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Norton schools look at curriculum, implementing technology

Mike Still • Mar 28, 2019 at 3:15 PM

NORTON — Gina Wohlford says the outlook for the city’s school system is bright.

Wohlford is completing her second full year as superintendent, and she points to one measure of the region’s school systems for that view.

“I’m real pleased with our enrollment,” Wohlford said. “We finished last year with 765 and we’re at 785. So that is a positive for us this year although you’re never comfortable because of the students that are transient. If we could see new industry and know they were moving into the area, I’d be a lot happier with that number, but knowing that some of them may come and go is a concern.”

Wohlford said a steady enrollment and retaining a solid cadre of teachers have also given the division a strong basis for some changes in how the system will enter the 2019-2020 school year.

“I think it all plays together with how the city develops and grows, and I think they’re working to making great strides to make that happen as well, although all that takes time. Nothing happens overnight, and during that time that’s when you run into the concerns of if it’s going to happen quick enough for you.”

Wohlford said city government is building a strong basis for growth in tourism and other business sectors, but she also hopes to see “a couple of strong industries come in as well.”

Wohlford credited the city school board and administrative staff for leadership in budget priorities and in future curriculum initiatives. Improving classroom technology is one of those moves, she said, while academics and classroom security also remain important.

The system’s One-to-One initiative included infrastructure work on classrooms last year, Wohlford said, and the next step will be Chromebook labs for each classroom.

“We have an Ignite partnership with the United Way to work to provide internships and address chronic student absenteeism,” Wohlford said. “We have also developed an equity committee focusing on education for all.”

Wohlford also noted that the state Department of Education is looking at ways to improve how the state’s Standards of Learning assessment system can become more flexible for classroom instruction.

“I think the state superintendent is moving to not put any undue pressure with the Standards of Learning and make sure that we’re not overtesting. But with that becomes something you still have to assess those students,” Wohlford said. “So we’re still looking at how that’s going to happen.”

One local effort is participation in the state’s Innovation Network program. Wohlford said the Norton school system is one of the first 26 Virginia school systems accepted into the program. Teachers and principals will work with a state mentor to develop ways to make curriculums more student-centered. Collaboration between students and teachers will be encouraged, and classroom instruction will move away some from an environment of preparing for the annual Standards of Learning test cycle.

“It will focus on us moving to a division with innovation to where our curriculum moves towards being more student-centered with a focus on deeper learning, collaboration between our faculty with our students, critical thinking projects, authentic engagement and looking to make our students not just college- and career-ready but life-ready,” Wohlford said.

“That’s more of a mindset change for our teachers and for our students because their mind’s not been geared to that,” Wohlford said. “Up to this point they’ve been geared to learn material, fill in bubble sheets and take a test. It’s going to be a shift for all of us. I don’t think it’s going to be something we do completely different. I think we’re going to make our schools better and stronger by adding this to it.”

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