Friday, August 29, 2008
I learned something else this month that gave me greater confidence in opening day, as both a parent and a Board member. In addition to the principals, teachers, aides and other staff, each school will also have a representative from the LCPS administration on hand with a checklist. Yes, the principals get a report card on the very first day of school, everything from cleanliness to orderly bus operations. The administrators will also be there as a resource to the schools in case help is needed.
It's the last weekend of summer... enjoy, on Tuesday it will be time to rise and shine early again!
Thursday, August 28, 2008
The LCPS Energy Education Department team gave the School Board another presentation on "Environmental Sustainability" practices this month. Good stuff. A copy was distributed to all Board members two days later. Hard copy.
The previous presentation (PDF, 4.8MB) was in May.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
And so it would seem that a comprehensive year-long look into LCPS operations (PDF, 1.8MB) would be noted with great interest, yet the community seems to have met the oft-cried for review with a big yawn. Of the five local newspapers that I read regularly, only two (Washington Post, Leesburg Today) carried articles about it. A third (Loudoun Times Mirror) covered it in a blog post. I encourage you not to satisfy yourself with the articles. Read the report's 10-page executive summary. Those reporters who did write about the study focused on the net $2.2 million in savings that the study's authors estimate could be saved over five years if all of their recommendations are implemented (most of which would actually require changes by the Board of Supervisors to the land use approval process and not by LCPS).
The study includes a long list of commendations but also a number of solid recommendations. Much of the first chapter (Administration) focuses on how the School Board can improve, and they are sensible recommendations. This report will help us to improve if we can avoid getting bogged down in day-to-day worries to focus on long-term strategies, and I look forward to a further review together with my colleagues.
Ultimately of course, LCPS and the School Board answer not to the experts who conducted the study, not to the state government that oversaw the study and not to the national media who rank LCPS among the best. We answer to the people of this community, and the conclusions of this study are just more information that you can use to assess whether LCPS is meeting the challenge given to it by the community it serves.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
The Guide outlines the laws, rights, processes and safeguards that parents should know about. I have spoken to many parents about their experience with special education, mostly of elementary-age kids. Some are activists, but most have just been neighbors and friends. They are frequently distressed by feeling underinformed about their rights, about the next steps in the process. As with so many things, there is a sense of "if I knew then what I know now" when looking back at their early days of their experiences.
Pay special attention to pages 52 & 53, which diagram and encapsulate the entire process of evaluation, eligibility, planning, execution and re-evaluation. In my opinion it ought to be right up front.
The Guide is a summary of an enormous body of law and education, so you won't be an expert by reading it, but you won't feel in the dark anymore either.
Monday, August 25, 2008
- During warm seasons, schools are cooled to 73 degrees.
- During cold seasons, schools are warmed to 69 degrees.
- A two-degree variation is possible. These temperature ranges are set in accordance with American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers’ (ASHRAE) Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy (in case you were thinking that somebody at LCPS just made these numbers up).
- When buildings are not occupied (evenings, weekends, holidays) temps are allowed to vary between 55 and 85 degrees, but HVAC systems are never turned off.
- Buildings are divided into zones. I'm looking at a typical middle school floor plan, and it has eleven different HVAC zones.
The memo notes further that as in almost all cases, if a parent or student believes that their school is too warm or too cool, they should notify an administrator at that school.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
I was out of town on vacation last week and could not attend the meeting, but committee Chairman Warren Geurin sent a report of the meeting by email and granted permission to post it here:
One of the agenda items before the Committee on Curriculum and Instruction on Thursday evening was the school system's grading scale and follow-up information from the Department of Pupil Services as to whether Loudoun County high school graduates are disadvantaged in college admission by our grading scale.
The staff presenters were Dr. Mary Kealy, Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services; Mrs. Anne Lewis, Director of Student Services; and Mrs. Pat Allenson, Guidance & Health Services. Mrs. Lewis reviewed the 2001 grading scale study and presented an example of a student transcript.
Mrs. Allenson provided information gleaned from a survey of college and university admissions offices.
I also distributed materials provided by the parent group known as FairGrade Loudoun, who want us to adopt a 10-point grading scale. Within the next few days, I expect to schedule a special meeting of the Committee on Curriculum and Instruction to received from the Department of Pupil Services their reaction to the the materials prepared by FairGrade Loudoun and to receive a presentation from FairGrade Loudoun.
Monday, August 11, 2008
- A report on a School Efficiency Reivew by MGT of America, Inc. conducted over the course of the past year at the initiative of the School Board. Representatives from MGT and the Governor's Department of Planning and Budget will present the findings jointly. The report will be distributed at the meeting. Board members will follow up with questions at a September meeting. This is the kind of independent, outside review that LCPS critics are perpetually calling for, so the results should be interesting.
- The Board will consider a dramatic change to the LCPS Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee, implementing bylaws modeled on those of the Loudoun Education Alliance of Parents (LEAP). Veteran MSAAC members asked for the Bylaws but are asking the Board to make major modifications to the LEAP version.
- The Board will hear a presentation on a recent in-depth assessment of Sustainable Design and Construction Practices in our existing school prototypes. This is a topic of great interest to many in the community and our Board of Supervisors.
- The Board will consider a policy change proposal made by Leesburg representative Tom Marshall which would in essence make it easier for LCPS employees who live in Loudoun County to transfer their children to a different school, and to receive early notification of the result of their transfer request. I think it's important to find ways to offer benefits to LCPS employees, especially in years when budget constraints limit our ability to provide meaningful pay increases, and I will support this proposal.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) has experienced very successful results with seniors who have transferred here from schools in other countries. Those successes have resulted in many positive academic and social outcomes.
Many rising seniors are anxious about leaving the schools and friends they know to venture into new situations; however, the high schools here work very hard to help the students acclimate to the new school and new country. School counselors help the student to meet new people and usually sponsor “peer helper” programs to provide student-to-student assistance to the new students. Also, teachers seem to take a special interest in students new to the United States.
Academically, students who have been well-prepared in rigorous courses and who understand English have no difficulty with the academic program in LCPS. LCPS has elected to offer Advanced Placement (AP) classes in all of its high schools rather than International Baccalaureate (IB) programs. Most colleges view AP as equivalent to IB and vice versa.
Decisions about what courses the student should take would be one of the first steps in the school registration process. A school counselor would review all of the courses that the student had completed and help the student and parents select courses that would meet the Virginia graduation requirements. We would encourage the student to take the most rigorous classes of which she is capable. Based on the listing of classes she is currently taking, it appears that the student is taking a very rigorous program of studies, and we would want to encourage her to continue to build her academic skills. Our Program of Studies describes Virginia graduation requirements and the courses offered in LCPS.
Most seniors who are serious about pursuing a college education are enrolled in English (two AP classes are available), United States Government (AP available), mathematics (based on previous math classes, AP classes available), science (several AP classes available), and foreign language (several available). This would leave space for two other classes which could be academic classes or electives. Careful review of the student’s previous credits, graduation requirements, and personal preferences would guide the specific course selections.
Colleges and universities have demonstrated no difficulties with considering the applications of senior-year transfer students any differently than those of other students. In making a decision about college acceptance, the following items are the most important factors: challenging academic courses; good grades, class rank, and grade point average; and SAT or ACT scores. The colleges may also consider other factors such as service to others, involvement in the community, references, and character. The senior transfer student should begin the college search early in the fall of the senior year since most applications are submitted in December or January of the senior year. This will also give the student and school counselor time to really know one another so a strong reference letter can be written, and the transfer student could also request that the counselor or school official from the previous school write a reference letter, too. Our goal would be to help the student demonstrate her ability and motivation in order to secure admission into the college that will best fit her needs and desires.
Friday, August 8, 2008
LTM: Parents rally for autism insurance bill
WP: Parents, Lawmakers Gather in Support of Autism Bill
School Board chairman Robert DuPree attended the summit and has asked that the School Board consider endorsing Virginia House Bill 83, which would mandate insurance coverage for autism services. Expect to see this and other legislative issues discussed and voted on by the School Board in November and December committee and full board meetings.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Earlier this year a group of parents asked me for more information about FLES, and I was able to get very good answers to their questions. I'll share them with you here:
1. How much does FLES Cost?
|Cost for elementary foreign language program (44 teachers)||$3,131,744|
|Curriculum, materials, training and mileage||$ 52,339|
2. What has been the improvement in language test scores, when did the improvements begin?
Foreign language does not have any standardized tests at the elementary and middle school level that can be used to measure improvement. The FLES pilot cohort is currently in grade 7.
3. What is the research underlying the FLES program?
There is extensive research on language acquisition and the advantages of learning a language earlier rather than later. Some of the current research supports the findings of previous studies. Here are a few recent findings:
a. Learning language at an early age is a brain booster –
Researchers from University College London studied the brains of 105 people - 80 of whom were bilingual. They found learning other languages altered grey matter - the area of the brain which processes information - in the same way exercise builds muscles.
People who learned a second language at a younger age were also more likely to have more advanced grey matter than those who learned later. Lead researcher Andrea Mechelli, of the Institute of Neurology at UCL, said the findings explained why younger people found it easier to learn second languages.
b. The sum of two languages is greater than the parts-
In the York University team's report, titled "Bilingualism, Biliteracy, and Learning to Read: Interactions among Languages and Writing Systems," the first advantage bilingual students possessed is that bilingual students become used to thinking of more than one word relating to a given object (for instance, "árbol" and "tree" both describing or representing the same object), they are more sensitive to language as a system made up of distinct sounds. This sensitivity can be transferred to reading as the child learns to associate the letters in print with sounds.
c. Bilingual students don't have to reinvent the alphabet-
The second advantage the York University team found was "the potential for transfer of reading principles across the languages," or the likely possibility that children will take the methods and insights they've built up in one language and apply them to advance much more rapidly in the other language.
d. Learning a new language teaches you more about your own language-
A child just setting out to learn a new language also learns many new things about how languages work. For many older kids, knowledge of English grammar is commonly solidified by learning a foreign language.
e. The National Commission on Excellence in Education has maintained that achieving proficiency in a second world language takes from four to six years of study, and is best begun in the elementary grades.
f. Recent research on the developing brain supports the initiation of learning a second language during the early elementary school years in order to take advantage of the natural process of language acquisition during this "critical period of development.”
g. Children have the ability to learn and excel in the pronunciation of a foreign language (Krashen, et al. 1982).
h. Participation in early foreign language learning shows no sacrifice of basic skills, but rather shows positive results in areas of standardized testing. English, Language Arts, Math and SAT scores were shown to have significant gains. (Rafferty, 1986; Garfinkel & Tabor, 1991; Armstrong & Rogers, 1997)
i. Children who had studied a foreign language show greater cognitive development in such areas as mental flexibility, creativity, divergent thinking, and higher order thinking skills. (Landry, 1974; Hakuta, 1990)
j. Foreign language study has shown to enhance listening skills, memory and a greater understanding of one's own language. (Lapkin, et al., 1990)
k. Children studying a foreign language have an improved self-concept and sense of achievement in school. (Holobrow, et al., 1987; Caine & Caine, 1997)
l. Children who have studied a foreign language develop a sense of cultural pluralism, openness and appreciation of other cultures. (Pesola, 1991; Curtain, 1993; Met, 1995)
4. Would the same progress be made if FLES were only in grades 3-5?
No. Time is a critical component of language acquisition process. A review of the research on early language learning indicates that bilingual and monolingual children who begin the study of a second language at an early age (ages 2- 9) and are enrolled in continuous, long-sequence program can benefit in terms of mathematical and literacy development. However, researchers find the highest correlation between second language development and critical thinking and problem solving skills. The development of a native-like accent (pronunciation and intonation) is also linked to a window of opportunity or critical age, before age 9, to begin the study of a second language.
5. Why Does FLES focus on vocabulary and not grammar?
Grammar is introduced but not in the traditional sense. FLES is taught utilizing what current research defines as best practice. The human brain acquires language in this sequence: listening, speaking, reading, writing. In a communicative environment, language is best acquired by first building aural skills. In a contextualized form, grammar structures are used in the development of these skills. Since many grammatical structures are patterns, through continued exposure and use students begin to use these structures correctly.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
This session was instead about a program that shows teachers how to target their teaching methods to assist students at various reading levels to better understand the topic of the class. There are studies, articles, white papers, matrices, instructional tools, entire courses on this one subject.
I'm not going to try to explain it here, this sort of topic really isn't the subject of this blog. What it does bring home for me, and I hope for you, is that teaching isn't what it used to be. It has become a highly technical profession with a constantly evolving body of science behind it and a dramatically broader mission in terms of not just academics but child development. Continuing education is an absolute requirement.
I need to find a good way to convey this when budget time comes around again.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
- Special Education, Mathematics and Science are the most difficult subjects to find teachers for.
- Virginia graduated 3,066 new teachers from its teaching schools in 2005, 3,407 in 2006. Loudoun County alone needs more than 800 new teachers per year, and we're fourth in size among Virginia school divisions (Prince William, Virgnina Beach and Fairfax are larger). These four divisions alone could swallow every new Virginia teaching graduate, leaving 130 other school divisions to look elsewhere.
- States across the country offer signing bonuses, tuition forgiveness, free graduate courses, housing assistance and more to fill their toughest positions.
- 20% of new teachers leave the profession within three years. Half leave because of job dissatisfaction and those most likely to leave are those with the highest college entrance exam scores.
- Most state and federal programs that Virginia teachers would qualify for require that they teach in underserved or underpeforming schools, meaning that they won't get those incentives to teach here in Loudoun. We've got to create our own incentives.
Monday, August 4, 2008
- In 2005 they opened the first LEED certified elementary school in Virginia. All new buildings and major renovations are performed to LEED Silver certification standards. Loudoun is moving in this direction as well, but VBPS is staying ahead of the curve, studying a design for LEED Platinum buildings.
- The school district sees itself as responsible for educating not just the children but also the entire community.
- Virginia Beach's Mayor has signed the Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement, providing additional emphasis and policy support to the program.
- The district instituted a Sustainable Schools Committee made up of various departments. This committee is responsible for implementation and monitoring of sustainability programs.
To find out more, visit Virginia Beach Public Schools' Green Schools website.
Friday, August 1, 2008
Thus it was very encouraging to learn about the Young Women Leaders Program created by the University of Virginia. Under this program, girls are matched with women from local colleges who are trained as mentors. They spend time together independently, often sampling campus recreational life to encourage the girls to consider working towards higher education during their time in secondary schools. In addition there are regular group meetings to teach skills, share challenges and advice and work on service projects.
Programs based on this approach are established not just in Virginia but also Florida, Connecticut and even overseas in Mozambique. The most encouraging aspect of the presentation was the emphasis on a research-based program design. This is an early-intervention program with a very targeted population. The program looks for referrals by school counselors for girls who are not currently receiving many social services, who have demonstrated leadership skills, but who seem to be at risk for making poor choices in their lives as they struggle with the challenges of early adolescence.
People interested in starting a YWLP group should refer to the YWLP website for information on How to Start a Sister Site. I'll be referring my frustrated friend and encouraging her to try again with a new approach.