Albemarle School Board Focuses on Future, Talks Strategic Plan

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Albemarle County schools have asked more than 10,000 people how they can do a better job preparing children for their futures, and now they're trying to put all of that feedback into motion. 

The Albemarle County School Board talked strategic planning at its annual retreat Monday at the Paramount Theater in downtown Charlottesville. With a major review of the school system's current plan under its belt, the board is moving forward with a renewed focus on students. 

"We always want to keep the main thing the main thing, and sometimes when you're neck deep in alligators, you forget that your mission is to drain the swamp," said Albemarle County School Board Chairman Steve Koleszar. 

Albemarle County school leaders are draining the swamp - pinpointing students as their main priority. 

Koleszar said, "We currently have five goals and only the first two are really focused on student learning and the others are focused on how support services and how they support student learning." 

So they switched gears and turned straight to their target group. 

Albemarle County Schools Assistant Superintendent Matt Haas said, "That was a big objective for us this year was to really hear from the kids about their experiences." 

Since February, more than 8,000 students and 2,000 other community members completed surveys on the school system's strengths and weaknesses. 

"Everybody from third-graders to grandparents in the community to business leaders, to our teachers, principals, parents," said Albemarle County Schools Superintendent Pam Moran. 

Moran says the in-depth look at how Albemarle County schools are operating gives them a better idea of where they should be heading. 

"Every time that you take that deep dive look, what you're going to do is discover what we sometimes refer to as opportunity gaps - that what we have the potential to do versus what we are doing, that there is a gap," she said. 

The results of the review have sparked school officials to consider some changes - mainly spelling out their focus on student learning in their goals. 

"What we found was that our language around students needing higher language thinking skills, people skills, critical thinking skills - those kinds of things resonated with the community, and that they support that kind of work for students," said Haas.

He continued, "We're focusing on one main goal that will target graduation rates for our students and closing opportunity and achievement gaps for our students – making sure all our students have the same access to high-quality programs and also in terms of outcomes." 

A recommitment to strategies, the Albemarle County School Board says, will only make them stronger.

Koleszar said, "As you're going from good to great, it's not about tearing up everything that you've done; it's about building on what you're doing right."

The Albemarle County School Board worked to identify its main priorities for the next two years and goals for the next five to 10 years in Monday's retreat.  It is set to adopt the reworked strategic plan in July.

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