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Strong courses found in Halifax County schools

Halifax County Public Schools has “strong programs” in place for its students regardless of what career path they choose following graduation, but division curriculum needs to be reviewed and revised in all content areas to emphasize reading and writing across the curriculum.

(Download the audit here.)

Those were major findings of the highly-anticipated school curriculum audit for Halifax County Public Schools completed by Southeast Center for Effective Schools and released Friday afternoon.

The focus of the audit was to examine strategies and processes that facilitate the division’s transitioning effectively toward implementation of the integration of Common Core State Standards into Virginia Standards of Learning at both the elementary and secondary levels and to examine the effectiveness of the division’s dual enrollment (DE), Advanced Placement (AP) and academy programs.   

The audit includes 71 findings leading to 53 recommendations with a majority that can be implemented with existing resources.

During the week of Nov. 16, a four-member team from Southeast Center for Effective Schools received documents and reports, performed interviews with 81 employees (duplicated numbers) and conducted observations in 83 Halifax County Public School elementary, middle and high school classrooms, including STEM and equine centers. 

The team identified commendable practices occurring within the school system upon which the division can build for improvement and made recommendations for improving the division’s transition toward integration of Common Core State Standards/Standards of Learning into its practices and curriculum documents.

According to findings in the audit, Southeast Center for Effective Schools recognized that Halifax County students have many opportunities to earn college credits through dual enrollment and advanced placement programs in the county middle and high schools. 

It also credits outgoing Superintendent Paul Stapleton for being responsible for implementing these opportunities when he assumed leadership eight years ago. 

“He brought with him a commitment to raising student achievement, offering students expanded educational opportunities, and enabling students in the division to be better prepared for work and education after graduating from its schools,” the audit stated.

The team however suggested a few fundamental changes that could help Halifax County Public Schools build toward the integrated SOLs. 

“Implementing them will move education in HCPS to the even higher expectations than it currently has for its students,” the curriculum audit stated. 

The team found that teachers or even administrators of Halifax have had little exposure to the Common Core State Standards to even know what it is or how it goes along with the Standards of Learning. 

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. 

The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that young people need for success in college and careers. 

The standards are the result of the combined efforts of the Chief State School 

Officers (CSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices Center. 

They reflect a realization of the global nature of today’s economy and thus, the need to prepare students to compete and succeed in both college and careers.  Their development represents feedback from a broad spectrum of individuals and organizations beyond the educational field. 

They include the views of the general public, teachers, parents, business leaders, states and content area experts. They also mirror educational expectations in high performing nations.   

The national standards were developed specifically for English/Language Arts and mathematics, but also include literacy standards in other content areas.

States may integrate them into their own standards or adopt them as content area literacy standards, according to the audit.  

The team suggested that time be set aside for teachers and administrators investigate what it is and what the new standards mean for them and their students.

According to the audit, the team suggested county public schools revise the current professional development plan. The last time the plan was revised was in 2007. 

Also to create, use and monitor the use of a standardized format of a lesson plan. Currently there is a no standard format or requirement for content in lesson plans.

“This does not extend learning beyond benchmarks and will not prepare students for the integrated SOLs and the goals the division and parents have for their children. Effective lesson plans focus purposeful instruction by using student performance data and linking what tells teachers with a toolkit of instructional strategies and curricular resources. 

“Properly planned lessons ensure continuous student achievement when activities address a variety of students needs, and they include plans to re-teach skills and concepts not yet mastered. Lesson plans enable teachers to raise the bar for teaching and learning. Uniform, consistent lesson plans also facilitate instructional monitoring,” the audit stated.

The curriculum in county public schools needs to be aligned in order to eliminate the learning gaps to ensure that the students are being taught what is being tested. 

Data although is being used from a number of sources should be available for teachers to use to examine student performance. The teacher will be able to adjust instruction to insure that the student understands. The use of the data and formative assessments would ensure that all students benefit from instruction focused on their specific needs.

The team also recommended introducing “lesson study,” when teachers come together and have meaningful conversations. Having discussions and talking through the changes, collaborating about classrooms, and in the end it lends itself through the transition to Virginia’s Common Core State Standards/SOLs, the audit states.

Throughout the study, Halifax County Public Schools were commended for using hands-on educational experiences, understanding the link between high school education and college and career success, working collaboratively and continuing a partnership with local community colleges.