In Remembrance: Memorial Day

May 30, 2010

Memorial Day represents one of those commemorative federal holidays that seems to get lost in meaning for some citizens. We share meals at picnics and barbecues. We open pools for the first time. We mow our grass and watch a little television in the afternoon. Some of us attend memorial services, watch a parade, or buy a poppy to wear in memory of those who served and died.

Unlike Veterans Day which honors all who have provided military service to the United States of America, Memorial Day is about remembering all those who have lost their lives in service to our country.  From the American Revolution to the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, men and women have given the supreme sacrifice. Memorial Day is their day of remembrance.

I remember well from my own youth the most controversial war (labeled a conflict at the time because it was not a declared war) of the 20th century, the Vietnam Conflict. According to History.com, the average age of the 58,000 + killed in military service during the Conflict was 23.2 years. Over 11,000 of those killed were less than 20 years of age.  Today, the average age of those dying in service in Iraq and Afghanistan is closer to 25 years of age according to the New York Times. However, those who have died on average are not long out of high school, college, or away from their first job before they were lost to us in service of our country.

I was raised on stories of World War II by a mother and father who both served in that Great War of the 20th Century. My mother will honor the loss of “brothers and sisters” in arms on May 31 just as she has done for as long as I can remember. She reminds her family every year that Memorial Day is not a holiday of celebration but a day of consecration and remembrance. She reminds us that this is not a day to honor her service but to honor all those who lost the opportunity to start and raise families, hold grandchildren, become college graduates, enjoy a career, argue politics, watch major league baseball, celebrate anniversaries of friends, sing in choirs and grow old watching the world change around them. At age 89, she does not forget that all she has enjoyed since she left the service in 1946 was taken away from so many during that war.

My mother also reminds me why it is important for my generation and her grandchildren to remember that Memorial Day is not about the living but about those who died for the Declaration of Independence- the Constitution- the Bill of Rights of the United States of America. She reminds me that communities of responsibility in this country have sent their young into war over hundreds of years. Our men and women serve the United States of America not just to protect our own nation but to extend that protection to others less fortunate who live in countries where freedom is not just denied but where the basics of humanity we hold dear are threatened and in peril. It’s why we teach our young people about Memorial Day beginning in elementary school.

I hope you will join me in honoring those who have died in military service to our community, state and nation for still…

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below… (J McCrae, 1919)

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2010 Virginia Lottery Super Teacher Award Winner: Analisa Herring

May 24, 2010

On May 24, I attended a recognition ceremony for Albemarle County Public Schools’ latest Virginia Lottery Super Teachers Award winner, Analisa Herring, 4th grade teacher at Brownsville Elementary.  Analisa represents the best of what educators across our county offer to our young people. In chatting with a representative of the Lottery Program, she said, “It’s obvious that something special is going on in Albemarle to have three teachers recognized in the last three years when only eight teachers are recognized each year in Virginia for this award.” I couldn’t agree more. I only wish that we could recognize all the Super Teachers who come to work each day and involve our young people in fabulous learning experiences. I am fortunate to see our quality teachers at work in every school. As superintendent, I am thankful that our children, from the youngest in our pre-school classes to our soon-to-be 2010 graduates, are in such good hands.

Elizabeth Saunders, the parent who nominated Analisa Herring is allowing me to share her nomination letter, one of over a thousand sent to the Virginia Lottery Super Teachers Award Program. Her letter follows:

Committed…Caring…Inspiring…Diligent…Motivating…Passionate…Kind…Dedicated…  These are all words that I would use to describe Analisa Herring, my son’s fourth grade teacher at Brownsville Elementary. Mrs. Herring is an amazing teacher who tirelessly goes above and beyond the call of duty to see that her students get the very best education possible. Her desire to see her students succeed is an inspiration to our entire family.

Mrs. Herring has a true passion for teaching. Her ability to engage her students in a fun and creative class environment is phenomenal. Students are excited about what they are learning when she is teaching. She draws their attention by inventing creative ways of learning. One example of this was our Virginia Regions Project. Each child was involved in producing a commercial, which was filmed by Mrs. Herring, to advertise their particular region of Virginia. The children thought of creative ways to convey their region’s facts. Some danced, some sang, but all were imaginative in expressing ways to encourage television watchers to come to visit their region of Virginia. This was a wonderful way to enhance a geography lesson!

Early in the school year, Mrs. Herring organized a Math Parent Workshop. The purpose of this workshop was to help the parents of her students better understand the current methods of math being taught in class so that we could, in turn, reiterate these methods at home with homework. This helped our son to solidify his confidence and ability to excel in math class. He tends to be a little anxious about learning new material, and Mrs. Herring has oftentimes sent home hand-written sheets of rules, instructions, and examples that have been invaluable to us as parents in assisting our son with his homework.

Mrs. Herring makes herself very available to both students and parents. She offers her time in and outside of the classroom, especially if extra help is needed. She often responds to my emails between the hours of five and six o’clock in the morning, so I know she starts her day very early!

Mrs. Herring is very involved in other areas outside of teaching in the classroom. She is currently working on her Master’s Degree in Math Education, which requires weekly classes and extra studies. She is also a Team Manager for Destination Imagination at Brownsville and is very involved in the production of our school yearbook. Her commitments extend beyond her classroom into our community. Mrs. Herring manages all of this with an ease and a calmness that I admire, while staying true to her own children and family.

Analisa Herring is incredibly deserving of the Super Teacher Award because she is, indeed, super. It is with great pleasure that I nominate her for your very special honor.


Appreciating Albemarle's Great Teachers: Teacher Appreciation Week 2010

May 3, 2010

We celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, May 3-7, 2010 in Albemarle County Public Schools. It is with gratitude that I thank our teachers who bring to our schools dedication, commitment, and care for young people so that each may learn. There has been no time in our nation’s educational history that has been any more challenging to work as a teacher than today. Our teachers educate all young people in what I call our “Statue of Liberty” public schools- learning spaces in which all children who walks through our doors are enrolled with an expectation that they will learn. Thank you Albemarle Teachers!

Our teachers work with children with significant disabilities. They teach young people who do not speak English or who live in significant poverty. It has only been a few decades ago that public schools were not required to even enroll all children or expect them to graduate. Children who lived in poverty were expected to drop out early and go to work, often to help support their families. The number of children who entered the United States and who did not understand English was limited, and of little impact in most schools.  Today, on a daily basis our teachers step up to meet the challenges of working with the most diverse learners ever placed in our classrooms. Despite this, Albemarle’s extraordinary teachers have met this challenge and we now graduate more young people with the highest quality of education ever provided to students leaving our schools. In fact, Albemarle County was one of only fifteen school divisions in Virginia to receive the prestigious Virginia Board of Education Performance Excellence Award in 2010. Thank you, Albemarle Teachers!  

The parent community teachers serve has also changed. We have more single parents and blended families than ever experienced in our schools. We have more families today in which both parents work, making face-to-face communication a more difficult task. At the same time, our teachers are expected to respond during the day, after hours, and on weekends to significant numbers of emails and voicemail messages from parents-the result of relatively new technologies that have added hours to teachers’ workdays. Parents also want to be involved in their child’s education to a far greater degree than ever before in the history of education and they expect the very best from our teachers. To our teachers’ credit, in the most recent Albemarle County government poll of citizens, 92% of our parents indicated they are satisfied or very satisfied with their child’s education. Thank you Albemarle Teachers!   

Learning expectations also have increased dramatically over the last ten years. The prescribed Virginia Standards of Learning were implemented in 1998 and many said our schools will never meet the minimal standard that 70% of our students be proficient on the rigorous state tests used to assess the performance of each student, each school, and each school division. Not only has Albemarle County surpassed these minimal standards but today more than 90% of our students are proficient in all content areas. Thank you Albemarle Teachers!  

As I walk the hallways of schools and visit classrooms or attend performing arts programs, ball games, academic competitions, and visual arts exhibitions, I see the performance portfolio that represents the work of not just our learners, but also the work of our teachers. It is an impressive portfolio of accomplishments that benchmarked against regional, state and national standards places Albemarle County in the company of the best districts we can find. By any standard, our young people perform with top tier peers. This does not happen by chance. Thank you Albemarle Teachers!

Many community members today do not have children in our schools, but many once did. Yesterday’s Albemarle graduates run our local businesses, fill positions of great responsibility at the University of Virginia and in other local nonprofits, serve as elected officials, act as volunteers who give back to this community, and, yes, also teach in our schools.  Our realtors know and appreciate the value of great schools to their slice of Albemarle’s economy. The University of Virginia, public sector agencies, and private sector companies who routinely recruit employees to the area understand the importance of our great school division to their recruitment efforts. In fact, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Chamber of Commerce just recently communicated to our Board of Supervisors that a strong economic vitality plan first begins with support for a strong educational program.  Our teachers do their part, day and out, to make our community a place with a quality of life that caused Forbes magazine to recently rank Albemarle County in their top ten places in America to raise a family. Thank you Albemarle teachers!

I am privileged as superintendent to work with as great a cadre of teachers as one can find anywhere in this nation. Our teachers are dedicated to giving their personal best to the young people they serve. They do so in spite of not receiving a raise in the current year and also not again going into next year. They do so while educating more young people today in our schools than ever with smaller school budgets than they had just two years ago.  They knew when they came into this profession that the challenges would be significant compared to choosing many other professions that pay more and demand less from their employees. Thank you Albemarle teachers!

We should all appreciate our teachers every day of every week because they educate America’s citizens, past, present, and future. Teachers are responsible for democracy continuing to thrive now over hundreds of years in our community, state and nation. Our teachers know that they are not just employees, they are teachers, the most significant profession in this nation. I am proud to call Albemarle’s teachers my colleagues. Our community is honored by their work with our learners.

Thank you Albemarle teachers for a job well done!