Program prepares assistant principals to become effective VBCPS leaders

When asked what she thought about the Assistant Principals (AP) Pathways program, College Park Elementary School Assistant Principal Penney Fonville replied without hesitation.

“It feels really good that what I’m learning here is what I’m hearing in Teaching and Learning.”

Asked that same question, Great Neck Middle School Assistant Principal Thomas Quinn described it as a “real direct focus on quality instructional practices and coaching.”

Meanwhile, Virginia Beach Middle School Assistant Principal Joel Guldenschuh said the program “gives us a chance to collaborate; not only with our middle school peers but with elementary and high school colleagues. They have different sets of experiences and it’s a great opportunity to work together.”

AP Pathways Picture 1

Why is this program, now in its second year, so well received?

“In many school divisions, assistant principals get lost in the shuffle and don’t receive quality professional learning,” said Dr. Thomas Ferrell, director of administrator learning and leadership.

“In Virginia Beach, we are promoting a culture of growth and excellence and making sure that our assistant principals are also learning since they are the future of our school division,” he added. “It’s important that we provide them with opportunities that are ongoing; not one-time professional development but continuous professional learning.”

AP Pathways Picture 2

Offered by the Office of Professional Growth and Innovation (PGI) in partnership with departments across the school division, the program includes four pathways:

  • Instructional Leadership;
  • Buildings & Grounds/Safety and Security;
  • Mandt/Discipline; and
  • Special Education.

The Instructional Leadership and Special Education pathways each have year one and year two courses to enable deeper dives into those sections. Close to 80 assistant principals, academy coordinators and administrative assistant are enrolled and participate in sessions which are offered four times each year.

AP Pathways Picture 3

Topics discussed in each session are job embedded, according to Dr. Paulette France, PGI coordinator, who helps oversee the program.

For example, the March 7 Instructional Leadership session, part of year one, focused on digital innovation which is being discussed at citywide meetings, is part of the Teaching and Learning framework, and is one of the strategies in the division’s strategic plan, Compass to 2020.

The division’s instructional technology coordinators Charlie Hinsch, Sheila Teri and Marie Booz not only shared strategies that instructional technology specialists are using to help teachers integrate technology in the classroom, but also gave a broader perspective of the instructional technology program in regards to where it’s been, where it is now and where it’s headed in the future.

“The ITSs are a crucial part of moving forward technology integration for our students,” Hinsch said.
“We want to give students voice and choice and it’s important to keep in mind that we are preparing students for jobs that might not yet exist.”

He and the coordinators went on to give examples of strategies ITSs are using to increase student engagement.

One of the strategies discussed was the SAMR model which stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition. In this model, educators ask themselves:

  • what will students gain by replacing, or substituting a task with technology;
  • does the technology add, or augment, new features that improve the task;
  • does the task significantly change, or become modified, with the use of technology; and
  • does the technology allow for creation, or redefinition, of a task previously inconceivable.

Teri gave as an example a travel brochure that a student might create in class.

“A student could substitute paper with PowerPoint or Publisher; augment the presentation with the use of links or videos; modify the brochure by using Google Earth to provide tours of the travel destination; or even possibly share the information with a global audience, thus redefining their work,” she said.

Holding up the Teaching and Learning Framework in her hand, she enthusiastically shared with the group that “it’s about transformational learning.”

AP Pathways Picture 4

France added that everything they learn, “they can take right back to their building and immediately apply it.”

In the year two Instructional Leadership sessions, participants learn how to become effective coaches to help teachers grow, which in turn impacts student achievement. Participants also have an opportunity to participate in Learning Walks, videotape themselves providing coaching and open themselves up to feedback from their peers.

The final Instructional Leadership year two session will focus on building capacity in others.

Special Education, which is also two-year pathway, focuses on applying and understanding their knowledge of the special education process.

Meanwhile, the Mandt pathway focuses on creating positive school environments by establishing effective and trust-filled relationships with teachers and students.

In addition to becoming effective in-school leaders, assistant principals must also be prepared to handle situations caused by external factors, which is why the Buildings and Grounds/Safety and Security pathway is offered.

In this session, the Safe Schools Office staff walks attendees through exit plans for their buildings and present them with scenarios that might have occurred in Virginia Beach or elsewhere in the country.  They are tasked with not only thinking about physical safety of all students and staff, but asked to think of potential outside factors such as media inquiries or community members who want to enter or refuse to leave campus. The Department of Media and Communications co-facilitates table talk discussions and shares available resources. This session also includes sustainability discussions led by the division’s Sustainability Office.

How is the program helping our future Virginia Beach City Public Schools leaders?

“I find that I’m validating things that I’m already doing,” Quinn said. “I’m fortunate to have people around me who have taught me well up to this point, but anytime you can collaborate and share ideas and improve them, I think you, the people you work with and students are going to come away as winners.”

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3 thoughts on “Program prepares assistant principals to become effective VBCPS leaders

  1. I am both excited and proud of the professional learning taking place with our school administrators. Two of our core values – Continuous Learning (Seek Growth) and Collaboration (Do Great Work Together) are modeled here as the Office of Professional Growth and Innovation (PGI) partners with various departments to plan and deliver engaging professional learning tightly aligned to our strategic plan. Drs. Ferrell and France serve as gatekeepers and visionaries who harness the professional capacity of leaders across the division to provide high quality and authentic learning.

    1. Thank you, Dr. Robertson. It is my honor to serve VBCPS in this capacity. The support that we receive as we continue to grow and learn is phenomenal. The talent that is in this school division is unmatched. We don’t just speak our framework, each person in this program is striving to live it. A culture of growth and excellence….these assistant principals embody it!

  2. It is very interesting to gain further insight into the AP Pathways Program. Continuous professional learning is critical to preparing our next crop of school leaders– and on-site expertise in each one of these four program pathways is critical to a successful school!

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