I want to thank my colleagues on the School Board for the trust they have shown in electing me as the 2015 chair. I appreciate the confidence you have bestowed upon me as this board finishes out its current term keenly focused on the same priorities that we established three years ago. Before I speak more about those priorities and our goals for this year, I want to thank Mrs. Smith for her service as chair the past year. I am thankful to have served beside you as vice chair. Your wisdom and guidance have prepared me for this leadership role I assume tonight.
Dianne, you brought a new set of eyes to the school board, and we each have appreciated the insight provided through the many roles you have held during your years as a teacher, principal, central office administrator and now, School Board member. I think I can speak for the whole board when I say your vision and foresight, and commitment to children, is greatly appreciated.
As I look back on the last three years, I am thankful for each of you and the unique talents and gifts you bring to this Board. Our differences and backgrounds make us a strong Board, and we have learned to lean on one another’s strengths for the good of the whole. The challenges we have faced could have stopped the progress of other boards, but we worked together to carry the workload and push ahead.
I know this year will bring new challenges, but we are ready.
Now is the time to meet the goals we identified three years ago as important to improving our school division. Much work has been done to get us to this point – providing resources, providing tools, providing training. We are poised, and we are ready.
This year should be about fine-tuning our efforts to meet our goals.
I would be remiss not to acknowledge the hard work of a dedicated staff – from bus drivers to support staff to teachers to administrators to those who work in Central Office – that continue to put children first. Your work has gotten us to the point where we are, and we greatly appreciate you.
We know it has not been easy.
We know that you have been asked to try new things. Some of you have stepped out of your comfort zone to meet and overcome challenges. You have worked hard and have been asked to do a lot. And you have persevered and met every challenge because you are professionals but more importantly because you care so deeply for the children you teach each day.
As I look ahead into 2015, I see a commitment to focusing on the priorities that this Board has set during the last three years. This will not be a year with new initiatives but a year of focus and fine-tuning.
First and foremost, our Board remains committed to the safety of our students and staff. Through our work with the inter-agency safety team, improved safety drills, upgrading of our aging bus fleet, providing interventions and supports so students make positive choices, and our pursuit of stop-arm cameras for our buses, we have demonstrated an ability to meet parent expectations for safe, supportive and nurturing learning environments. The school renovations overwhelmingly approved by county voters in 2013 will yield safer school buildings as well and enhance our efforts.
Our Board also remains committed to effective and efficient operations. We have taken a different approach to budgeting and operations and have proven that we are willing to look at new ways to do business. As a result, we have taken steps like the outsourcing of custodial services and the installation of a new GPS program to help create better bus routes that we believe will result in more money being put directly into the classroom.
Transparency continues to be a focus as we share our online checkbook with the public and provide access to our work sessions online.
Our Board’s commitment to improving citizen involvement in our work will continue to grow and strengthen. We worked together to improve the School Board Advisory Committees by expanding membership, holding members accountable for participation, updating bylaws, and taking more active roles with these committees. We added a Citizen Budget Advisory Committee to assist us in the evaluation and allocation of resources to ensure a high quality, effective and efficient school division. This group advised the Board for the first time during the last budget cycle, and they are poised to provide even greater guidance and input this year.
Our Board worked hard over the last several years to strengthen our internal committee work, and last week we sent the Board of Supervisors a proposal to strengthen our joint committees - Budget & Audit, Benefits, and Liaison. Schools play an important role in the community revitalization efforts, and we are hopeful that a keen focus on revitalization by the liaison committee will keep us working as one team toward this common goal. We have also suggested expanding the work of the benefits committee to discuss all compensation because we must maintain a top quality workforce, and we must stay competitive in the region.
Our Board has made a commitment to a 5 Year Financial Plan to reduce class sizes, increase elective offerings and provide parity in opportunities for all children in Chesterfield. We will continue to reduce class sizes and provide support based on individual needs of schools. We have had to make difficult choices to achieve these goals, but we have stayed focused on meeting the needs of our classrooms first, and we will continue to keep this focus.
The five-year budget plan includes compensation increases for our staff, and we will work with staff on a compensation study so we know exactly where Chesterfield County Public Schools stands. Attracting and retaining a top quality workforce will continue to be a focus for our Board.
Our commitment to the health and wellness of our students and employees will continue to be a priority as we recognize the importance of educating the whole child. This year the Wellness Council presented recommendations to our Board. From those recommendations our Board set priorities of focusing on school start times that would better serve students, the development of social emotional learning curriculum, the hiring of a wellness coordinator, establishment of a wellness council, and the continued implementation of wellness-related activities in the classroom.
Our commitment last year to anytime-anywhere learning will continue to grow. Our middle school students received Chromebooks this year, and our high school students will receive Chromebooks next year. The classroom has expanded for students as they can truly learn anytime and anywhere; empowering students to take a greater role in their own learning and increasing student engagement. We are doing this to better prepare students for the real world they will face after graduating from high school.
Our Board will continue to focus on the needs of middle school students as we recognize what a critical time this is for our youth. We recognize that middle school education in general must evolve in order to offer the most relevant education possible, and we will continue to work towards excellence in this area.
And we will continue to work with those elected to represent us in the General Assembly to make sure education is focused on what’s important: preparing students for their futures, not overtesting them or putting one more hurdle in front of them or in front of our teachers. It is up to us – parents, grandparents and education experts – to chart the course ahead for public education. We must remain a constant voice in our community about what our children and teachers need.
As you can see, we have had a busy 3 years. Chesterfield County Public Schools doesn’t look the same as it used to. Not many school divisions do these days. That’s not a bad thing. Progress is good.
We know teachers, principals and all staff have felt the pressure and anxiety that comes with change. New technology, new curriculum, new learning strategies that have replaced older teaching materials, outdated curriculum and technology that don’t meet today’s challenges. It can seem overwhelming at times. We want teachers to know that we have heard you, and our Board is committed to making this a year not about new things or change, but a year focused on fine-tuning what is in front of us.
We have come a long way, and the changes that have been made, though painful at first, will make us a more efficient and more effective school system and with time the changes that have been made will reduce stress for our staff and increase learning opportunities for our children.
So now that the tools are in place, teachers and staff will have the time to fine tune their work … to take what we have done to this point, make sure the dots have been connected and provide students with the keys to their future.
Working together, we can succeed. Working together, we will succeed.
Our children’s future depends on it. Our future depends on it.