Presently, four schools in Danville are accredited: Forest Hills Elementary, Park Avenue Elementary, Schoolfield Elementary, and Galileo High School. The remaining schools — E.A. Gibson Elementary, G.L.H. Johnson Elementary, Woodberry Hills Elementary, O.T. Bonner Middle, Westwood Middle and George Washington High School — are Accredited with Conditions. Woodrow Wilson Intermediate is a new school with no basis for a rating to date.

Recently, the state released Standards of Learning test scores. School accreditation ratings will be released by the Virginia Department of Education on Sept. 26 and will be based on the 2018-19 SOL performance.

The news for Danville Public Schools is both good and bad, with most schools making modest to dramatic improvements in math performance while others saw decreased performance in English despite the areas of growth.

Although individual schools demonstrated growth and declines in performance, no school, with the exceptions of Forest Hills Elementary and Galileo High School, demonstrated enough growth to meet the accreditation standards of 70 percent in math and 75 percent in reading.

Theoretically, the solution to improving school performance is rather simple. It requires the implementation of high quality instructional strategies across all schools and classrooms utilizing research-based instructional strategies in all classrooms. The challenge is applying this theory to practice by providing the necessary resources, including time, professional development and changes in school climate and culture.

In anticipation of both declines and improvement in performance, we have taken specific measures at the division and school level to address performance including:

Instruction Department Restructuring

» Reconfiguring the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Academic Officer position to ensure greater support for teaching and learning at the school and classroom levels by transforming the work of central office.

» Enhancing and expanding instructional leadership capacity, principal leadership coaching, accountability and supporting teacher’s effort to transform instructional practices.

» Transforming and ensuring that special education/services related to exceptional education are exemplary and aligned with best practices.

» Implementing the Virginia Tiered System of Supports with fidelity (student interventions).

» Enhancing support for literacy instruction through more intensive focus on supporting high quality teaching of reading and writing during the early years.

» Leveraging partnerships with the Virginia Department of Education and other partners (Smart Beginnings Danville Pittsylvania County).

Established a Professional Development Leadership Position — Coordinator of Balanced Literacy.

» The Coordinator of Balanced Literacy will be responsible for designing and implementing professional development and instructional modeling activities in direct support of teachers at the classroom and school level. This position serves as an additional instructional leadership resource for Danville Public Schools funded through federal funds and designed to help primary students achieve reading at proficient levels as prescribed by the English Language Arts Virginia Standards of Learning.

» One example of this effort may be to revise instructional practices in K-3 from an emphasis on comprehension (which assumes that all students are reading) to an emphasis on teaching students how to read.

In summary, Virginia’s accountability system supports teaching and learning by setting rigorous academic standards known as the Standards of Learning (SOL) and through annual statewide assessments of student achievement. Results from these tests, which most students take online, are used by the commonwealth to identify schools in need of assistance and to inform parents and the public about the progress of schools through the awarding of annual accreditation ratings. SOL assessments in English, mathematics and science are used to determine a school’s accreditation rating.

Elementary and middle schools are fully accredited if students there meet or exceed the state targets for student pass rates on state SOL assessments in English, mathematics and science. High schools must also meet the state graduation target in order to be accredited.

In Danville Public Schools, there are signs of improvement and growth, particularly in those areas where we have leveraged partnerships and intensified professional development for teachers. G.L.H. Johnson and Woodberry, for example, have demonstrated modest growth in some areas and monumental growth on others but not enough to meet state standards.

There are also signs of distress — areas where we have more work to do to improve performance. Ultimately, we may request more assistance from the state to drastically improve performance.

In the final analysis, we own our success and failure!

Jones is superintendent of Danville Public Schools. He wrote this commentary for the Register & Bee.

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