State of the schools called ‘good’

Published 10:49 pm Tuesday, April 1, 2014

In his annual State of the Schools address, the superintendent of Suffolk Public Schools declared they were “good,” before adding, “They can be better,” and appealing for “your support, your willingness and your commitment to prepare every child to meet his potential.”

Deran Whitney spoke to guests at the downtown Hilton Garden Inn, where a learning fair followed in an adjoining room.

The theme of this year’s event was “The Five C’s: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity and compassion,” which Whitney addressed alongside progress toward the district’s comprehensive plan’s five goals.

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The goals: closing achievement gaps, providing a safe and nurturing environment, providing strong leadership and efficient operations, advancing academics by improving teaching skills with professional development, and strengthening collaboration with stakeholders and increasing parents and community satisfaction.

Whitney said that 13 of 19 schools being fully accredited is “not good enough,” adding that math was the common denominator and additional support was needed.

New Standards of Learning assessment formats were no excuse, he said, and the district understood that it needs to teach differently, focusing more on problem-solving and increasing rigor.

“However, we also recognize that the system in which public schools are evaluated is flawed,” Whitney said. “One test on one day does not sum up a district or a school.”

He noted the General Assembly’s support for decreasing how many SOL tests students take, saying it would allow for more teaching, as well as its vote to delay giving schools letter grades based on the assessments.

For each school, improvement plans are addressing needs highlighted in data, he said, and external review teams are working to improve schools missing full accreditation.

A new computerized tool — Measure of Progress Assessment — is improving teacher understanding of students’ academic level, he said, and retired or pre-service teachers were being hired to remediate students after school.

Whitney said he is “very pleased” that all three high schools met or exceeded the graduation benchmark, and he cited measures to decrease out-of-school suspensions.

Central office-based instructional staff on academic review teams are visiting schools and/or principals thrice annually to ensure adequate support, Whitney said, and new financial software is saving money on paper, check supplies, toner cartridges and postage.

“This school year, Suffolk Public Schools once again received district accreditation from AdvancED, the most rigorous school accreditation organization in the United States,” Whitney touted.

The focus for much of the district’s professional development, he said, is “to ensure that the written, tested and taught curriculum is aligned and remains at the forefront, with an emphasis on increasing rigor.”

Schools are reaching out into the community, he said, including with the new community service requirement for graduation.

“Our business partnerships are stronger than ever, with more than 160 businesses and organizations partnering with our schools,” Whitney said.

School Board Chairman Michael Debranski said the learning fair had helped make the State of the Schools event as a success.

“It’s one activity that the superintendent and the staff put together so the community can see what we are actually doing, rather than just telling them,” he said.

Debranski said he was pleased to see two elected state officials among the guests — delegates Chris Jones and Rick Morris — as well as more city officials.

“I’m glad the city councilors are here,” Debranski said on the morning after the School Board’s budget, seeking an extra $3.5 million from the city for raises, was released to them. “I know we don’t always agree with everything.”