School Board discusses ways to improve schools

WOODSTOCK – The Shenandoah County School Board has begun discussions about possible changes to the board’s goals to improve the school division.

The current board goals are under the categories of student opportunity and achievement, effective communication, staff excellence and system efficiencies.

Interim Superintendent Mark Johnston suggested a new category, successful transition, which states, “promote forward momentum in an environment of continuous improvement through the transition of the Interim Superintendent and Superintendent.”

He said during a Thursday work session the board will “review some information planning documents and look back at the goals because that really does set the context for where you want to head in the coming year.”

To start the process of considering new goals, the board watched a 2015 film, “Most Likely to Succeed.” The film is about a progressive school in California that tried a new style of teaching students in a charter school system.

The film stated that the current educational system in the U.S. was developed over a hundred years ago during the rise of the industrial age with the intention of producing organized workers for factory and other mid-level work. Today, these jobs have been taken over by technology, leaving the educational system outdated.

The film goes on to say that students are being asked to memorize facts and take standardized tests, but then they forget about 90 percent of the information within months, leaving them unprepared for college. The charter school system combined classes and relied on hands-on, student-run projects to increase their depth of knowledge. Students took ownership of their learning and presented their projects during a public exhibition at the end of the term. Students led classroom discussion and in addition to learning facts, gained soft skills such as leadership, communication, confidence and teamwork.

After viewing the film, Johnston asked board members how their experiences in school differed from what they saw in the film and what they would like to see take place within Shenandoah County’s schools to better prepare students for jobs that may not even exist yet.

Board member Katheryn Freakley said, “I know it’s out there and I know it’s happening and I know public education has to catch up.”

She said community engagement in the school division is important to move students forward. She referenced the STEM nights that bring parents and community members into the schools for an evening to see what projects students have been working on, and what they have been able to create with the information they have learned.

“The school was full,” she said. “It was awesome to see the community engaged in this.”

Staff excellence, one of the board’s goals, is essential to keeping good teachers in the school division, she said. Staff need to feel pride and validation in the work they do, she said, referencing a part in the film when a teacher says, “He felt value in his role and that he mattered in some way,” after being allowed to teach in the method of his choice.

The system efficiencies goal also needs to be enhanced in the schools, she said, noting that the schools don’t foster enough group collaboration and space for art programs.

“In terms of where we are now and where education is going, our space isn’t lining up,” Freakley said.

She said the soft skills of teamwork, professional communication, confidence, perseverance and persistence need to be fostered within schools.

“I was struck by the question in the film, ‘Why do we care if our student has confidence?'” Freakley answered with, “Because they are a person and you care about those people and I feel like some of that mindset gets lost behind the dollar and cents.”

Chairwoman Karen Whetzel said they need to be creating global citizens and communicate to the public the importance of teaching these soft skills. She also said that schools need to create student empowerment by allowing students to take charge of their learning and have the chance to learn from their mistakes.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or