WAHS has a new principal for the first time in several years. Dr. John Werner will take the reins at Western Albemarle High School this fall, starting this summer. I asked for some questions from the crowd and received quite a few great questions that ranged from what’s his vision for WAHS to how he’s planning to address the achievement gap.
Questions hère, Answers after the break. Thank you everyone for the questions! I really appreciate your input and hope that as a community we can work to make WAHS (and Henley, Brownsville & Crozet) the best schools around. **
Dr. Werner’s answers –
Kids and Community Service
One of my earliest professional positions was in banking but I switched to education because of the opportunities it provided to work with children. I honestly cannot imagine a role more important or personally fulfilling than making young people aware of what they can accomplish in their lives and then providing the resources and support that makes it possible for them to succeed.
Community service certainly is an important part of an educator’s own professional development. After all, your primary responsibility is preparing students to succeed in life and that is difficult to do only from the confines of an office. By interacting with parents, business leaders and community organizations, you develop a strong sense of the skills that students will need to match their highest ambitions with their capabilities.
Over the years I have served on multiple community service boards and the insight I gained from those relationships led me to develop programs as a teacher and administrator that has helped students raise their academic performance and set and achieve challenging goals.
The values of our school division are young people, community, respect and excellence. As educators, it’s our responsibility to reach out to all members of our community in order to bring those values to life for our students and their families.
Weakness in critical academic areas, including Math, Reforming Math and Foreign Language
One of the most impressive facts about Western students is their superior performance on assessment tests, especially compared to their peers across the state. Scores in all academic areas, including math, are among the highest in the Commonwealth, both on Standards of Learning (SOL) and SAT tests.
I am looking forward to July 1 when I will have the full-time opportunity to begin meeting with faculty and staff and with the community to talk about Western’s programs and academic areas and about the school’s improvement planning process. The input I receive from parents is going to be very important to our ability as a team to continually improve our performance across the board.
Vision for Western Albemarle High School
The school division’s vision is for all learners to believe in their power to embrace learning, to excel and to own their future. My vision for Western is to give life to this sense of empowerment for all students. My experience tells me the single most important difference an educator can make in a young person’s life is to create a sense of excitement about learning. I have seen the impact this commitment can have upon students. Students have a renewed eagerness about coming to school to working with teachers and peers on projects that uncover previously undiscovered insights and capabilities. My vision is to create this passion for learning among all of our teachers, staff and students and use that energy to broaden the opportunities and choices our students will have in their post-graduate lives.
As hard as we work in life and as dedicated as we are to achieving perfection, we always can do better. An important part of doing better is making it clear that everyone’s opinion is valued and all points of view not only are welcomed but encouraged. Creating and maintaining a school environment that benefits all is a team effort but it starts with the leader of the organization.
As that leader, you need to be aware of both the challenges and opportunities our teachers, staff and students face every day. That means open lines of communication, being proactive in reaching out to our school community, having no preconceived conclusions and helping to sustain a culture that welcomes diversity and champions success for all. The old story about the frog on the fencepost makes it clear we all need help to reach high places. Collaboration is a powerful force multiplier.
… (I asked for clarification on this question) …
My comments on Google posts were directed to the challenges of communications in today’s hyper-fast social media environment. The benefit of being able to reach people in an instant with relevant information truly is a powerful resource. As with all such resources however, the responsible use of such capabilities is important. On their own web site, the only instruction Fairfax Underground offers is that people should “feel free to post anything they feel would be of interest to Northern Virginia residents.” The site does not require or even encourage postings to be accurate or fair. I don’t believe any useful purpose is served by debating such postings. What is useful is concentrating on Western Albemarle High School and the high school community moving forward.
I am looking forward to getting to know the Western community, to calling upon the talents and abilities of each member of our community and to including everyone in our mission. Anything less means we will accomplish less than that of which we are capable.
Timeline for Special Program
Earlier this month, the school announced its decision to go forward with an Environmental Sciences Academy. This next school year will be devoted to bringing together a working group of faculty, parents and business and community leaders to make decisions about curriculum and to create awareness among students. We will open the academy in the 2014-15 school year.
What impresses me the most about the academy is its broad relevance to so many important goals for our nation. Students will gain knowledge and skills in clean energy, efficient use of resources, environmental preservation, agriculture, the world’s water supply, oceanography, biology, research. Our students will have the opportunity to make significant contributions to our quality of life around the globe and for many years far into the future.
At the same time, Western students are eligible to attend the Math, Engineering and Science Academy at Albemarle High School and the Health and Medical Sciences Academy at Monticello High School. Also this fall, we will be increasing the opportunities students will have to take dual credit courses in conjunction with PVCC, enabling more of our students to graduate high school with enough credits to enter college as juniors.
Flexibility for Students who want to take Non-Traditional Courses
This is another subject that I want to hear a good deal more about when I arrive at Western. Now in some cases, there are logical reasons why courses are in sequential order but I am a firm believer in student-centered learning. Our mission talks about “one student at a time learning.” Our value statement talks about “meaningful learning and adds that “young people deserve the best we have to offer.” In the meetings I am planning with parents this summer, I would like to hear more of their thoughts about this approach and how it can help us fulfill the promises we make to students in our mission and value statements.
Achievement Gap, Mastery Learning
In her discussions with community leaders, our Superintendent talks about how education needs to reflect the reality of the world around us and that too much of K-12 education today still is based upon the “assembly line” approach of a much earlier time. I couldn’t agree more. Our responsibility is not to move students along an assembly line each year until the 12th year.
When business leaders talk about graduates not being prepared for the workforce, that is a reflection upon whether students are learning the most relevant skills and acquiring the most relevant knowledge. That’s why mastery learning is so important. I am a huge advocate for a learning experience that focuses on critical thinking and analysis, problem solving and creativity. This is an area that means a great deal to me and I know the division is moving towards student assessments models that will align curriculum with these desired outcomes. I am a supporter.
Among my proudest achievements as an educator have been several programs targeted to eliminate achievement gaps in our schools. I designed or have worked with such initiatives as an AP Boot Camp, Rising Stars Academy, Student Assistance Committee, Freshmen Academy, ESOL Graduation Framework, Rewards and Remediation Program, Bringing Educators and Students Together (BEST), Earn and Learn Credit Recovery, several other after-school remediation activities, mentorships. I think it was the Minister of Education in Singapore who compared his educational system with ours and said that because they had so many fewer students they had to work harder to keep us with the U.S. because they could not afford to waste the talent or potential of a single student. Well, that is true in the U. S. as well and it is true at Western Albemarle High School. This is high on my priority list.
** My opinion: get rid of standardized testing.