to students and even if there could be the option of group therapy for parents around the social and emotional development of their children in school. Attendees also were enthusiastic about career preparation programs and the success of the new cell phone policy. Approved earlier this year, the policy requires middle school students not to use personal cell phones during the school day.
At the top of the list for needed improvements was the issue of communications between students, teachers and administrators, especially around such issues as safety and homework policies. There was particular interest in students and families receiving more information from schools on their policies and measures that are utilized whenever there is a threat made against a school, including on those occasions when safety drills are conducted. Mention was made that homework practices should be more consistent across schools and classrooms. A homework survey earlier this year reached much the same conclusion. The division currently is developing new guidelines to solve this issue.
A good deal of the conversation centered on the division’s school transportation network and how it could be made more efficient, perhaps even including an “on demand” service. Parents also wondered if the network could be made better through more coordination with local government on bus services and environmentally, through the use of electric buses. Also on the topic list was the role of school athletic programs in placing more emphasis on teaching sportsmanship to its student athletes.
Dr. Haas noted the value of hearing, candidly and directly from parents and students about their experiences with their child’s school and teachers through these community check-ins. The check-ins are a valuable part of the school division’s overall continuous improvement process. They help to shape the design of policies and programs to ensure their relevance and effectiveness and they contribute to the consideration of priorities in the superintendent’s planning and management of school budgets.