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            How does any organization begin the process of renewal or change? How do you get stakeholders involved in the process of improvement? Many people would respond that the road to success is filled with dips and curves, bumps, and unexpected challenges. Although the notion “results speak for themselves” may apply in some cases, the road to academic success is somewhat of a twisted and unpredictable process.         

            During my first summer in Rappahannock, July of 2013, I held an administrative retreat. During this retreat, I shared results of our state testing program and we began those very important discussions such as, “What makes a school system great?” Agreement was unanimous. Rappahannock County Public Schools represent more than just test scores, in fact we are a unique organization that has pledged to offer our students experiences that focus on career readiness, setting goals, and becoming life-long learners. We wanted an instruction program that was rigorous, thought provoking, and one that offered authentic learning experiences for the students. We knew disaggregating our data was the key to unraveling areas of weakness and building upon our strengths.

            When the scores were released in September of 2013, declaring that Rappahannock County Elementary School would be “accredited with warning in mathematics,” a division-wide team was established as part of the training requirement from the Virginia Department of Education. With the first visit from the Office of School Improvement not scheduled until February, the team took it upon ourselves to discuss and review our processes and programs. Meetings were held during teacher planning periods, after school, and even early mornings. Teachers participated in professional development activities designed to assist in the pacing of lessons, reviewing of the state “blueprints”, and in the enhancement of lessons through the use of authentic activities. We developed benchmark assessments to correlate results and developed predictor tests.

            The school improvement process brought additional changes such as length of class periods, lesson plan formats, and additional classroom observations. The school improvement process included working closely with a School Improvement contractor, assigned by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). Through the support of VDOE, the administrative team was able to narrow the focus and begin the process of “alignment” at all levels of the math curriculum.

            The school improvement process did not stop there. Rappahannock County Elementary school teachers will tell you first-hand just how intense this process has been! No stone was left unturned last year and the staff gallantly rose to the challenge, implementing a vast amount of changes in very short order to support our students academically.

                        Though not in school improvement, accreditation and federal accountability also hinged on math scores at the high school. When professional development sessions were offered, the high school administration responded proactively by attending each of these sessions. It is this type of pro-active thinking that leads a school down the road of success.

            Well, the results have come in for fiscal year 2014 and our school division is very proud! The elementary school is fully accredited having brought those math scores up and maintained proficient scores in reading. We are also very happy to report a dramatic increase in mathematics test scores, rising from 61% to 82% at the high school!

            Yes, the road to success has been difficult but each and every person employed at the school system had a hand in seeing these results come to fruition. It was no easy task to be among the 17% of school divisions making full accreditation status, but we will not stop here. We know that as standards increase, we must accept the challenge and find yet another pathway or road to maintain success. Since the improvement process has been completed and the ground work has been laid, we hope the next road to success will be paved!

                                                            Dr. Donna Matthews, Superintendent of Schools

6 Schoolhouse Road | Washington, VA 22747