Carolyn is committed to building on these successes with the division's strategic framework, Compass to 2025, serving as the foundation for that work. She was honored to serve as a member of this community Ad Hoc committee in 2019. Compass focuses on six main pillars for the division, including challenging and supporting all students to excel academically; creating an inclusive learning environment that supports student well-being in all its forms; engaging all students in rigorous, authentic, and student-centered learning; fostering a positive working climate that promotes an exemplary, diversified workforce; cultivating mutually supportive community partnerships; pursuing the effective and efficient use of division resources, operations and processes. Carolyn's priorities for continued service on the School Board are noted below; please note that these are not in any particular order.
Addressing Learning Challenges
VBCPS has taken a deliberate approach to address student achievement issues that are an outgrowth of the pandemic. Robust summer school opportunities (and record student attendance), a particular focus on elementary literacy instruction, comprehensive tutoring plans, and strategic use of technology and virtual learning are among the initiatives being employed to raise student levels of achievement.
The 2020-2021 school year represented the first state assessments administered in two years. Under the extraordinary circumstances of that year, students in Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) tested better than many local school divisions and bested the statewide average, reflecting the sustained engagement and commitment of teachers, staff, students and families to the ever-changing landscape of a global pandemic. For the 2021-22 school year, Virginia Beach came out ahead among all South Hampton Roads divisions in its collective SOL results, and exceeded the statewide averages for math, reading, writing, science and history. While this achievement deserves to be celebrated, Carolyn recognizes that more work remains. This data, among other, continues to help identify the unique needs of ever learner in our schools.
Ensuring School Safety
While school safety has always been a priority for Carolyn, the School Board, and the division as a whole, recent tragic events keep front and center attention on what the division is doing to keep our schools safe. The recommendations of the community Blue Ribbon Panel on School Safety & Security convened by the Superintendent in 2018 (and approved by the School Board) continue to guide the work and progress of the renamed Office of Security & Emergency Managment (https://www.vbschools.com/about_us/departments/safe_schools). The school division's safety protocols, emergency preparedness and response; infrastructure and personnel; and behavioral mental health are all subject to ongoing oversight and reassessment.
The health and safety of our students and staff during the pandemic remained an important consideration in mitigation practice discussions.
Improving Outcomes for Our Students with Disabilities
Carolyn's early adult years in New Jersey provided valuable insights into the unique circumstances of children with special needs, as friends and family alike became parents of children diagnosed with autism, Asperger's syndrome, and Down's syndrome, to name a few. As these children advanced through their school years, Carolyn was able to witness first-hand both the challenges they and their families faced, as well as best school practices that resulted in desirable outcomes.
Since her election to School Board in 2014, Carolyn has remained a consistent advocate for the nearly 8,000 students in this division with Individual Education Plans (IEPs), as well as the additional 2,800 or so with 504 Plans. She applauds the strides this division has achieved but acknowledges VBCPS can and must do better. She was a loyal supporter of the VA Beach Special Education PTSA until such time that it disbanded in July 2017, attending most all meetings, and supports a recent recommendation of the Special Education Advisory Committee (aka SEAC) to add parents of children with special needs to local PTA unit Boards.
Areas of attention include professional development for all special education teachers and specialists on reading and writing instruction for struggling learners, including those diagnosed with dyslexia-- and a heightened emphasis on the role of general education teachers and their shared responsibility in standards-based IEP development, implementation, and monitoring. Carolyn supports equal emphasis on special education compliance and instruction. She further supports steps to close the learning gap for students with disabilities (SWD), particularly in math and language arts. (See also, "Achievement Gaps" below)
Maintaining a Focus on Employee Compensation and Engagement
Staff compensation remains a School Board focus area for Carolyn and this Board. Carolyn strongly supported the Compensation Study commissioned by VBCPS and looks forward to the report and recommendations from Segal Consultancy this Fall. Much progress was made this year with a total salary increase of 6% for all emplyees, step upgrades for many of our Unified Pay Scale support staff, and health insurance employee contribution savings of 43-53%. All that said, salary compression remains a major concern to be addressed in the Segal report. She would like to see the division look for more ways to reward longevity through, for example, targeted increases at incremental, five-year step scale milestones.
Employee engagement remains a priority issue, reinforced by 2020 General Assembly legislation that allows for the adoption of collective bargaining by public governing bodies. (To date, collective bargaining agreements have been accepted by school boards in Richmond and Arlington.) Carolyn and the Board have had multiple discussions on this topic in the past year, and have arrived at the conclusion there remain too many unanswered questions, and in the absence of School Board taxing authority in Virginia, too little in-state expeience to draw upon. Carolyn recognizes that with or without formal negotiation, compensation remains a front and center issue; however, it is not the only issue on the minds of staff. For example, teacher workload, student behaviors and respect from administration and parents alike were key issues communicated in a recent staff survey. To that end, Carolyn has advocated in her leadership role for an elevated level of face-to-face employee input and communication. A workgroup she tasked of two School Board members and relevant Human Resources staff presented at the July retreat and will report back with more specific details concerning dates, times, locations, and access to such meetings in this next school year.
Continuing to Close Achievement Gaps
The VBCPS Equity Philosophy Statement sums it up best: "We have a moral imperative to identify where (achievement) gaps exist and use data to work collaboratively and decisively to close those gaps." This Statement also lays out a concept of Excellence through Equity-- "that we give each student who walks through our doors the very best we have to offer, regardless of economic status, gender, race or school."
It has been encouraging for Carolyn to observe a tightening of our achievement gaps among most student groups; she concedes it remains, however, a critical work in progress. The "data" the division monitors (otherwise known as navigational markers, in keeping with our Charting the Course Compass theme) is available for full viewing on www.vbschools.com.
Carolyn will continue to support efforts directed at closing achievement gaps among student subgroups, which are broad and many. The division Equity Policy, approved by the School Board in 2020, affirms a renewed commitment to a barrier-free and welcoming learning environment that offers the opportunity for all students to rise through rigorous coursework, cultural competence, and inclusive practices. (The summer retreat Educational Equity update provided a timeline of Fall 2022 for refinement of a draft Equity Plan.) The personalized and digital components of student learning here in Virginia Beach continue to offer promising potential. Top educators have known for years that culturally diverse instructional resources that plug into student agency (another term for personalized learning) can increase the likelihood of an emotional connection to the curriculum. Strategic use of technology is ever-evolving and will remain on Carolyn's radar.
Finding a Way Forward to Responsibly Replace Aging Schools
VBCPS facilities planning is a holistic view of what it means to modernize and upkeep schools in the 21st century. The Long Range Facilities Master Plan that was presented at the July 2018 School Board retreat was the product of a Facilities Steering Committee of community stakeholders that was guided by educational planning consulting firm "Cooperative Strategies". Community meetings were part of this process. The Plan identifies 15 school replacement candidates based on a number of clearly defined factors. Carolyn joined her colleagues present in support of this list.
A review of VBCPS modernization/replacement history reveals very starkly the reduced pace of construction/renovation since the start of the 2008 recession. Infrastructure funding moving forward continues to require an open mindset, and Carolyn intends to be part of this ongoing discussion.
How VBCPS builds and asks is key. When replacing schools on their current sites, on-site or off-site "swing" space must be considered if students are unable to remain in their current facility during construction. Funding options range from Operating Budget and state lottery money to city charter bonds and/or a construction bond referendum. The new School Board policy Carolyn helped steer to approval, enabling VBCPS to entertain public-private facility project proposals, has possible application as well, with a present concept proposal available on the division website for review.
Promoting Student Wellness
Carolyn will continue to support any and all efforts to promote student wellness, both from a mental, physical and social-emotional standpoint (Compass Goal 2). Never has this subject garnered more attention or scrutiny on a national level.
Social-Emotional Development is a pillar of our strategic plan; Carolyn was a long-time advocate for the 12 additional high school counselor positions included in the 2018 Operating Budget. This average caseload reduction of 50 students/counselor offered the pre-pandemic promise of more counselor time to establish quality relationships with their students. Advisor mentor programs at some of our high schools serve a similar purpose.
Intervention before student behavior escalates to the level of discipline referral by means of positive behavioral support is critical; Carolyn has supported the increased behavioral and mental health support staff positions added in recent budgets. Bullying in all its forms must be held in check, and division anti-bully initiatives supported.
Legislation approved by the 2018 General Assembly requires school health instruction to incorporate mental health. Carolyn supports the work of the Superintendent Mental Health Task Force, which reported to the School Board at the July retreat with updates on its ten areas of focus. On a related note, VBCPS has proudly led the state with a new opioid curriculum and more recently, the exploration of a potential "Recovery School". Healthy eating is a part of any wellness program, and Carolyn looks forward to the continued transformation of ultimately all 83 school cafeterias from prepared food take-and-bake operations into fully operational, fresh ingredient "scratch" kitchens.
Carolyn is grateful for her previous one-year assignment as liaison to the School Board Health Advisory Committee, whose purpose is to assist division staff with the development of school health policy, the promotion of health education, and the evaluation of school health status. Special health needs, school environment, and nutrition fall within its advisory realm as well.
Supporting Future Ready Students
The VBCPS Graduate Profile anchors the Compass to 2025 Strategic Plan. To this end, a new master schedule for high schools is a key factor of High School Redesign, with explicit, essential connections between student learning experiences and the Graduate Profile. Carolyn looks forward to supporting this Future Ready Vision for Work-Based Learning that will require a whole new level of expanded community partnerships.
A new and expanded version of Distance Learning seeks to maximize access to advanced courses within the division while equipping classrooms with smarter technology to provide the needed additional support for teachers. Flexible scheduling (i.e, a combination of the traditional A/B and newer 4X4) will enable the needs of more students and teachers to be met. Carolyn pledges her due diligence to track these developments and support and question as needed.
Carolyn pledges to continue to prioritize her long-held commitment to engagement with all stakeholders and her sustained desire to partner together as a City for the benefit of all our students. To this end, Carolyn has responded in her role as Board Chair to hundreds upon hundreds of constituent emails, strives for a culture of respect at School Board meetings, answers phone calls, accepts community group invitations, and represents the School Board at school and community events. She has remained true to her PTA roots through attendance at scores of PTA meetings within her district and beyond in her eight years of School Board service, and remains committed to open engagement with her City Council counterparts.