VBCPS administrators learn more about excellence through equity

Eight young men grew up in the same North Carolina neighborhood together – all attending the same schools, surrounded by the same people and brought up in the same community.

Yet, the paths these eight young men ended up taking were anything but the same.  Dr. John Hodge spoke to a full classroom to share the story of him and his childhood friends.

Four of the eight went on to great career success: two went into business, one into medicine, and Hodge himself pursued a flourishing career in education. However, Hodge shared the other four in their group made more unfortunate lifestyle choices and have either died as a result or are currently incarcerated.

As Hodge told his story, he kept going back to one point: What made these eight men – all with so many similar traits and experiences – have such differing life paths?

One night, at an engagement celebration, the friends began to discuss this very question, and they stumbled across an answer: Their fifth-grade teacher.

All four of the successful friends had the same fifth-grade teacher. She was a teacher so determined in each of their success, she would make house visits to meet their parents and let them know that she saw potential in their child and they were going to be college-bound. She refused to accept anything less than their best. She, Hodge shared, set them on their course.

Hodge’s example underscored the importance of the discussion of equity – the difference one teacher can make in the life of the child through that personal connection. Stories like Hodge’s are why approximately 250 Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) administrators headed to Western Branch High School to take part in the 2017 Region II Excellence Through Equity Conference.

VBCPS staff were joined by more than 600 of their counterparts from across Region II, including representatives from Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Williamsburg and Poquoson.

During the all-day event, attendees heard from national experts on equity, including Dr. Pedro Noguera, a distinguished professor of education in the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Alan Blankstein, the founder of Solution Tree and HOPE Foundation. Attendees also heard from Virginia Board of Education President Dr. Billy Cannaday, Jr. in the conference’s closing session.

Throughout the day, each speaker highlighted the vital importance of building relationships with all students and being able to identify children’s unique needs and learning styles.

Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer Dr. Don Robertson said this conference is of special importance for VBCPS in that it gives administrators the opportunity to hear from renowned speakers, but also allows for staff to network with Region II colleagues about the difficult and important work of equity.

For White Oaks Principal Stephanie Haus, that time to share and collaborate is a crucial piece to the conference.

“We talk about equity at our school and build upon our practices, but it is always beneficial to hear what others are doing to help children,” Haus said. “It is amazing to have the opportunity to talk with other educators from neighboring cities, to hear their stories about their challenges and successes.”

VBCPS also had eight staff members serve as conference presenters, allowing them to highlight the equity efforts and progress here in Virginia Beach.

“We can share our work and hear how other divisions are addressing this challenge,” Robertson said. “It also affirms our work as all participants were able to see where we are as a division on this journey compared to other Region II school divisions and from a national perspective. It acknowledges again we are leader in this work and, as such, others are looking to us as models or guides on the journey.”

While there was plenty of research and expertise shared throughout the conference, some of the biggest takeaways came from students themselves. During the lunch session, Blankstein brought up to the stage three students, and talked with them about their school experience, their teachers and what makes them want to learn.

Their message was simple: We want to know you care.

“My favorite part of the conference was listening to the high school students. Students want connections with their teachers and their principals,” Haus said. “To the students, relationships and connections with adults are a necessity for them to support their learning.”

For more information about the conference, visit the Excellence Through Equity website at www.vbcpsblogs.com/equity.

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