Educators attend cooperative forum on poverty and learning

Marcus Newsome, superintendent of Chesterfield County Public Schools, right, speaks during a statewide Poverty in Virginia Public Schools forum held Tuesday at Shenandoah University. Other panelists included Scott Kizner, left, superintendent of Harrisonburg City Public Schools, and Lorenza Kelly, center, assistant principal in Virginia Beach. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – The increase in the number of free and reduced lunches was among topics under discussion by teachers and administrators from throughout Virginia who gathered at Shenandoah University on Tuesday for a conference on poverty and student learning.

Among several Shenandoah County Public School faculty members in attendance, Assistant Superintendent Evelyn Linaburg said poverty is increasing and that “we’re seeing it in our own system.”

She added, “We’ve had an increase in students who are getting free and reduced lunch and we want to be sure that we are meeting the instructional needs of those students because it is a change.”

Dennis Kellison, acting director of the university’s School of Education and Human Development, coordinated the first session of “Teaching, Learning and Poverty: Meeting the Needs of a New Demographic” to bring broader conversations about the effect of poverty on learning to the area. Winchester Public Schools Superintendent Mark Lineburg offered opening comments at the conference.

Virginia Board of Education President Billy Cannaday led a panel discussion on perspectives on poverty in schools across the state, including a question and answer session with recognized superintendents and school leaders who had anecdotes and words of wisdom from their experiences.

Educators gather inside the Ferrai Room inside the Brandt Student Center at Shenandoah University on Tuesday during a conference on poverty for teachers and education leaders throughout the state. The conference was sponsored by SU and the Virginia Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development. Rich Cooley/Daily

Panelist Marcus Newsome, superintendent of Chesterfield county schools, where more than one third of nearly 60,000 students get free or reduced lunch, said one of his first priorities after becoming superintendent 10 years ago was to eliminate the use of the phrase “those kids” when referring to students of impoverished homes.

That notion was echoed throughout the discussion, and Cannaday emphasized efforts to bring all students up to a level playing field within a statewide context.

“What I’ve learned is that we now are beginning to have the conversation … around what it takes to really make certain that every child is seen as an asset as opposed to a problem that needs to be fixed,” he said.

Zach Logan, a seventh grade history teacher at Warren County Middle School, brought up the problem of high teacher turnover rates and asked the panelists what teachers can do to show interest in not only a student’s academic career, but their life outside school as well.

Evelyn Linaburg said that in addition to the successes shared, online media resources the Virginia Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development provided attendees to use within their school districts after the meeting will help to put things into motion.

Marcus Newsome, superintendent of Chesterfield County Public Schools, speaks during a statewide Poverty in Virginia Public Schools forum held Tuesday at Shenandoah University. Rich Cooley/Daily

“It’s given more impetus to reinforce ideas of: we’ve got to be sure our culture is open to all students and that all students feel like everyone believes they can achieve,” she said.

She said a big advantage to this kind of conference is the networking opportunity to reinforce connections and increase collaboration with faculty of schools in neighboring counties.

According to Kellison, fostering those local cooperative efforts was one of the driving forces behind the university collaborating with the association to hold the conference.

“I hope we can do some other things because … we really see our mission as helping the region network on some of these big ideas, bringing in folks that have different experiences and getting the conversation going,” he said.

Instead of educators always needing to travel for conferences in other parts of the state, Kellison stressed the need for conferences to be held in the Northern Shenandoah Valley region.

Scott Kizner, superintendent of Winchester City Public Schools, speaks during the Perspectives on Poverty in Virginia Public Schools discussion Tuesday morning at Shenandoah University in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

In fact, the conference had such a positive response that the university had to turn hopeful attendees away due to capacity reasons. Tickets are still available for the second part of the poverty conference, which will take place Oct. 28 at Longwood University.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com