Albemarle Forward: How Our Schools Will Make a Difference

Albemarle Schools are ranked #3 in the state, which is very impressive. The schools, however, continue to have significant disparities in achievement and discipline within. Although Albemarle County had a very successful school referendum two years ago (with 75% voter approval) and the last of those projects will be completed in a few months, Albemarle Schools are still working to catch up with our capital needs after the last recession and a decade of under funding capital during which 1000+ students were added to the rolls.  Albemarle Tech, an innovative learning environment for our high school students, is a new program that has had a lot of success. Increasing partnerships with community organizations in 2019 is a high-value strategic objective for the division in the new year.

Dr. Kate Acuff was elected to the Albemarle County Public School Board in November, 2013, as the representative from the Jack Jouett Magisterial District. She has been the chair for almost three years. Dr. Acuff spoke at our Wednesday January 9, 2019 meeting. The program was moderated by SSV president Rich DeMong.

Start to listen to the podcast of the meeting and the Q&A session. Then the slides that accompanied Dr. Acuff can be downloaded here.

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Dr. Acuff, who is a health policy consultant, serves on the Board of the University of Virginia Physicians Group, on the Board of Mental Health America-Charlottesville/Albemarle and on the Steering Committee of the Community Mental Health and Wellness Coalition. She previously was a consultant to the Virginia Supreme Court’s Commission on Mental Health Law Reform, an adjunct assistant professor in Emory University’s School of Public Health and a vice president of policy and education with the National Public Health and Hospitals Institute.

Dr. Acuff is a strong advocate for providing safe and healthy learning environments in schools. Among her priorities is to support collaborative programs among students, parents, school staff and other members of the community to continue the division’s progress in its bullying prevention programs. Dr. Acuff also believes that access by students to pre-K instruction should be expanded to reduce the opportunity gap among children in Albemarle County.

A native of the Midwest, Dr. Acuff is a graduate of the University of Tulsa. She received her Master’s in Microbiology & Immunology from the University of Colorado and her Ph.D. and a M.P.H. in Public Health and Public Policy and Management from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. She also earned a J.D. from Georgetown University.

Program Summary

Although the Albemarle County Public School system is ranked #3 in the state there are significant disparities that are being addressed. The learning environment is changing. Artificial intelligence, robotics demand a new skill set of students today. The style of public school education needs to change to prepare the students of today for the future. The idea of teachers lecturing to students is morphing into students being asked to focus on complex problems, critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration (the five Cs). This process involves developing programs such as the opening of Albemarle Tech in the former Comdial building to simply re-configuring classroom space.

Today students are encouraged to connect with the community through internships and job training to obtain real world work experience. Dr. Acuff also discussed the challenges of the diversity of the student population with students from over 180 different countries who speak 65+ languages, and a 30% low income student base; as well as addressing the achievement opportunity gap, combating racism, recruiting and retaining teachers and capital needs that have taken a large financial setback due to the 2008 financial crisis.

In summary, the goals of the school system are to create a culture of high expectations for all, identify and remove practices that perpetuate the achievement gap, and ensure that students identify and develop personal interests.

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