Back in Session: Local students return to the classroom

August 9, 2017
Martinsville Bulletin

A new school year began in Martinsville and Henry County Wednesday, as teachers and staff welcomed students to their classrooms. The new year brings benefits and challenges for local districts.

Looking forward to the new semester, Dr. Zeb Talley, Martinsville City Public Schools division superintendent, and Dr. Jared Cotton, Henry County Public Schools division superintendent, shared hopes and dreams for the future.

“Our biggest hope is that we take teaching and learning to a very rigorous level and attain high learning for all students,” Talley said. “Also, that our students continue to be transformed into model citizens who are ready for the future with 21st century skills.”

As the school year started in Henry County, Cotton looked forward to the academic achievements and gains the students would likely make under the direction of skilled teachers.

“In HCPS, we are focused on student growth and growth mindset,” Cotton said. “This applies to our students and our teachers. Every child should expect to make significant gains in reading, math and the content areas each year. We also hope that our students will continue to develop important college, career and life-ready skills such as communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.”

Both school divisions had impressive academic achievements in the 2016-17 school year, a trend the superintendents intend to maintain throughout the 180 business days.

“We had great academic success in all our schools,” Talley said. “We had fewer suspensions and a 100-percent graduation rate with the class who started last school year as seniors. This year we plan to achieve more of the same. We plan to have all schools fully accredited and to have a high graduation rate.”

In order to keep the student success at an elevated level, Talley said the division has been working to refine the system’s current programs.

“Special emphasis will be placed on reading, math and technical skills” in all grades, Talley said.

Whereas MCPS plans to focus on graduation rates and receiving full accreditation, HCPS plans to place emphasis on testing scores, an area of which Cotton said he’s already proud.

“Students are not only improving on SOL pass rates, they are showing academic growth in other measures. For example, we utilize the MAP assessment to monitor student growth in reading, language and mathematics,” Cotton said.

Cotton said that over 90-percent of students across the school division demonstrated growth in the areas the Measures of Academic Progress tests track and that a large percentage of students met their expected growth for the 2016-17 school year.

Students in HCPS also continue to make strides on the Virginia Placement Test, a community college assessment that students in the division take in the 10th grade.

“Increases on this assessment shows that we are preparing our students for the future,” Cotton said.

Cotton also noted that more than half of graduating seniors in the district earned an advanced studies diploma in the 2016-17 school year.

“I am also proud that we look at several measures of student success rather than SOL assessments alone,” Cotton said. “We know that if our students are going to be successful in life, we need to do more than prepare them to pass a state test.”

In addition to raising assessment-based scores, HCPS will expand the career and technical program offerings in the new school year.

“For example, we added a horticulture program and greenhouse at [Fieldale-Collinsville] Middle School this year,” Cotton said. “We also moved the cosmetology program to a central location so that students from both schools could participate in the program and we are making plans to add additional programming.”

In addition, the school system continues to expand the New Tech Academy programs at each high school and expand the one-to-one ratio technology initiative into the high schools.

“Starting this school year, all ninth grade students will have an iPad with an attached keyboard to utilize for instruction,” Cotton said. “The New Tech students will continue to receive a MacBook. We are hoping to continue to expand to additional grade levels in the future.”

While the superintendents have slightly differing goals for the new school year, both are passionate about their division and their school system’s offerings for the students.

“All our students have an equal opportunity to learn and to experience STEM classes in kindergarten through 12th grade,” Talley said. “In addition, our teachers build relationships with students and ensure that our students are given the maximum amount of support. Our students excel in academics, athletics and technology.”

Cotton said that the students and teachers in the HCPS division made the school system successful.

“We have great students that we have the honor of teaching and working with each day,” Cotton said. “In addition, our teachers and staff are dedicated and focused on doing everything they can to support student success. Our teachers set high expectations for themselves and the students in their care. From a school division standpoint, I would have to say that we have high expectations for all students and we have an unwavering belief that all of our students can and will excel.”

Along with elevated achievement standards, Cotton said the division also listens to feedback – and not just from staff and parents.

“We also listen to our students and include their input in many of our decisions because they are our most important customer,” Cotton said.

Some of the skills HCPS teaches alongside content include communication, creative thinking, collaboration and critical thinking.

As kids in both the city and county embark on a new learning adventure, both divisions plan to offer support along their educational journey.

“We want to provide students with the essentials that they need to have the best instructional year possible,” Talley said. “Administrators, teachers and I plan to be highly visible throughout the school year and to be very receptive to communication from parents and the community. We also want to create within students a sense of self-determination and to have them take responsibility for their own learning.”

“We are ready and excited to start the new year,” Cotton said. “Everyone who works for HCPS is focused on ensuring the success of each and every child. We encourage our parents and guardians to reach out to teachers and school administrators if there is anything we can do to help their child be successful as we are all on the same team. Each school in HCPS has a plan to assist students with both remediation or enrichment as needed, but we need to be sure to open the lines of communication between home and school. The more we communicate with each other, the better off our students will be. We want to work as partners with our families to make this the best year yet.”

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