Every child is a star in Suffolk’s public schools

Published 12:06 am Sunday, September 13, 2009

The students and staff of Suffolk Public Schools are off and running. The 2009-10 school year is under way. This year promises to be an exciting one as the division continues to build on the successes of 2008-09.

There are many measures for the success of a school division, and Suffolk Public Schools is doing well by most of them. The graduating Class of 2009 received scholarship offers in record amounts. Those students will be attending some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the country. Other graduates will be pursuing the career options of their choice. They all leave Suffolk Public Schools prepared for the next phase of their life journey.

Our students’ performance on statewide Standards of Learning assessments continues to improve, enabling the division to celebrate having all schools fully accredited for the second consecutive year. Our students excelled academically at all grade levels, including the first group of students to complete year one of our new international baccalaureate program.

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Students were also successful in non-classroom activities, with success in many sports, not the least of which was the state boys’ basketball championship won by King’s Fork High School. Yes, much has been accomplished. There is much of which to be proud and much to celebrate, but much remains to be done.

While we celebrate our recent successes, we must also acknowledge the challenges that remain. Full accreditation at all schools is exciting, but it’s just the beginning. Graduation rates must increase. Dropout rates must decrease. The percentage of students performing at grade level or above must improve.

We must not be satisfied until all of our students – not just a majority of them – are successful. We have grown as a school division. We have developed skills and accumulated resources that will allow us to take our students and our schools to the next level of excellence. Now it is time to take that step.

To that end, this year’s administrative retreat focused on empowering school leaders to turn our schools into professional learning communities where differentiated instruction and responsive teaching are the norm. Our leadership teams have accepted that old paradigms will have to be tossed out and replaced. We will not continue doing things in the same way they have been done, because those results are no longer adequate.

I would be remiss if I did not comment on the impact of our current economic situation. No one has been unaffected by this recession. Suffolk Public Schools sustained a $9.6-million reduction in state and local operating funds. A portion of that reduction has been offset by three streams of federal stimulus dollars. The problem is that those stimulus dollars are not permanent funding sources. We must continue to plan for the day when those dollars are not available.

Just this week, we learned of a new set of state budget reductions. While it does not appear that these reductions will have a major impact on this school year, some of the decisions simply delay local impact until the 2010-11 school year.

We must plan now to safeguard student instruction. We will continue to seek out and implement cost-cutting measures that do not negatively impact classroom instruction. At the same time, there may be programs or initiatives in which we must invest to keep moving forward.

I unabashedly acknowledge that the tasks before us are ones we cannot achieve without the help of parents and other stakeholders. To that end, we solicit your support.

Remember our school division motto: Every Child a Star…Together, We Help Them Shine! Come join us, because it takes all of us to ensure that our students will be successful.