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While three schools still lack full accreditation, PCPS made one of the highest improvements in Virginia for SOL pass rates
By Randy Arrington, publisher
When Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Gabrielle Ryman gave her Sept. 14 report to the Page County School Board, she acknowledged some issues that still need work — three of eight schools are not fully accredited, and the division’s attendance and chronic absenteeism remains higher than desired. However, she was able to announce that Page County Public Schools showed one of the highest margins of improvement in SOL pass rates (based on 2022-23 test scores) of any school division in Virginia.
Among the 132 school divisions in the Commonwealth, Page County ranked the third-highest in rank gain for SOL test pass rates, climbing from 94th up to 65th.
“This is a testament to the instructional commitment by our teachers, administrators and all staff across PCPS,” Ryman said during the Sept. 14 meeting. “The focus on continuous improvement, learning and growing will continue.”
This is one of the highest margins of improvement that local schools have shown in many years, perhaps ever (not highest rank, but highest one-year gain). While test scores are not the end-all, be-all of what constitutes a good school system, the level of improvement — as students and educators continue to bridge the educational gap left in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — is certainly a positive and encouraging sign.
“I just want to thank our instructional team and everyone…because really that is a division effort, from everyone, from you all down, and up, to bus drivers, custodial, secretaries, everybody…students, their families… those improvements are a collective effort…and we are just excited we are on an upward trajectory, which is where we want to be and we continue in that. So thank you to everybody for their work to make that happen,” Dr. Antonio Fox, superintendent of Page County Public Schools, told school board members last Thursday night.
While Dr. Fox is quick to spread the credit around (and deservedly so), a lot of credit can go to the CEO. Superintendent Fox has provided steady, professional leadership that has taken a wide view of our local schools and identified numerous ways to effectively raise the overall success of the division. She has a strong supporting cast, including a solid school board, but the humble and steadfast leader has created an environment in which others can thrive as well — just like good leaders do.
A testament to her success could be seen in a recent PVN “Question of the Week” in July, polling the county on its approval of Dr. Fox. More than two-thirds of respondents said they “approved” or “strongly approved” of the superintendent’s performance. The other third simply replied “neutral.” Negative responses were held to a meager 5 percent.
As we reported recently, not only did teachers start the year after receiving 12-percent salary increases over the last two years (10 percent was state-mandated), numerous building and maintenance upgrades have been completed as well. HVAC work has been done at nearly every school in the division, including the installation of climate control systems (air conditioning) for the first time ever in the gymnasiums of Luray Middle School and Page County Middle School.
Retention rates are improving, as PCPS this year retained 94 percent of its overall staff, 90 percent of its teachers and 100 percent of its principals, directors and supervisors. New technology and programs have been implemented in almost every department, and communication with the teachers, students, parents and the community is possibly at an all-time high when one considers the website, social media, text alerts and phone calls.
“I just wanted to do a ‘shout out’ to Dr. Fox and her team,” outgoing District 2 school board member Rolf Gubler said Thursday night. “Just to acknowledge the continued great communication and transparency that they’ve shown with the community, with parents, the board of supervisors and our board, and staff.”
Even among some of the bad news, there is a silver lining. While five county schools are fully accredited by the Virginia Department of Education, three are “accredited with conditions” — Page County Middle School and Luray and Stanley elementary schools. However, each of those schools showed significant improvements last year over the previous testing period. Luray Elementary showed significant improvement in math (jumping from Level 3 to Level 1) and also improved a level in Science (from 2 to 1). Stanley Elementary improved a level in both english and science, while PCMS improved in science.
The year-to-year improvements were so significant, that educational peers across the state were asking folks in Page County, “How did you do it?” That is proof of progress.
While high graduation rates remain a constant feather in the cap of the local school division, chronic absenteeism needs some help. All schools in the local division are either at a Level 2 or 3 — Level 2 means that 15 to 25 percent of the student population are chronically absent; Level 3 means the rate is higher than 25 percent. So, there is still work to do, and new procedures and tracking are being put in place to bring those absences down.
Since absences are primarily a “home” issue, we would ask the parents and families of our 3,000 students to step up to the challenge of putting in the same type of effort that our local educators are showing. If support at home improves for our students across the board, then our school division will begin to reach new heights that none of us thought were possible.
Make education a priority in Page County. That hasn’t always been the case in the past, and it’s shown in many ways…from comments by supervisors to comments by parents, and from consistently having one of the highest unemployment rates in the region, to an overcrowded jail and a growing drug problem.
Our schools have some good momentum right now, let’s continue to build on that. Build on the community meetings that are taking place among various agencies in the towns and county and the school system. Build on the rising test scores and retention rates. And build on the general enthusiasm and understanding that’s growing around our schools.
As Ryman told the school board last Thursday, “That continued commitment has us excited about where we are going.”
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PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The writer’s wife is employed by Page County Public Schools as a middle school teacher.