Superintendent celebrates successes

Published 11:40 pm Friday, February 8, 2013

At King’s Fork Middle School Friday for his annual State of the Schools address, Superintendent Deran Whitey celebrated the successes of Suffolk’s public schools, while stressing that more hard work lies ahead.

“What did you learn in school today?” was the theme of this year’s event, and Whitney riffed off the usual responses from his daughter to that very question.

Suffolk Public Schools’ Superintendent Deran Whitney delivers the annual State of the Schools address, at King’s Fork Middle School Friday. The event also included a learning fair, where educators and students gave guests a taste of what goes on inside classrooms.

She responds, “Not much, nothing, or perhaps a slight grunt,” Whitney said, adding, “I tell my daughter, ‘That’s not something you tell your dad who happens to be the superintendent!’

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“But, more importantly, I know it’s not true. … I know how hard our teachers work … (to) engage our students.”

Whitney said he was glad to report to the near-packed auditorium that pass rates increased this year for about half of the 33-odd Standards of Learning tests Suffolk Public Schools administered.

But he added, “It’s not enough. We still have work to do.”

Whitney also noted that all three high schools met the benchmark for on-time graduation, despite shortcomings in math that kept King’s Fork and Lakeland high schools from earning full accreditation.

“Be assured, however; with the increased rigor included in the assessments, teachers are increasing rigor in daily lessons, quizzes and tests, and our system-wide assessments,” he said.

Whitney also cited positive news regarding improving reading scores, admirable math results for grades three, four and six, and a constantly narrowing achievement gap for minority and economically disadvantaged students.

He also spoke about how the district is doing more to prepare students for college and careers, and intervening to help struggling students.

“I am here to tell you that we cannot continue to reduce funding or accept funding with strings attached or implement unfunded mandates,” he said of the district’s ongoing budget blues.

But he also said he wants the district to become more competitive with its neighbors for programs offered to students, teacher salaries and student performance.

The district will refine its comprehensive plan this spring, he said, while a national team of educators will visit the school to assess how things are going and where improvements can be made.

The event also included a learning fair outside the school auditorium, where students and educators demonstrated tangible examples of many of the successes Whitney highlighted.

Nansemond River High students, for example, controlled their competition robot, and the CHROME Club at John Yeates Middle School exhibited a 600-watt wind generator they are building to partially power a mobile classroom.

“This is a simulator, before we get them on the big machines,” Pruden Center teacher Shane Vaughan said, explaining an excavation simulator alongside two of his students, Walter Scott and Michael Bryant.

“We get to run various types of heavy equipment. We have a dump truck, backhoes, bulldozers and front-end loaders as well as excavator simulators.”

Beverly Nedab, a human resources manager at Suffolk’s BASF plant, was helping students mix chemicals in bottles to inflate balloons at the Kids’ Lab. “Last year, we helped 682 students conduct experiments in the classrooms,” she said.