State of the schools ‘great’

Published 9:55 pm Thursday, November 3, 2016

Hundreds of community leaders heard about the state of Suffolk Public Schools — and got to witness some of its students in action — at the annual State of the Schools Breakfast and Learning Fair Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn Suffolk Riverfront.

“I can confidently say that the state of Suffolk Public Schools is great,” Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney told the crowd of about 330.

Whitney shared results of accreditation and graduation rates, a parent survey and the system’s goals for the next year and touted the two new schools on track to open in the fall of 2018, helping to eliminate overcrowding in the North Suffolk area, particularly at John Yeates Middle School.

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He also gave a preview of his budget priorities: Maintain competitive teacher salaries, decrease class sizes and provide more professional development for instructional staff.

Guests also enjoyed demonstrations by students in the Learning Fair, where students demonstrated everything from how to determine the type of simulated blood to the models they built of various architectural styles.

Whitney said the demonstrations were examples of “problem-based learning,” where students learn about a subject through the experience of solving an open-ended problem.

Addressing students’ performance on Standards of Learning assessments, Whitney shared that the pass rate for eight of the 11 combined SOL assessments by subject and grade level increased for Suffolk Public Schools.

Seven of the district’s 11 elementary schools earned full accreditation, he said. One was partially accredited, and three were denied.

John Yeates Middle School remains fully accredited, while the remaining three middle schools are partially accredited. And all three high schools are fully accredited this year, with King’s Fork High School showing enough improvement from last year to make that happen.

“It’s important to know that we dig even deeper into our data when we are considering how we can best meet our students’ needs,” Whitney said. “We have a very diverse student population, and we are committed to serving every student who walks through our doors.”

Whitney also invited those present to be part of the schools’ improvement, whether as a volunteer tutor or mentor, guest speaker or planning committee.

“We are committed to providing the knowledge, skills and experiences that students need in order to be college or career ready,” Whitney said.

In addition, he thanked many groups at the breakfast — City Council members, School Board members, the city manager and school staff — for their “commitment to make Suffolk Public Schools a strong, wonderful school division.”