Shenandoah County schools thrive

By Kim Walter

Shenandoah County elementary school administrators, teachers and students are bringing a whole new meaning to the word “team.”

During the 2012-2013 school year, Stacey Leitzel, director of elementary instruction, collaborated with the three elementary school principals to develop T.E.A.M Time. In response to higher levels of accountability and new initiatives in elementary education, T.E.A.M. Time provides motivation for administrators and teachers through division-wide professional learning communities.

The program enables grade levels and departments to collaboratively focus on important instructional matters, reflect on best practices and talk through issues as professionals, Leitzel said during a presentation at a recent School Board meeting.

She said the program focuses on providing a framework to create and sustain collaborative teams with the purpose of answering several questions: What do instructors want students to know, and how can they strengthen and sustain core instruction? How will instructors know if students are learning? How will instructors systematically respond when students don’t learn?

Using the word “team” wasn’t an accident, as it stands for “Together Everyone Achieves More.”

Leitzel said the group of teachers and administrators agreed that one main goal would be that every student achieves at least one year of academic growth during a school year.

“We decided that it is time to ensure that our kids truly make one year’s worth of progress,” she told School Board members.

In order to track that, elementary school staff members were required to display several characteristics and behaviors — reflective practice, growth mind set and resilience — to enhance the learning of each student.

Staff members also collected data on student progress to drive decisions made at the instructional level. They were asked to put together several reports throughout the year so that the data could be compared, and practices could be streamlined.

“What was great about these meetings, though, is so many other things were discussed,” Leitzel said. “Our teachers started talking about early intervention, how to get kids motivated and why it’s important to give kids extra help when they just don’t have that support at home.”

She said oftentimes the conversations continued after the quarterly meetings.

“The way our program is set up really allowed ideas to flow,” she said. “I heard from a lot of teachers and administrators that they started looking at things in a whole new way, just because something a teacher from another school said made sense.”

At the same time, the program respected that each elementary school has its own community, and needs to be special and different.

Steve Povlish, principal at Ashby Lee Elementary School, said it was nice to get support from the other schools.

Additionally, the T.E.A.M. Time made transitions seamless for transient students.

“We have some kids that go between the elementary schools for certain classes,” he said. “A number of teachers said that because we are now focusing on this big picture and using collaboration, those students were able to jump right in at each school.”

Some principals also will transition to other elementary schools in the division before the start of the 2013-2014 school year. Povlish said the T.E.A.M. Time already has made those changes easier.

Assessment alignment and reevaluation of goals will continue into the next school year, Leitzel said.

Administrators will attend the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals conference later this month to give a presentation on T.E.A.M. Time’s success.

em>Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or