New year, new strategy, accreditation probable

Dr. Bill Daggett, founder of the International Center for Leadership in Education, speaks to administration and staff members of Shenandoah County Public Schools on Friday during the school's convocation. Shenandoah County schools open Monday. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – To a roar of applause, Superintedent Mark Johnston began the Shenandoah County Public Schools Convocation ushering in a new academic year with an announcement.

“For the first time in five years Shenandoah County Public Schools will open the 2018 school year with our schools fully accredited,” Johnston said.

“I hope you know how much I appreciate everyone. You are the ones who made it happen. When kids feel cared for when they come to school,m they thrive,” Johnston said.

The accreditation announcement will become official when the Virginia Board of Education releases its findings in September.

Johnston then revealed to the staff the district’s five points, five year, 2018-2024 strategic plan called Empower 2024, in which the letter O is the school district’s seal.

The five key elements include:

1. Positive school climate and culture

2. A commitment to preparing students for college, career and citizenship readiness.

“We want to spark their passion for learning,” Johnston said.

3. The district commits to engaging with parents and community partners to help enable students to be emotionally ready to access their learning.

4. Recruit, support and retain enthusiastic professionals by providing a positive and engaging environment so that staff members feel valued, empowered, and supported.

Johnston pointed to the salary increase teachers and staff received this year and thanked the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors for supporting the schools. The average salary increase was 6.7 percent, he said.

5. A commitment to high quality and adequate facilities and learning environments.

Johnston pointed to the $2.5 million approved for this year’s capital improvements lines, which are allowing schools to address issues that have been on the improvement list for more than a decade, including the new auxiliary gym currently under construction at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Bill Daggett, founder of the International Center for Leadership in Education and former vice chancellor for education for the state of New York, commended Johnston and the staff for having a five-year strategic plan as he started his presentation.

“A successful school is future-focused,” Daggett said. “How many know a recent four-year college graduate back at home, going to grad school because they can’t find a job or is out of the home with mom and dad helping them. These are our success stories — well-educated, broke and living in the parents’ basement. What happened? America changed. We are preparing kids for our past, not their future.”

He spoke of how quickly the communication revolution occurred and how it has changed people’s lives.

Daggett then spoke of other revolutions that are occurring based on a modern technology known as bio/nanotechnology.

“Bio and nano technology will reshape where we work, interact, shop and manage health,” Daggett said. “They are about to embed it in everything.”

He spoke of how this technology is tiny, 1/100 the width of a human hair, while more powerful than earlier mainframe computers  and 10 times stronger than steel.

It will allow clothes to be impenetrable to stains and even sweat, making laundry free clothes. It is being tested to see if it would be impenetrable to bullets, making the technology of high interest to law enforcement as a possible replacement for clunky protective vests with shirts, Daggett said. It is also being tested in construction and in robotics.

He spoke of how the technology will change the medical world by introducing new ways to dissolve plague, strengthen weak blood vessels, and identify and attack cancer cells, thereby helping to prevent heart disease, strokes and better target and cure cancer.

Students entering medical school are being advised to take bio/nanotech engineering as well as computer sciences, he said.

“There is no place for unskilled workers,” Daggett said.

Daggett challenged the teachers in attendance to get serious about teaching for kids’ futures.

“Is your culture committed to preparing the kids for their future? There is tons of information on how to change the environment slowly and methodically,” Daggett said. “Let’s love the kids and put their future in front, and let’s love the kids more than our past.”

One teacher who loves the kids she teaches is Teacher of the Year Katie Tusing, a  faculty member at Ashby Lee Elementary School. She received a standing ovation and shared with those in attendance her struggle to overcome adversity and what she has learned from her students in the aftermath of a tragic accident in which she lost a leg trying to help victims of a car accident. She received a $2,500 check from the Shenandoah Education Foundation.

Stonewall Jackson English and social studies teacher Marie Olsen said the talk, especially the information on technology, was interesting.

“The idea that education needs to be reformed is not new. What is interesting is to see how to do it,” Olsen said.

Come Monday, there will be more than 6,000 kids coming through the doors of Shenandoah County Public Schools.