I always look forward to the start of a new school year. It brings the excitement and exploration of new knowledge and the anticipation of new possibilities for all of our students.
This new school year started like no other. Like many school divisions across Virginia and our country, Newport News Public Schools began school with virtual instruction. While we are all adjusting to this new way of learning, this year is no different than any other.
On September 8, there were kindergarten students meeting their teachers for the first time. There were seniors starting their final year of high school, thinking about all the possibilities that lie ahead. And there were children who were relying on our staff for healthy meals, guidance and support, looking forward to seeing friends and classmates.
No matter the setting, our dedicated Newport News Public Schools team is still making a difference in the lives of our students. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that the ultimate measure of a person is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
The last several months have certainly challenged us; however, these times are also teaching us that we are capable of turning significant challenges into opportunities. When schools closed in March, parents and educators had to quickly pivot to a new learning arrangement. Parents and caregivers became in-home teachers, tutors and instructional coaches. While the new learning format was unexpected, we persevered together and learned along the way.
To prepare for this school year, Newport News Public Schools began an aggressive digital transformation over the summer, launching a new online learning management system and adjusting our resources to ensure that all students — preschool through high school — would have a laptop or tablet to support their learning.
In addition to training for the new technologies, all teachers, administrators and school-based staff received professional development in blended learning, a combination of online, independent learning and face-to-face instruction. Blended learning improves student engagement and supports the student’s individual learning experience. We know that using technology to access online resources increases student interest and interaction and supports learning through exploration and research. More importantly, virtual instruction and blended learning are preparing our students for future success by developing real-world skills, including research, engagement and decision making, the essential abilities that students will need to be college, career and citizen-ready.
At the forefront of this initiative are our dedicated educators and technology professionals. These changes, over such a short period, have challenged many of our staff. However, their commitment to teaching, learning and ensuring that all students have access to technology and the Internet is essential to virtual learning and blended instruction.
In the weeks since this school year started, parents and caregivers have become our education partners once again, ensuring that students are connected and engaged in learning with their teachers. They have transformed their homes into classrooms and are serving as instructional champions, all while balancing their own daily responsibilities. This too has been challenging, especially for parents of elementary-aged students.
I extend a heartfelt thank you to our parents and families for their continued support. Together, we are ensuring that our students are becoming strong, self-directed learners, attributes they will need as they advance to institutions of higher learning and training and the new work environment.
As we navigate through this virtual start to the school year, there will be significant opportunities that present themselves both in our schools and in our homes. Many parents are now more familiar with our educational tools, teaching strategies and the academic capacity of their children. As we move beyond this period, we are hopeful that this experience will continue to lead to a greater appreciation of our education professionals as well as an increased effort to collaborate with our families to support the academic success of our students.