Apr 08

School and PTA Partnerships

Carole Kihm is principal of Longfellow Middle School in Falls Church, Virginia. She is our guest blogger for this post.

As we celebrate National Principals’ month and what makes schools successful, I reflect on our very talented and dedicated Parent Teacher Association (PTA.) Our motto of “inspiring excellence” in all we do has a direct relationship to the incredible partnership we have with the PTA at our school. Our PTA consists of parents and staff working collaboratively at Longfellow Middle School. The parents support our staff in numerous ways including fund raising, volunteering, and programming.

I firmly believe that the work between our staff and the PTA directly impacts our school’s mission, which promotes inspiring excellence in learning through academics, life skills, and service to others, as well as supporting our vision of welcoming diversity, embracing challenge, encouraging creativity, supporting environmental stewardship, and celebrating personal growth for every member of our Longfellow family.

Here are just a few examples of our strong relationship:

Our PTA Hospitality Committee provides a monthly celebration of lunch or dinner for our faculty and staff. This activity goes a long way in supporting a warm, welcoming, and positive culture for all. Our teachers are so appreciative and always make special efforts to reach out to our parents through involving them in classroom activities, class field trips,  individual or group parent/ teacher conferences, and parent team coffees.

  • Through the generosity of our PTA, many school programs and activities are funded, such as $10,000 grants that support our remediation and enrichment programs. Our PTA pays for students to have another set of textbooks at home. They have also purchased mobile labs for our classrooms and assignment notebooks for every child.
  • Members of our PTA provide an incredible amount of support to our Eco-Action team and last year we received the Green Flag from the National Wildlife Federation. In order to receive the prestigious “Green Flag”, a school needs to have “environmental stewardship” in the mission and vision statements as well as in the School Improvement Plan. Our parents have spent countless hours assisting our students and teachers in creating a Rain Garden, Vegetable Garden, and Butterfly Garden. Parent volunteers were also instrumental in establishing a robust recycling program as well. Parents also worked with our custodians in completing an “energy” pathway whereby we reduced the amount of lighting and heating /air-conditioning use. Because of all these efforts, our school was given this award.
  • Our parents are totally in charge of our school beautification of the grounds program as well as transporting our unused food from lunches to our local food pantry. They also established a “Longfellow Love” program and collect gift certificates so our neediest families can purchase extra food and clothing for their families.
  • We have collaborated with our parents on providing programs such as our International Parents’ Network, ADHD Parent Resource Group, an anti-bullying program, and our “How to Thrive at Longfellow” event which is designed as a joint effort of our PTA and counseling department.

Words cannot describe the immense gratitude I have for our outstanding PTA. They are tremendous leaders with excellent ideas and I thank each and every PTA member from the bottom of my heart for their effort in supporting excellence in our school.

Mar 08

Harness the Power of Social Media

In today’s environment, social media is one of the most powerful tools an administrator can utilize to keep in contact with the community. This post comes to us from VASSP Board Member Jeffrey Carroll, Principal of Warhill High School in the Williamsburg-James City Division.

Contributed by Jeffrey Carroll, Ph.D. & Shelly Cihak, Ed.D.


As school administrators, we often see the “dark side” of social media through situations that arise on the disciplinary side of our jobs. However, we must not let the negative stereotype of social media prevent us from harnessing the positive aspects of this powerful mode of communication. When we arrived at our current school, we viewed social media as a tool for helping us communicate with our school community – especially as a way to meet our students on their own virtual playground. As a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) school, our students are encouraged to engage in digital learning, something that we as administrators are embracing as well. Here is a taste of the strategies that have worked in our digital community:

  • Twitter – Through the use of this platform, we have effectively increased our interactions with students. Each administrator has established a Twitter profile, noted on all of our business contact/communication tools. We actively tweet resources for faculty, important updates for students and families, as well as respond to questions. For example, a student who forgot the arrival time for graduation was able to tweet at us and receive the correct information to ensure an on-time arrival. We use hashtags to brand our school (#powerinthepride), foster a digital PLC amongst the faculty (#whspd16), as well as to further a host of school/classroom initiatives. Our faculty has even used Twitter to provide students a real-world audience for student work samples.
  • YouTube – More than just a place to watch funny videos, YouTube provides an awesome digital classroom. For example, physics experiments are videotaped, transitioned to slow-motion and then posted to YouTube…allowing students the opportunity to reflect on both process and product. Fine arts productions are posted to allow students to reflect on their own performance, as well as provide opportunities for distant friends and family to participate as virtual audience members.
  • Student Communications Team – In order to ensure that our digital communication efforts are effective, we went to the masters – the students. Currently in its second year, our Student Communications Team works to disseminate information and manage the school’s digital image. This three-person team is selected through an application process and trained by our school division’s PR team. Paid a small stipend, this team manages our school’s website, school Twitter and Facebook accounts, established a school YouTube channel and is working to extend the presence to Instagram and other relevant platforms. While a faculty member has oversight of each of the platforms to ensure appropriate and relevant communication, our students are truly transforming our school communications.

Through modeling and guiding our students, we help foster digital responsibility in our school community and hope that these valuable lessons will stick with our students as they move into their post-secondary options and help broaden the reach of our school community.


Feb 19

Crossover Day at the General Assembly

Today we have a post from one of the VASSP Board members, Dr. Mark Makovec, Principal, Northside Middle School, Norfolk Division.

As you are aware, VASSP is one of the premier principal organizations in the country because of

support from strong members like yourself. We are fortunate to have Bet Neale, who is a full-time staff

employee and a registered lobbyist at the Virginia General Assembly. It is important to note that Bet

attends each meeting of the Virginia Board of Education and she, along with members of the VASSP

Board of Directors, advocate strongly for middle and high school administrators. Currently, the General

Assembly is in full session and there are several bills that we, as advocates for education reform, must

be aware of as the General Assembly moves towards passing bills that can and will significantly impact

our profession. The General Assembly consists of men and women who may have no experience in

education and it is our duty to advocate for our profession because we are the experts at our craft and

our opinions regarding potential bills must be heard by our elected officials who vote on these bills.

The first bill, SB 368, seeks to add more authority for the Board of Education. In 2013, Governor

McDonnell proposed creating the Opportunity Education Institute (OEI) which would enable the state to

take over schools with chronic challenges. In 2014, OEI was ruled unconstitutional, however, the

Department of Education has been working to better target school improvement efforts and provide

individualized technical assistance, professional development, and support challenged schools. This bill

would require chronically and persistently failing school to create corrective actions steps and, if

deemed inadequate, an alternative action plan would be required by the Board of Education.

Additionally, this bill may potentially expand the board’s authority to accredit schools on a multi-year

basis according to the flexibility granted to the states in the new federal law, Every Student Succeeds Act

(ESSA). Schools that lack full accreditation would be allowed accreditation on a multi-year basis, but

only if the Board of Education approves the submitted action plan.

The second bill, SB 573, may impact how the Board of Education requires licensure regulation

for Career and Technical courses. This bill may allow the Board to amend its licensure regulations to

provide temporary, part-time teaching permits for qualified professionals, which would assist filling

teaching shortages in career and technical education. The premise of this bill would assist schools to get

more highly qualified professionals in key industries into classrooms throughout the Commonwealth.

This opportunity would potentially expose students to a variety of career pathways and connect them to

the workforce.

The third bill, SB 336 and HB 995, seeks to facilitate the redesign of high school by directing the

Board of Education to develop a “Profile of a Graduate” which will identify core skills and competencies

all high school graduates in Virginia should possess when they graduate. This bill would require the

Board of Education to update graduation requirements to provide flexibility in how students develop

and demonstrate the identified competencies as determined in the “Profile of a Graduate.” This may

include a student’s ability to earn credit through traditional courses, internships, externships, work

experience, credentialing programs, and both project based assignments and testing. The design of the

bill may create a more nuanced and practical pathway to college and career readiness, while

maintaining high expectations and rigor. The projected timeline for this bill may impact freshmen

entering the 2018-2019 school year.

The final bill, HB 894, related to the SOL Innovation Reform Committee Composition. This bill

would add more representation from the business community, a two-year higher education institution

and a 4 year high education institution to the SOL Innovation Reform Committee. The bill would also

stagger the terms of members of the committee to provide continuity in leadership.

It is imperative, we as educational leaders, take time to fully research and understand the

potential impact how current bills in the General Assembly may impact schools across the

Commonwealth of Virginia. We understand how taxing our profession is on a day-to-day basis, and our

intention is not to ask more from you as we are all stretched to our full capacity. We must have

foresight as leaders and continue our advocacy for our profession and this starts with each of us making

a concerted effort to meet with the delegates that represent our interests in the General Assembly.

Please take time to research the aforementioned bills and e-mail or contact your local representatives to

share your thoughts, ideas and concerns.

Feb 16

Profile of a Virginia Graduate Bill

On Friday, February 12, our Commonwealth continued in an exciting process that will ultimately lead to the crafting of our new “Profile of a Virginia Graduate.”  In a discussion facilitated by WestEd’s Dr. Becky Smerdon and introduced by Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Steve Staples and VDOE’s Chief Academic Officer Dr. Billy Haun, representatives from a host of organizations, including VASSP, offered perspectives.  Throughout the half-day summit, those ambassadors, from the business community and community colleges to classroom teachers and school board members, spoke enthusiastically about what skills our schools should be most vested in as we ready young people for college, the workplace, and citizenship.

In reviewing several profile prototypes developed in both the Old Dominion and across the nation, discussants began with consensus that schools must, of course, continue to invest in readying students for post-secondary education through the development of deep content knowledge.  Quickly, the group coalesced in agreeing that our function, however, went well beyond that.  A new global and ever-changing economy also demands the establishment of personal career pathways and the refinement of skills integral to workplace success, from collaboration and communication to critical thinking and creativity.  The working group also agreed that we must help students be better prepared to be active participants in the democratic practice, from voting and civic engagement to community service and giving of oneself to others.

Great time and care were invested in helping to begin the process of developing measurable and operational definitions of these important skills.  In keeping with the work of the Governor’s reform and innovation committee, the group embraced the notion that traditional multiple choice assessments cannot give us the rich and meaningful measures secured through rigorous, real-world performance assessments, already in use in a number of school systems in our state.  Identifying such exemplars would be key, the group concluded, in helping all 132 divisions adopt such innovative measures.  The use of qualitative research methodology, as well as traditional quantitative approaches, was also discussed.

A subsequent working session will be held upon review of the day’s notes by Dr. Smerdon, and we will publish that date as soon as it is announced.

As we all know as educators and secondary school administrators, the importance of this process certainly cannot be overstated.  Decisions made in the process will ultimately guide graduation requirements; determine how we assess mastery of requisite skills; and designate what K-12 education, particularly in the high schools, will look like in the decades to come.  As always, if you have input you wish to share, you are encouraged to contact us here at VASSP.


Feb 10

Advocating for Our Profession is not an Optional Thing

The General Assembly has been extremely busy this session. With the Governor’s focus on education during this upcoming year, the representatives in the house and the senate have been quick to take up that calling. HERE is a link to VASSP’s blog on happenings at General Assembly, Capital Issues. In it, our full time lobbyist, Bet Neal, goes over the laundry list of things the General Assembly is considering. She also includes links to the actual bill, so you can read for yourself what is trying to be passed into law.

I would call special attention to a few of these proposed bills. SB 458 deals with making it mandatory to examine alternatives to suspension before a suspension is issued. read the words carefully. HB 389 would allow parents to establish an educational savings account based on the per pupil expenditure. Parents could then use this money for private school tuition. And, as there has been for the past few years, thee are several bills regarding home school students participating in public school activities, including sports.

As a school leader, we have so much that is piled on our plates. We all know the list. SOL scores, student achievement, special education, parental concerns. the list is seemingly endless at times. There doesn’t seem like there is any spot to place one more thing. Yet, I am going to make a case for adding on more thing. Advocacy for our profession, and our schools, staff and students, is something you need to find a spot for. right now, there are men and women, elected officials, who have no experience running a school, teaching in a classroom or dealing with the myriad of issues we deal with. The stories they hear are from parents and other community members who have a very different perspective than an educator. If that is all they hear, then there is no one to blame but ourselves. Take 10 minutes, write your representative an e-mail, express your concerns over these bills. Better yet, offer to meet with them. Invite them to your school. Take this time to take back the conversation about public education and the best way to perform our important task. If you don’t tell the story, some else will.

Jan 27

VASSP Member Recipient of Milken Award

Amber Dortch is the Principal of Hugo A. Owens Middle School in the Chesapeake Division. She is also a VASSP member and as of December 11, she is also among an elite group of educators recognized for promoting excellence and innovation at their schools. Mrs. Dortch was selected as the 41st Virginian educator to receive a Milken Educator Award. The surprise announcement was made at Hugo A. Owens Middle School by Secretary of Education Anne Holt, Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Steve Staples and Milken Family Foundation Senior Vice President Jane Foley.

Hugo A. Owens posted a 10 point gain in reading and a six point gain in mathematics. Mrs. Dortch is recognized as a leader who inspires her teachers and students and provides a culture where is innovation is the norm. Congratulations to Mrs. Dortch!

Jan 26

And So It Begins…


The Virginia general Assembly is back in action, and it did not take long for a bill to get onto the VASSP radar. This particular bill is an amendment to Code of Virginia statutes  §§ 22.1-277, 22.1-277.04, and 22.1-277.05, which you can access by clicking on the hyperlinks. Specifically, the amendment reads:

Students may be suspended or expelled from attendance at school for sufficient cause; however, a student may only be suspended after all feasible alternatives to suspension have been considered and in no cases may sufficient cause for suspensions include only instances of truancy.

While on the surface, this amendment, like so many other amendments and bills that come from governing officials, seems innocuous enough. But some deeper reflection on the wording of the amendment reveals some cause for concern.

First and foremost, I don’t think that there is an administrator that is not in favor of an alternative to suspension. I would venture to say that the vast majority of school systems ion Commonwealth have some  form of suspension alternatives. I think most administrators would agree that if they are not in school we can’t provide quality instruction and there is very little learning taking place. But there are other words in  the proposed amendment that are much more troubling. Specifically the words “all” and “feasible”, which add an entirely different context to the amendment. Dr. Roger E. Jones, Dean of the School of Education, Leadership Studies, and Counseling and a member of the VFEL Faculty, said it best. When asked about the proposed amendment, Jones’ comment was, “Who determines feasible and when does all become ALL?”. Feasible for a parent or an advocate is something completely different than feasible for a school administrator. When it comes to “all” that is a pretty large and inclusive word. Can any administrator really consider ALL alternatives to a suspension?

You can rest assured that VASSP will continue to track this bill and offer suggestions for improving it. As a VASSP member, it is critically important that your voice is heard as well. Contact your state representatives and voice your concern over this amendment. And be sure to check the VASSP website frequently for updates on the General Assembly.

Jan 18

VASSP January Board Meeting

The Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals (VASSP) held their first board meeting of the new year today, January 18, 2016. As usual, the agenda was full and the topics were varied.
Part of the day was spent discussing possible sites for upcoming state conferences. If you have never attended a VASSP state conference, make plans now to attend this summer’s event in Williamsburg. It is a fantastic professional development opportunity that will benefit you and your school.
Other items on the agenda included an update on possible general assembly bills that can have an effect on our profession. The board also discussed member recruitment. This is a standard item on the agenda for each meeting, as it is the lifeblood of any organization. Our board members work very hard to recruit new members for a variety of reasons. The most important one though is the impact our numbers have when to comes to influencing the decisions being made by the General Assembly. Our full time government relations director Bet Neale updates the board on a regular basis so that we can inform our members.
Other reports include the Executive Directors Report, Regional Director’ reports, Principal’s Award Committee report, Virginia Student Council Associations report and the Virginia Foundation for Educational Leadership (VFEL) report. For more information on VFEL, we have a newly launched website at www.vfel.org.
For more information on how the VASSP board serves you, its members, contact your Regional Director.

Dec 15

ESSA Has Passed, No More NCLB. Now What?

December 9th, 2015, was a big day for education. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed by the Senate on a 85-12 vote. It was to President Barack Obama, who signed the bill into law on December 10th . The last remnants of the extremely unpopular No Child Left Behind Law have been swept away. Everyone cheered and exchanged high fives. Now what? While the passing of ESSA is an exciting event, there is still much to be done. To begin with, here are some highlights of the bill:

  • States will have to report accountability plans to the federal government.
  • Proficiency on tests, English language learners and graduation rates are still going to be important measures at the local level.
  • Accountability systems must have at least four indicators, including three academic and one basically of the state’s choosing. High schools would have to include graduation rates in the indicators.
  • Only 1% of special education students could be given an alternative test.
  • States would be required to adopt “challenging” academic standards. This could be the Common Core State Standards but it is not required.

These are just a few of the highlights. The bill itself is over 1000 pages long (you can access it HERE). One thousand pages of legislation that will be coming our way sooner rather than later. So, I come back to the original question. Now what?

Like so many laws that are passed, there will be months (if not years) of wading through each and every proposition and section. We will try and interpret what each of these sections mean and how they affect state and local school divisions. Then we will look at these interpretations and try and figure out how to apply them to each individual school. The long term effects of ESSA, I would venture to guess, won’t be felt for a year or longer.

There are several important notes for school leaders to be aware of. States are authorized to reserve up to 3% of Title II funds to provide support for school leaders. This can take the form of leadership academies or some other program to prepare school leaders. Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) would officially go away, as would the “highly qualified teacher” designation. The requirement under the School Improvement Grants to remove the principal of lower performing schools in order to receive federal dollars has also been erased. States would be required to take over schools, after no more than four years, that continue to underperform. States could opt to remove the principal, take over the school or convert it to a charter school.

The piece on accountability is going to be especially interesting as it unfolds. While those on the SOL Innovation Committee continue to do good work revising the Standards of Learning here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, there are other things that need to be remembered. While tests are being removed, accountability is not. So how will teachers be held accountable in an area of reduced federal government involvement and fewer SOL tests? What will that look like in different divisions across the state? How will we, as a Commonwealth, determine low performing schools and more importantly, how will we assist those schools? These are just a few of the many questions that are bound to arise as ESSA begins the implementation process. I doubt there are many people sorry to see NCLB go. But there is still a lot of work left to be done.


VASSP Sponsors Assistant Principal Insitute

IMG_0672 (2)On Wednesday, October 29, VASSP sponsored an Assistant Principal Institute. The institute was held in Williamsburg, VA, at the Doubletree Hotel. There were over 40 participants from around the Commonwealth. Janice Case, former VASSP Board Member and State Coordinator, conducted the workshop. Mrs. Case is now a trainer and facilitator for NASSP and the National Association of School Leadership (NISL).
Below is a picture of Assistant Principal Tammy Houk (a VASSP Board Member), Assistant Principal of the Year for the Commonwealth of Virginia Brian Haughinberry and Janice Case, NASSP facilitator.

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