Henry County Honored: Jared Cotton named top school superintendent in Virginia

May 8, 2018
Martinsville Bulletin

Henry County is home to the latest Virginia School Superintendent of the Year. On Tuesday afternoon, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents named Dr. Jared Cotton as the commonwealth’s School Superintendent of the Year for 2018.

Cotton, who serves as superintendent for the Henry County school system, was selected by a panel including the Acting State Superintendent of Public Instruction, members of the Virginia State Board of Education and the presidents of the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia Parent and Teacher Association, the Virginia School Boards Association, the Virginia Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals and the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals.

“I am humbled and honored to have the work we do in Henry County to support student growth and success recognized by leaders across the state,” Cotton said in a statement to the Bulletin. “It is an honor to be named State Superintendent of the Year, but an even bigger honor to be the Superintendent of Henry County Public Schools.”

The award was given out during the Virginia Association of School Superintendents Annual Awards Luncheon, held in Roanoke.

“I am very proud of him,” said Martinsville Superintendent Zeb Talley, who offered his congratulations on the award.

The association listed a number of factors that went into the decision to select Cotton as this year’s award winner.

“By providing for his students’ basic needs of food, clothing and social and emotional welfare and giving them academic opportunities that they would not otherwise have in their small rural community where more than 60 percent live in poverty, Dr. Cotton has inspired his students to have hope which has led to significant achievements,” the statement from the Virginia Association of School Superintendents said. “His leadership skills in communicating with parents and the public and his ability to forge partnerships with community organizations have allowed him to mobilize critical support for his students and engender in them the belief that they can be successful. As a result, [the] Henry County school division has closed the performance gap between disadvantaged students and their peers in reading and math allowing all of the division’s Title I elementary schools to be fully accredited and significantly increasing the school division’s graduation rate.”

All but one school in Henry County was fully accredited for the 2017-18 school year, after results came in from Standards Of Learning scores last fall. That’s up from 12 in 2016-17. Even that school which wasn’t fully accredited, Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School, fell just one-seventh of one percent from meeting the requirements. For full accreditation, a school’s students must achieve an adjusted pass rate of 75-percent in English, which includes reading and writing, and 70-percent in mathematics, science and history and social science. Fieldale-Collinsville missed the benchmark in English, but the school saw a seven-percent increase in reading and a six-percent increase in writing.

Schools across the county saw increases in test scores over the last two years, which state officials accredited to Cotton’s leadership.

“With an emphasis on student engagement and deeper learning, he guided his division toward using more project-oriented and performance-based assessments that captured not just what his students knew, but how they applied their knowledge in a way that more clearly demonstrated their growth and proficiency and better prepared them for their futures,” the association’s statement said, further explaining why Cotton was selected for the award. “His school division is the first in the state to house two New Tech academies, which are part of a national network of schools that promote project-oriented teaching and learning. Today, Henry County serves as a model in Virginia for the leadership and systemic changes that are needed to improve education.”

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