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House looks back on tenure
Sunday, June 1, 2014
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
As DeWitt House reflects on his career in education, including the past 15 years with Henry County Public Schools, he describes himself as no-nonsense, part of a team, and someone who likes to be challenged to be better.
House, the assistant superintendent of teaching and learning with the county schools, officially will retire June 30. However, his last day at work was Friday.
His position involved overseeing the entire instructional program, including student services, prekindergarten through 12th grade instruction and special education.
House joined the county schools in 1999 as assistant superintendent for instruction.
Previously, he served as principal of Amherst, Martinsville and Liberty (Bedford County) high schools; assistant principal at Liberty High School; and social studies teacher, coach and athletic director at Lord Botetourt High School in Daleville, according to a biographical sketch he provided.
He became principal of Martinsville High School in 1995 and led its transition to block scheduling in 1996.
House said he is proud of gains in student academics that have been made during his years with the Henry County schools, but he is quick to point out, “You don’t accomplish anything by yourself.” He said he prefers “we” instead of “I.”
He said the first year he was with HCPS, only one school in the division (Figsboro) was accredited, but over the next few years, more and more schools followed suit, and since then pretty much all schools in the division have been accredited, with occasional exceptions. According to a Bulletin article, all 15 Henry County Schools were fully accredited for the 2005-2006 school year. That was the first time HCPS had attained full accreditation in all its schools.
Strategies the school division has used to help improve student achievement and better serve students included the Read 180 reading intervention program, the National Board Certified Teacher program (the number of teachers who completed the program has grown from two to 35), technology in the classroom, differentiated instruction (catering instruction to the needs of individual students), expanding the preschool program from four to 18 classrooms, and development of Warrior Tech Academy at Magna Vista High School, he said.
For several years, tuition assistance was offered for teachers to pursue master’s degrees (20-25 participated), and for several years the division had an administrator development program, House said.
One challenge HCPS faced during his tenure was school consolidation, which took effect in 2004-05, he said. Fieldale, Figsboro, Ridgeway and Spencer-Penn elementary schools and Bassett Middle School were closed. Also, Fieldale-Collinsville and Laurel Park high schools were converted to middle schools and Axton, Carver and Drewry Mason middle schools were converted to elementary schools.
“It was a well-thought-out plan that positioned us for the future,” House said, noting that the school division had been struggling financially. “It was a very emotional time for a lot of people,” but despite naysayers, the “kids performed like troopers. There were no major outbursts.”
Another challenge has been the accountability movement — having people understand that student achievement is the end result without getting bogged down with standardized test scores, House said. The focus should be on academic growth over time, rather than one day’s test results, he said.
Another challenge is attracting and retaining high-quality professionals, he said. Another is the need here and elsewhere to attract more minorities into the profession, which is important in building role models, he said. However, hiring the best teacher for the job is foremost, he said.
House said he has enjoyed helping teachers and principals grow and develop.
“One of most fulfilling things is watching students walk across the stage at graduation,” he added.
During his career, House also has enjoyed helping mentor other budding administrators, including Bruce McDade, now superintendent of Manassas Park City Schools.
HCPS Superintendent Jared Cotton said: “Mr. House has served (HCPS) with distinction for the last 15 years. He is a well-respected leader who has been directly involved in several successful initiatives that have been implemented in HCPS. Having worked with Mr. House over the past two years, I have grown to appreciate his wise counsel and ‘common sense’ approach. He is a person who works tirelessly to support students and staff ....”
Cotton said House’s contributions to HCPS are “too many to mention,” but he was instrumental in implementing such initiatives as Read 180, SmartBoards, iPads and the current assessment program. He also played a key role in expanding the school division’s partnerships with New College Institute and Patrick Henry Community College.
“Something that stands out for me, however, is his ability to focus in on research-based instructional strategies and his efforts to keep the focus on these initiatives over time,” Cotton said. “An excellent example of this would be his leadership in implementing differentiated instruction across the county.”
“When HCPS implemented differentiated instruction years ago, Mr. House worked with teachers and administrators to visit schools and school divisions that were successfully utilizing this strategy,” Cotton said. “Afterwards, he worked with stakeholders to build necessary buy-in for this important initiative. Finally, he provided professional development and ongoing support to teachers and administrators to ensure that differentiated instruction was implemented with fidelity. Mr. House understands that effective implementation requires ongoing support in monitoring in order for it to be successful.”
Cotton said many school divisions make the mistake of abandoning new initiatives prematurely and not staying the course.
House understands the importance of focused professional development, has a strong work ethic and has a wealth of “institutional knowledge,” Cotton said.
“It is tough to lose leaders like Mr. House,” Cotton added.
House returned the compliments, praising and thanking the superintendents, staff, teachers and school boards he has worked with as well as the Harvest Foundation for its support of professional development.
After retiring from HCPS, House will become a program officer at Harvest. He also plans to remain active in the Martinsville Area Community Foundation, the board of Memorial Hospital in Martinsville and the Henry-County Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. He enjoys reading and golf and is a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan.
He and his wife, Terrilan, who is self-employed in data management, live in Henry County with their 12-year-old son, Evan, a rising eighth-grader at Laurel Park Middle School.