There are some new Standards of Quality proposed by the Virginia Department of Education, and local school districts are already anticipating the changes.

These standards describe the foundational instructional programs and support services all schools must provide and drive approximately 85% of state funding for local school divisions.

This proposal comes after a 2-year review of the needs of Virginia public schools, which focused on providing equitable opportunities and outcomes for students and support for teachers, principals and other educators.

Some of the changes aren’t inherently different from programs that already occur in local schools, rather the Standards of Quality consolidate existing state programs that support struggling schools and students in poverty into a single, expanded funding stream.

The financial distributions would be based on the percentage of students eligible for free meals and would provide an additional $131.9 million in state funding for schools serving significant numbers of children in poverty. In Martinsville and Henry County, virtually every student is supported by the meals program.

Distributions from the fund would support school division efforts to recruit and retain experienced and effective teachers and other professional staff in high-poverty schools and provide additional intervention and remediation services for students.

The state Board of Education’s 2018-2023 Comprehensive Plan establishes three priorities for public education in Virginia. Schools in neighboring Henry and Patrick counties are already hard at work to meet these standards.

The first priority is to provide high-quality, effective learning environments for all students.

“High-quality instruction and safe and innovative learning environments are two of the four focus areas of Henry County Public Schools’ strategic plan,” said Monica Hatchett, HCPS director of communications and organizational learning. “The division anchors all they do on the plan’s four focus areas, so this priority aligns very well with the work being done in HCPS.”

David Martin, Patrick County Public Schools' interim superintendent, noted that all seven county schools are fully accredited for the 2019-2020 school year, making this the fourth consecutive year of the accomplishment.

“Patrick County Public Schools continues to provide a high-quality learning environment for all students by focusing on data and communicating as a team toward continuous improvement,” Martin said.

Recruiting teachers

The second priority is to advance policies that increase the number of candidates entering the teaching profession and encourage and support the recruitment, development and retention of well-prepared and skilled teachers and school leaders.

“Patrick County Schools collaborates with colleges and universities throughout the state to both mentor teachers entering the field and seek candidates for open positions,” Martin said.

PCPS teachers appear to be doing a great job in the classrooms. Students surpass state averages for achievement in the areas of reading, math, science and history. Reading performance in Patrick County is at 85% as compared to a 78% state average. Math performance is at 92% as compared to 82% at the state level.

The division’s students performed at 83% on science assessments as compared to 81% state average. In history, students achieved 84% as compared to a state average of 80%. Additionally, 84% of kindergarten students met fall literacy benchmarks compared to 81% in the state.

In Henry County, it’s a priority to put the best teachers in classrooms, but it’s not always an easy feat. Officials looked forward to not only continuing to hire qualified individuals, but also to continue their training after they enter the schools.

“Recruiting highly qualified teachers has become increasingly difficult in recent years. HCPS would welcome support in ensuring that there is a licensed professional in every classroom,” Hatchett said. “Current new teacher mentor programs scratch the surface of teacher development, and mentor relationships and ongoing professional learning opportunities help to support professionals to remain on the cutting edge of education methods. Continuing to offer a wide variety of professional learning opportunities that will flexibly meet the needs of teachers is critical for the future. This is a passion of HCPS administrators and will continue to be a focal point moving forward.”

Reinforcing graduation

The third priority set by the Comprehensive Plan is to ensure successful implementation of the Profile of a Virginia Graduate and the accountability system for school quality as embodied in the revisions to the Standards of Accreditation.

“HCPS directors have been part of the collaborative development of the Profile of a Virginia Graduate and Profile of a Virginia Classroom, which are aligned with the innovative practices HCPS teachers strive to incorporate each day,” Hatchett said. “These guide maps are helping to ensure that student growth and success is not simply measured by assessments, but by meaningful learning experiences that students can apply to real-world situations. Continuing to utilize cornerstone tasks and project-driven lessons will support the division's students to be globally competitive as they work toward their futures.”

PCPS continually places an emphasis on the importance of graduating from high school.

“The on-time graduation rate in Patrick County is one of the highest in the state at 95.6% as compared to a state average of 91.5%,” Martin said. “The dropout rate for the class of 2019 is at 3.3%.”

Help with reading

As for the changes brought forth by the Standards of Quality, one of the proposed ideas increases state funding for reading specialists.

For Patrick County, such an increase could be a game-changer. The only area that PCPS students perform below average in is writing, with 72% as compared to a state average of 76%. To write effectively, students must first master reading.

“Literacy proficiency is always a focus. ... The addition of funded reading specialist positions would be a great benefit for our schools to assist with both professional development of other teachers and supporting literacy progression for our students,” Martin said. “Patrick County works to provide professional development in the area of literacy utilizing current research to support our staff members and therefore supporting our students. Given budget constraints, extra positions will not be possible without additional state funding.”

In Henry County, there’s already a reading specialist in each elementary school. The professionals lead literacy teams in supporting student reading goals. Increased funding may allow the division to enhance reading support in different ways.

Teacher, principal development

The state also plans to establish a new teacher leader program and expand the existing teacher mentor program to provide additional compensation and time within the instructional day for teachers designated as leaders and mentors.

More professional development is something that several Henry County teachers are already asking for.

“New teachers tell division leaders that they would like to see mentoring programs last for more than one school year, which is the current model in HCPS,” Hatchett said. “State support of mentoring expansion will work to solidify the skills and development of young professionals as they strive to be their very best.”

Patrick County also noted benefits to more professional development training.

“If state funded, this program would benefit Patrick County because our belief is that we want to build capacity from within. Our existing staff is a highly qualified staff that works collaboratively to support one another and lead our division,” Martin said. “We currently have a mentor teacher program in place to support new teachers to the profession or to our division.”

The VDOE also proposed a statewide principal mentorship program to strengthen school leadership and support teacher retention and student achievement. In both Henry and Patrick counties, continual training of even the highest administrative staff member in each school had its place.

“Professional development is essential for continued and consistent growth,” Martin said. “Patrick County Schools currently provides a mentor for new principals in the division and supports attendance at state and regional conferences.”

Said Hatchett: “Overwhelmingly, HCPS educators are avid lifelong learners and are passionate about doing all they can to support students. Additional learning and mentorship opportunities for educators at every level will certainly reinforce innovation and best practices, as well as offer opportunities for collaboration that may not have previously been available.”

More focus on class size

Additionally the proposal suggests moving the state’s K-3 class size reduction program from the annual Appropriation Act into the Standards of Quality. It also proposes providing state funding for state-level and regional work-based learning coordinators to establish partnerships between school divisions and local businesses and employers.

Proposed amended staffing requirements and ratios will impact English learner teachers, school nurses, social workers and school psychologists. The state will also provide support for one full-time school counselor for every 250 students, require a full-time principal in every elementary school and require a full-time assistant principal for every 400 students.

These newly prescribed Standards of Quality – and legislation necessary to enact the new standards – will be communicated to Gov. Ralph Northam and the 2020 General Assembly, along with budget estimates required to support the new requirements and staffing ratios.

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