August 31, 2008

Nichols Seeks 6 Initiatives in New School Year

The Chesapeake Public School system has achieved a number of goals and received recognition across the state, but there are still areas of improvement, Superintendent W. Randolph Nichols said in his annual report to the School Board on Monday evening.

Here are highlights of Nichols' speech, along with his closing remarks.

Teacher salaries - Eight years ago, the School Board established a goal of reaching the national average for teacher salaries. At that time Chesapeake's average teacher salary was almost $3,000 below the national average. Based on the latest data, the school division now exceeds the national average teacher salary by approximately $500.

School safety - The district provided a security monitor at each elementary school in the division. An enclosure to link the main building of Truitt Intermediate School with the adjoining annex building was constructed. The district is also in the process of installing software that will permit centralized monitoring of all security cameras in each building. A contract has been awarded to install additional security cameras at all elementary schools .

Sportsmanship - In an effort to continue focusing upon sportsmanship in our schools, this past year Chesapeake held its second sportsmanship summit for all of athletic coaches. Chesapeake high schools were the recipients of the prestigious Virginia High School League Wachovia Sportsmanship, Ethics, and Integrity Award. This award recognizes schools for the demonstration of sportsmanship by students, coaches, parents, and fans. Only 17 of the 305 public schools in Virginia met the qualifications for this award.

Academy planning - All plans have been completed for the opening of the technology academy at Grassfield High School next week.

Literacy - All schools continued their participation in a special literacy initiative. The READ 180 program was implemented in eight secondary schools. Since the beginning of the literacy initiative, there has been a consistent decline in the number of students who fail the SOL reading test.

At-risk students - Ninth grade transition programs were implemented at three high schools-Western Branch, Oscar Smith, and Indian River. The Summer Bridge Program, a transition program for at- risk students, was also expanded to Deep Creek Middle School this summer.

Gifted education - To enhance education not only for students identified as gifted but also for all students, a revised curriculum for fourth and fifth grade students was implemented in their own schools on GATE pull-out day.

Achieving full accreditation - Based upon preliminary results, all of the schools will once again be Fully Accredited.

Initiatives for 2008-09

Initiative #1 - Employee salaries and benefits - The district must continue efforts to ensure the division remains competitive when it comes to attracting and retaining quality personnel. Medical insurance costs are continuing to rise, so it is important to investigate ways to reduce these costs.

Initiative #2 - Gifted program - The district will continue to strengthen the program for educating identified gifted children by focusing on three areas. First, implement the plan for serving identified fourth-grade gifted students in their own schools. Second, begin classes for an add-on endorsement in gifted education for at least two cohorts of teachers. Third, develop the curriculum for grades 5-8 in anticipation of the initial implementation of the new curriculum for these grades during the 2009-2010 school year.

Initiative #3 - Energy - The district is dependent upon various kinds of energy to operate the schools and programs. The district will examine how the facilities and equipment are currently used, as well as the associated costs. After compiling and examining the necessary data, the district will look at options for reduction in energy costs, as well as explore alternative fuel sources for school buses and other vehicles.

Initiative #4 - Continuation of Compliance with Title IX Requirements - Title IX is a federal law that focuses upon gender equity in specified extracurricular activities for students. The district has determined females in Chesapeake schools are underrepresented in these activities. In order to increase the opportunities for girls, the district will offer an additional girls sport at both the middle and high schools. Specifically, there are plans to add girls field hockey at the middle school level this spring, and JV field hockey at the high school level the following year.

Initiative #5 - School safety - Ensuring safety in the schools is the first and most important responsibility for the district. Learning cannot occur in an environment in which the individuals in that environment feel unsafe. Children learn better in a safe, threat-free environment and teachers teach better in a safe, threat- free environment.

In the past, the district has taken many steps to ensure safety in the schools-for example, the installation of surveillance cameras in the facilities; cameras and two-way radios on school buses; security monitors in schools; ID badges, fingerprinting and background checks for the employees; walkie-talkies; gang awareness training; and monitoring of the state sex offender registry.

With the availability of rapid communications in the world today, the ability to communicate quickly and accurately is a vital component of safety in the schools. Today's research shows the incidents of violence in schools have significantly declined. However, the fear of violence in schools has significantly increased. It is, therefore, critical for the school system to take the lead in preparing information for parents and the public, because we are the only ones who can guarantee that the information is communicated in an accurate and timely manner.

With this in mind, in the coming year, the district will take steps to raise its collective awareness of the issue of communications. The district will also implement a Citywide Alert System, which will allow immediate communications to parents. This additional focus on communications will serve not only to enhance overall school safety but also to provide further reassurance to the parents who have entrusted their children to our care.

Initiative #6 - Increasing pupil achievement - Improving pupil learning is the sole reason for the existence of the school division. In recent years, the district has made significant progress in increasing the level of achievement for the pupils.

According to preliminary data, the school division has achieved full accreditation status for all of the schools. An instructional priority for the coming year is for the school division to maintain its Fully Accredited status and for all schools to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Another focus for the 2008-2009 school year will be to expand the READ 180 program. With this expansion, the program will be in 10 of our 17 secondary schools. The division will continue this initiative until the program has been implemented in all secondary schools.

The district will also plan to convene a dropout prevention task force. The goal of this group will be to establish a mechanism for early identification of potential dropouts and to begin reviewing the research that will identify strategies for prevention.

In addition, the district will continue its efforts in staff development to train teachers in the use of differentiated instruction in the classroom. It is essential for teachers to have the skills necessary to address differences in the learning needs of students. To this end, next year the staff development program will continue the emphasis on the differentiation of instruction for all classrooms.

Closing remarks

If asked to identify what is so different about Chesapeake Public Schools, it doesn't take long for veterans, newcomers, and visitors alike to sum up the feeling with a single word: "family."

It is this sense of family that has sustained our school division over the years, and it is a quality that, I believe, we must fiercely protect. For if we protect the concept of the family within our school division, the members of our educational family will not only nurture and support each other, they will also continue to nurture and promote the educational values that are at the very core of our tradition of excellence.

Many individuals and groups are responsible for the sense of family that pervades our school division. First, I am indebted to the members of this School Board for your daily commitment to quality educational opportunities in our city. I also owe a debt of gratitude to our educational groups-such as the PTA, the Chesapeake Education Association, the Chesapeake Association of Public School Administrators, the Chesapeake Association of Educational Office Professionals, and the Chesapeake Reading Council-for working collaboratively to create an overall school culture that enhances pupil learning and achievement. I am also thankful for the thousands of parents who are actively involved in the learning of their children. And I am very proud of the positive relationships not only between teachers and students, but also between and among students throughout the school division.

Finally, I wish to express my heartfelt appreciation to the more than 6,000 members of the Chesapeake Public Schools educational family. It is their love for children, their passion about teaching and learning, their belief in teamwork, and their commitment to reaching higher and higher goals that has established our school division as, what I believe to be, the finest in the state.

On Sept. 2, almost 39,000 students will begin a new school year . . . a year of unlimited opportunities for personal and academic growth. And so, as we pursue our goals and face new decisions in the coming year, let us hold fast to our collective commitment to educate "all the children of all the people," and in doing so, let us continue to build a strong foundation for the future.

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