William Monroe Middle School showcased its collaborative learning environment last month to the School Board, saying it’s engaging students and lowering discipline issues.

“With my collaborative partners this year in 2016 William Monroe Middle school has immersed itself in collaborative learning,” Lisa Lawson, instructional coach at William Monroe Middle, told the Greene County School Board. “We’re tackling things such as augmented reality with sandboxes, we’ve used 3-D printing, coding on all different levels, breakout boxes which the students have to work together as teams to unlock them, GIS and the mapping that Mr. Dojack’s class does is spread out over content areas as well.

“Our students are not only developing skills that are necessary in life but hopefully they’re preparing for future engineers and inventors of things not yet known, problem-solvers of tomorrow,” she said. “In doing some of these things they’re engaged and excited. We’ve noticed with the increased engagement the kids want to be in class, discipline cases have gone down.”

Jess Stafford, video media teacher at William Monroe Middle School, said her class is one that does not have a Standard of Learning test attached to it.

“I went to some amazing clinics and got inspired by some really cool ideas,” she said. “And I had the chance to try them out with my students without fear of them failing a test.”

Performance-based assessments, Stafford said, allow her to prove her students are learning.

“You can watch what goes on in the classroom and see that they’re learning. I think performance based assessments is absolutely the way we need to be headed,” she said.

Andy Dojack, who teaches GIS mapping, said he has other teachers asking to use it in their core curriculum classes.

“It’s made me a much better teacher,” Dojack said. “Student engagement is much better. We’re not teaching necessarily the information they need to be successful but the skills to be successful. That’s much more important than just knowing the information. You need to have those critical thinking and analytical skills.”

The 7 ½ -minute video showcases all the ways the Middle School are embracing this type of learning environment. The video is available at http://bit.ly/2iwGjl5.

“They’re all wanting to do these types of projects in all courses. We’re excited where this is heading,” Lawson said.

At-Large School Board Member Harry Daniel asked, “What’s next at the high school?”

“I think that’s a great question,” said Bryan Huber, assistant superintendent of Greene County Schools. “[We] have this grassroots innovation occurring. We have pockets at the high school as well. It needs to part of our core classes as well.

“These types of things don’t happen with a division top down initiative they don’t happen with these fancy magic programs. They happen, I think, when you allow educators like the ones you just saw have some freedom and creativity and they feel comfortable to do some of that,” Huber said.

Greene County Schools Superintendent Andrea Whitmarsh told the board, “We have a record number of [budget] requests this year. And all are requests are very valid and reasonable. It is a tough job to put together. We currently anticipate a $326,000 increase in our [Virginia Retirement System] costs, in addition to whatever health insurance costs. The costs of day-to-day business are increasing. So those things will be factored in as much as we can as we go through the budget process.”

A joint workshop with the supervisors has been scheduled for Jan. 24.

“So, the government borrowed our money from the VRS and we have to pay it back?” Daniels asked.

“That’s government,” said School Board Vice Chairman Jason Collier of the Stanardsville District.

Leah Paladino of the Midway District announced that the School Board has just finished its annual superintendent’s evaluation.

“I would just like to publically recognize how much we appreciate the work that Dr. Whitmarsh does for our division. She definitely has our full faith and confidence, and we were pleased to complete her annual review with very high marks. We feel very fortunate to do that.”

Whitmarsh noted a survey for parents to fill out about start times for the different schools that was emailed to parents. Those who did not receive it can find it at http://bit.ly/2hgTEsQ.

“We’re in the information gathering stage,” she said.

The next school board meeting will be Wednesday, Jan. 11, at 7 p.m. in the County Administration Building. It will be the organizational meeting for the new year.

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