Training day a ‘snapshot’ of instruction

WINCHESTER — Nobody wants to miss school on the day of a class trip, Director of Student Support Services Charles M. “Mitch” Peeling remarked Wednesday at a training session for Frederick County Public School personnel.

“They’re afraid they’re going to miss something,” he said.

At an all-day training session the school district holds twice a year, Peeling met with Superintendent David Sovine, School Board members and other district administrators to discuss ways of making education more engaging and ways in which schools are already doing just that.

After visiting area elementary, middle and high schools, many were pleased to see that education has changed since they were in school.

Coordinator of Policy and Communications Steve Edwards noted that  the elementary school experience is completely different than it was several years ago.

“They’re doing their own guided learning,” he said. “The kids were so engaged in what they were doing, … they didn’t know we were there.”

Witnessing what schools are doing is part of how administrators hope to determine which changes they might employ in coming years to make instruction more effective.

School Board member Jody Wall, who represents the Back Creek District, agreed that elementary and middle school students have more to engage them in their lessons, but she also noticed that high school has barely changed at all in the last 20 or 30 years.

Project-based learning and technological learning tools like Chromebooks help younger students enjoy lesson plans, but less seems to be available for students the higher they ascend through the school system.

However, for all that technology offers, School Board member Peggy Clark, representing the Redbud District, pointed out it’s no replacement for lesson plans.

When the Internet failed at one of the middle schools she visited on Wednesday, she said “I think we saw lessons that weren’t as thought out.”

Without the use of Chromebooks, she said, lessons were inappropriately low for the age level and too teacher-driven with too many worksheets.

Technology, cool lessons and fun field trips are great and all, but as Director of Elementary Instructional Services Jeri Swogger pointed out, it doesn’t mean much if instruction isn’t aligned to the curriculum.

Sovine said the day provided “a snapshot of where we are” — a remark Assistant Superintendent for Instruction James Angelo said includes an opportunity for change.

“Even in the best of scenarios, we are not where we want to be yet,” Angelo said.

Plans for the 2015-16 school year include a third year of instruction for James Wood Middle School students through the Virginia Tiered Systems of Support Initiative using grant money from the Virginia Department of Education, and a second year of the four-year program at Robert E. Aylor Middle School, Red Bud Run Elementary School, and Millbrook High School that Director of Special Instructional Services Lynette Johnson said the district plans to eventually implement at each of the county’s 20 schools.

The program fine tunes each school’s basic core instruction to better accommodate students’ learning styles.

The district has also prioritized operational funding of new technology and school buses to replace aging ones, and funding of competitive salaries for teachers and staff.

More competitive foreign language studies would also be a nice addition, said School Board member Michael Lake, who represents the Gainesboro District.

“For me, we’re in the dark ages for foreign language,” he said.

“We teach three,” he said. “The world has 30.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com