Back-to-School 2019: As new year begins, DCPS’s Weston focused on further growth

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: September 1, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.

School division slated for third year of full accreditation

DINWIDDIE – This week marks the return to class for several thousand Dinwiddie youngsters as the 2019-2020 school year kicks off with teachers and administrators welcoming students back to class for another year of learning and enrichment after the prior year saw successes in a number of areas. 

According to Dinwiddie County Public Schools leaders, all of the county’s schools will be accredited for the upcoming year based on preliminary data provided by the Virginia Department of Education, which will be the third consecutive year the school division will be fully accredited. As student achievement continues to meet or exceed standards, Superintendent Dr. Kari Weston is focused on building on recent and continued successes as part of their efforts to educate Dinwiddie’s young men and women.

“There are a lot of things happening within the school system that we are doing really well and we are seeing great outcomes from young people and great performance of adults,” she remarked. “So what we are trying to do is to really study those things.”

The third-straight year of full accreditation for Dinwiddie County Public Schools comes as the coming school year will mark the second year of revised accreditation standards that were implemented by state education officials to “provide a more comprehensive view of school quality while encouraging continuous improvement for all schools and placing increased emphasis on closing achievement gaps.”

According to a walkthrough of the new standards provided by the Virginia Department of Education, the new standards measure student performance on “multiple school-quality indicators, not just on overall student achievement on state tests.” 

Smiles were not hard to find at Dinwiddie Schools’ first-ever Back2School Bash events on August 14 and 15. (DCPS)

For elementary and middle schools, they are evaluated on overall proficiency and growth in the areas of English writing and reading, mathematics, and science, while looking at achievement gaps among students groups in math and English, along with absenteeism. For high schools, overall proficiency in English, math, and science are reviewed, along with math and English achievement gaps, graduation and dropout rates, absenteeism, and college, career and civic readiness.

A school’s performance on those specific metrics is rated at one of three levels: Level One, meaning they meet or exceed standards or sufficient improvement, Level Two, which shows a school is near standard or making sufficient improvement, while Level Three means a school is below standard in that area of performance. 

Those individual results determine if a school is accredited, which means a schools’ quality indicators are all at either Level One or Level Two, accredited with conditions, which denotes a school with at least one school-quality indicator at Level Three, or denied accreditation, meaning a school has “fail to adopt or fully implement required corrective actions to address Level Three school-quality indicators.”

Entering the 2018-2019 school year, Dinwiddie’s seven schools were among nearly 1,700 others across the Commonwealth to be accredited, 92 percent of all of the state’s schools. 

While the state has yet to provide specific, school-level data for this year’s accreditation ratings, in an interview, Weston said she is pleased with the direction the school division is going when it comes to the area of student outcomes, noting specifically growth in certain student groups that are measured as part of annual accreditation designations, reductions in the number of students dropping out of school, and “phenomenal” gains in the area of mathematics.”

Speaking to the fact the school division has maintained full accreditation even as the VDOE adjusts their standards, Weston said, “I think it is validating for the people that are on the front lines doing this work.”

“We have a lot of student academic data that tells us what we are doing is moving us in the right direction,” the superintendent shared. “But I think, bigger than that, it is about not just the numbers, it is about the people that we have been able to retain who continue to work here when they have lots of choices about where they work and the people we have been able to attract this year and the quality of the applicants that we are seeing and people who are willing to drive pass a couple of other school districts to come work here.”

She continued, “It is about the stories that people are telling, both in our internal community at church on Sunday and at the grocery store on Thursday afternoon, and the emails I get about how satisfied people feel with how things have been resolved and addressed for them.”

Weston also noted how important listening to students is toward developing programs and initiatives.

Dinwiddie students engage in various workshops and exercises at the popular Teen Expo at Richard Bland College. (DCPS)

“It is about listening to young people about the plans they have, what their educational experience has meant to them, and what it is doing for them, and how it is leading them down certain pathways as they think about graduating from high school,” she said. “It is all of those kinds of things that, for me, are more fulfilling than the numbers. The numbers are very encouraging and it does give us indications that we are doing the right thing but, we are also doing some great things.”

Some of those things have included engaging with the community through a number of programs throughout the year, like their partnership with the county for the popular Live Well Expo, which is an event that brings together a number of resources and organizations geared toward informing the community about different ways to live a healthy life, which has been hosted at Dinwiddie High School for the last two years. 

The annual Dinwiddie Teen Expo has become one of the most popular youth-oriented events in the county which sees the county’s workforce development office partnering with county schools and Richard Bland College to host engaging workshops and panels focused on preparing teenagers for life after high school with parents also joining in with sessions aimed at financial planning and other topics. 

Dinwiddie County Public Schools also saw success over the summer with their first-ever Back2School Bash, which were events held at Sunnyside and Southside elementary schools that served to energize local students for their return to school, while also being a distribution event of free school supplies to Dinwiddie kids following a successful supply drive that saw carloads of notebooks, pencils, crayons, and much more donated by residents and businesses. A similar distribution was held later in August at the county’s elementary schools for Pre-K and kindergartners as part of a partnership with Dinwiddie’s faith-based community. 

“We have a lot of sound partnerships as we work with the county and the business community and really solid partnerships that had not existed previously,” Weston shared. “What I see is a collective system that is working to really invest in and support our youngest stakeholders in this community.”

As the first week of school gets underway for Dinwiddie students, the superintendent said she believes there is a lot to celebrate and much to look forward to in DCPS’ future both during this year and in its future.

“I am excited about the possibilities this year to continue to exceed the expectations of all of our customers, from our students, to our employees, to our community, and our greater area,” Weston detailed. “I am excited about the things that we are going to do to exceed those expectations.”

“I understand the importance and magnitude of this work and I am excited to work alongside a team of smart, dedicated, and talented people who come to work everyday for the right reasons and choose to call Dinwiddie County Public Schools their home and afford me this opportunity everyday to work alongside them to do such rewarding work,” she closed. 

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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