Friday, June 23, 2006

New superintendent: Both bad and good gangs in city schools, maybe

That’s a tough question. It depends on the definition of gang. Do we have groups of young people who cluster together for one common cause, and sometimes that common cause can be negative? I’m sure that that exists -- Rosa Atkins, Superintendent of Charlottesville Public Schools

"New schools chief addresses challenges, goals of the job"

By John Yellig, Daily Progress staff writer, June 22, 2006

Charlottesville’s incoming school superintendent, Rosa Atkins, took the oath of office last week at Charlottesville Circuit Court. She begins her new job July 3 after working as assistant superintendent of the Caroline County school system. The Daily Progress caught up with Atkins for a discussion about what’s next for her and the school system.

Q: Charlottesville schools have had two key problems recently: A) School violence B) Failure in closing the achievement gap. How will you deal with these problem areas?
A: We have a task force in place right now looking at discipline in our schools. We’re going to continue to let that task force operate and look at the suggestions that are coming out of that task force. We are currently looking at our code of conduct book to see how that’s structured and see if there are any changes that need to be made with that. We’re also looking at how we operate from the time the school opens until it closes in the day: How much time is being spent on the instructional process and where are some of the areas in the building during the day that we have weaknesses? Are we vulnerable?

Achievement, I’m excited to say that all of the teachers, and especially at our high school, are feeling that this is their year, that the achievement levels of our students will certainly increase and be evidenced by the [Standards of Learning] testing results this year. We’ll continue to build on the efforts that were put in place this year with the acting superintendent, Mr. [Bobby] Thompson.

Q: Do you believe there is a gang presence in the city and its schools, and if so, what can be done about it?
A: That’s a tough question. It depends on the definition of gang. Do we have groups of young people who cluster together for one common cause, and sometimes that common cause can be negative? I’m sure that that exists not only in Charlottesville but in many areas, and when that happens, we have to make sure that what we have to offer those young people is more appealing than what they’re getting from the clustering together in those groups.

Q: What are the key ingredients for a successful school system, and do you have any models in mind?
A: Passion. Passion for education is one of the key ingredients in a successful school year. Everyone is focused on the same thing: a common vision. Everyone knowing the vision and responding to that vision is what successful school divisions do. We could list a number of activities that come along with focusing on the vision, but you have to have a clear vision in mind and articulated throughout the division and the community in order to be successful. You have to know where you’re headed.

Q: Did the problems the city had with its previous superintendent [Scottie Griffin] make you nervous at all about the position?
A: It inspires me, actually. I think we learn from all the experiences that are behind us. I think the school division, the community, we all learned a lesson from what happened in the past that will help us to move forward in a positive way.

Q: Are SOL tests a tool for learning or an obstacle?
A: Absolutely a tool for learning. SOL tests are simply testing what we teach. The SOL tests are based on the curriculum that we teach every day, so certainly we want to measure how well we taught that curriculum. It comes all at one time, at the end of the year, which causes stress for many of us, but it’s a very healthy tool, and structured in the right way leading up to the SOL tests we can be successful.

Q: With school out, what’s next for you?
A: School out? The school is out for the students but certainly not for us. I intend to be going full force. July 3 I will be meeting with staff, be meeting with principals. We will do a great deal of planning this year for how we’re going to operate. Our School Board has a board retreat in July.

We will be planning how we’re going to operate, articulating our vision and setting forward our goals and objectives, implementing the strategic plan that has been developed. So it’s not rest for the rest of us.


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