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Gwinnett, Georgia and Fairfax, Virginia Best Schools Visit

September 9-11, 2013

Visiting Team:
Andrea Johnstone, Guidance Counselor
Hal Bourne, English Department Coordinator
Justin Campbell, HHS Principal
Mimi Lichtenstein, Dresden School Board
Frank Bass, Superintendent


There seems to be a natural pressure in education towards institutional tunnel vision.  Classrooms, teams and schools develop their own culture — complete with leaders, norms and accepted ways of doing things.  As Hanover High School embarks on our strategic planning process, to set the direction of our institution over the next several years, we need to be sure we are able to ask tough questions about existing ways of doing things.  We must be able to set aside our educational worldview, momentarily, and see our practices through fresh, unbiased eyes.  Visiting other schools is an effective, efficient way of doing just this.

 — Justin Campbell, HHS Principal

Overview and Purpose

The Visits

Our team spent three full days visiting four high schools, one in Lawrenceville, Georgia (30 miles north Atlanta), and three in Fairfax County, Virginia (the greater Washington, DC area).  These particular schools were chosen after sifting through many e-mails, conversations, and website forays into “best schools” that we had researched and heard about from a number of sources, including our own school board.  Such major cities as Chicago, New York, Boston, and Dallas among others had several schools in the top 100, which provided interesting background to what constitutes great public high schools.  However, it should be noted that many of these schools, which we ultimately chose not to visit, were “magnet” schools with clearly defined admissions criteria. Moreover, their catchment area was significant, reaching distances in some cases beyond an hour’s drive.

We chose the Gwinnett School of Math & Science (GMST) in Georgia largely because of its meteoric rise in the last 5 years, reaching #3 in the country (US News and World Report, 2012), and because the principal was so gracious and forthcoming about his school; so much so, that it allowed us to truly understand and appreciate the nuances and subtleties that made the school an outstanding charter high school in Gwinnett County.  The Fairfax County schools, Robinson, McLean and Langley, were chosen largely because of the longstanding tradition in Fairfax County for quality schools, K-12.  Moreover, as with Gwinnett, the Fairfax superintendent and other senior administrators were most welcoming and provided us with ample opportunity to engage and explore with staff, students and administration. 

The preparation and coordination for all of our visits was well thought out and well managed, and we very much appreciate the enormous lengths our hosts went to in ensuring our stay was as productive and rewarding as possible.  Our days were full, often ending in the late hours of the evening and with a rich and robust opportunity to speak at length with senior administration amidst a series of provocative class encounters, projects and presentations, student council discussions, technology innovations, etc.  Both the principal of Gwinnett, Dr. Jeff Matthews, and the superintendent of Fairfax County, Dr. Karen Garza, spent the entire evening with us in preparation for our visit the next day.  Moreover, due to the variety of schools and the distance to be covered we were escorted by the assistant superintendent, Dr. Martin Smith, who played a significant role in drawing a thread through the underlying philosophy and application of programs throughout the Fairfax County. 

As noted in the following pages, there were several highlights at these schools that bear further consideration and examination. Preeminent among that list is the overriding uniformity of program articulation.  More specifically, the set of expectations, the overriding sense of challenge and rigor when the student walks through the door for the first time does not deviate throughout their four years.  Program articulation and the continuity and consistency by which it is applied grade level to grade level and department to department was very apparent in many of the schools we visited.  Moreover, they put great stock in the universality of their national testing paradigms, whether it be AP or IB, which provided a litmus test, a validation if you will, to the credibility of the program and its relative value when compared to other schools across the county. 

Next Steps

Our next trip will be to Bedford High School in New Hampshire to explore and examine their involvement with the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which in the last three years has grown considerably.  We may also visit some notable schools in the greater Boston area, which would only require a day trip as we did with our visit to St. Paul’s School in Concord.  We are also looking to join the League of Innovative Schools, which is based in Portland, ME.  They have competitive grants as well as opportunities to share and collaborate on innovative practices throughout the New England area. 

Our ongoing study and investigation of what constitutes a “great” high school sets in motion a dynamic of self-reflection and identity not unlike that of the young adolescent looking off into the future and wondering . . . what if!   The recurring theme of intentionality and purpose as we continually scan the horizon in search of excellence begs the questions:  Who are we?  Where are we going?  How are we going to get there?  This will be our mantra as we prepare for the strategic planning and the future of Hanover High School and the communities we serve.

Gwinnett Summary Remarks 

Gwinnett School of Math and Science (GMST) is an interesting and unique high school due to its nature as a Charter School within the larger Gwinnett County as well as the fact that it is designated as a STEM school (Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).  Moreover, GMST does not allow interscholastic athletics, and therefore, many promising students might not put their name in for consideration.  The high degree of minority representation is somewhat misleading in that nearly 80% of that minority is composed of first- and second-generation Asian students who have moved into the area in rather large numbers over the last 5+ years.  As a result, GMST numbers have swelled in recent years, more than tripling the total number of students since its inception year.  The national rankings have helped in marketing and drawing more families to Gwinnett County, which also gives rise to the increasing minority population.  There is a high degree of reliance on the Advanced Placement (AP) program, which was evidenced throughout their curricular program.  Certainly their national ranking had a lot to do with their overall performance on the AP as well as their high incidence of minority and underserved populations.  Professional development is planned year-round, and teachers and administration spoke at length about its necessity and its impact on the overall quality of the teaching staff.

It was abundantly clear that those students who were fortunate enough to be selected in the lottery system looked upon GMST not only as a means by which they could have a leg up on the college admissions process, but more importantly, realized the wealth of opportunity, expectation and overall learning experience that could not be realized elsewhere in the county.  This point was driven home by students’ responses that all centered on two points:  (1) the national reputation of the school, and (2) the success of past graduates, whether at college, graduate school or most notably, the job market.  We heard many success stories of GMST graduates whose partnership with local business and industry, coupled with their performance and success at Gwinnett led to outstanding career opportunities. Conversely, those students who chose to leave GMST in favor of other schools within the county did so at the conclusion of their freshman year, and there were many reasons cited for those choices, much of which centered on athletics and the overall rigor and expectation of the school.  As a result, we observed a “driven” ethos within the student body, but yet also observed a strong sense of pride and ownership in a school they knew would pay dividends for them down the road.  Although we observed noticeable administrative attention to quality controls and building management, it was clear that faculty and staff wanted the best for their students and would look to all measures and means to help make that happen.

The team tours Gwinnett High School. Not shown is photographer Hal Bourne. 

The focus on STEM was a wonderfully galvanizing set of expectations for both staff and students.  From the first day of school to graduation day, the expectations for preparation and performance were clearly set out—challenge and rigor were evident throughout the classes we visited… and we visited many.  We also noted a high degree of group problem-solving with teacher as facilitator and guide.  Students had to “navigate” through myriad problem sets that forced groups to continually collaborate with one another.  Moreover, the problem-solving was not esoteric or ethereal, but pragmatic and part of our everyday world.  It should also be noted that students worked well in their groups throughout the many classes we observed, rarely seeking teacher intervention.  In short, they were well prepared and trained to handle the many group problem-solving situations and scenarios that was a predominant feature of the school.   Moreover, as most teachers will readily acknowledge, requiring students to navigate through a set of creative problem-solving applications requires a great deal of preparation both for teachers and students to truly be successful.  Due to the nature of STEM there were many classes one would not normally find in a public high school, such as advanced robotics, engineering, applied mathematics.  In addition, likeminded classes with a high degree of cross-disciplinary opportunity were scheduled in close proximity (side by side), while others such as PhysEng were designed as hybrid classes to internally take advantage of multiple discipline collaboration and connection. 

We were also most impressed with the school’s partnership program, which begins in grade 9 and culminates with a senior project with a partnership organization, business/industry.  This was well thought out and well received by the student body; it was also viewed by students as a subtle inducement for college admissions as well as future job opportunities, and clearly Gwinnett was looking to bring its graduates back to the county, and thus, give back to the community; it was a point the principal reiterated with pride.  We were also impressed with the number and array of business and industry partnerships, all of which were proudly displayed with banners in the main hallway of the building.  This program was one of the hallmarks of the school!

The staff was dedicated, well trained and pleased to be a part of GMST.  In addition, teachers and administration had worked hard to develop a well-articulated set of curriculum/performance expectations and we observed little dissonance from class to class in terms of those expectations.  Student mastery and understanding of material was apparent in most classes we observed; we were duly impressed and remarked that this was a significant highlight of the school.  It should also be noted that student “engagement” was extremely high and at no time did we observe students not engaged in the task at hand. 

Overall we were very impressed with GMST and very much appreciate the hospitality and warm welcome we received during our stay.  It should be noted that all (staff, students and administration) were very gracious and forthcoming, which made our stay all the more enjoyable and rewarding. 

Fairfax County Summary Remarks

Fairfax County, Virginia, for more than a generation has enjoyed a national reputation for its public schools.  The county has a population of 197,000 students, more than 30 high schools, and a budget of $2.8 billion; needless to say, the management and oversight is quite different from what we’re accustomed to in NH and VT.  Our meeting with the superintendent the night before our visits to schools yielded a fresh, broad perspective on how good schools can become great.  Strategic planning in her words was at the core, and she went on to say that any good system should employ it, with the caveat that it must be truly implemented and followed.  Too many, she lamented, end up on the shelf only to become interesting artifacts to share with community members as a means of validating the quality and direction of their program.  We were all most impressed by her!

One of the resonant chords throughout our discussion was the articulation of curricular/instructional expectations for staff and students as well as grade-level and department-wide performance expectations.  Moreover, she underscored the value of continuous monitoring and improvement of the teacher evaluation system, a point that was echoed by the Assistant Superintendent Dr. Martin Smith the following day.  More specifically, they employ a “walk-through” system whereby admin/evaluators are in individual classes at least 10 times during the year, and like Dresden, the focus is on continuous improvement.  We were also most impressed by Dr. Smith!

A class engages in group problem-solving at a Fairfax County, Virginia, school 

Although several references were made to cross-disciplinary approaches and the need to provide more depth and breadth within a content area, we did not observe that in any of the classes we visited the following day.  Moreover, it was apparent from our walk-throughs that classes in fact were rather traditional in structure and makeup.  As Hal Bourne pointed out, in some ways it was a throwback to the 1950s with neatly arranged rows and aisles and students sitting dutifully at their desks waiting for the next set of instructions from the teacher.  In short, there appeared to be an over-reliance on teacher-directed activities, despite the few forays into “blended” or “flipped” classrooms.  Nevertheless, the student body as evidenced by our talks with Student Council and others we met in the hallways and classes was eager, enthusiastic, and proud to be part of their greater school community.  In short, teachers and students alike throughout FC truly liked their schools and valued the collegiality and the cooperative and supportive spirit that was so much a part of the FC High Schools we visited. 

Robinson High School was truly a gem.  We were most impressed with their role-out of International Baccalaureate (IB) and the careful considerations they put into play to make sure it was a successful venture for all students.  The program is so successful that now the middle school equivalent (MYP) has been introduced and there are plans to bring in an IB equivalent for the elementary feeder schools.  Yet, despite the success of Robinson, there is a reluctance to bring the program to other high-performing high schools in the county, which seemed odd… and the rationale we received, centering on community interests and individual autonomy of the schools, appeared to us as a non sequitur.  It was interesting to note that most classes were set up in the more traditional “rows and aisles” as opposed to the more group-oriented approach, which had great variability from class to class that we observed in Gwinnett.  In large measure the Fairfax County public schools were very traditional in their set-up and one could easily mistake their high schools for ones that predominated the landscape of the 1950s. 

In summary, it should be noted that our visit to Robinson provided the most impetus for after-hours discussion. The how and why of IB, and more specifically, the tenets of IB dominated our thoughts… and we wondered if such a program could be incorporated at HHS.  As with UbD, it is not so much the program, the name, or the protocols that undergird the implementation of such programs; but rather, the philosophical construct and the underlying professional development in terms of providing a more uniform set of quality instructional opportunities across the board; ones that can be quantified and measured vis-à-vis student outcomes and performance.   Clearly we have much to think about in that regard and will continue our conversation through upcoming visits to Bedford High School, which also has enjoyed great success with IB.

Thoughts and Conclusions






Hanover High













Student:teacher ratio






National rank






AP/IB participation

100% AP

83% AP

81% AP

61% IB

28% AP

Proficient reading






Proficient math






College readiness






Minority %






Economically disadv %









8:20a-2:10p (Wed) 




8a-2p (Wed)

*7-12 grade; 2,700 in 9-12

Data from 2012 US News & World Report

When one looks at the numbers in the chart above, you may make assumptions about which is the best school or which has the best education. But as we all know, numbers only tell a part of the story. When you evaluate the substance of what is at these schools, we think Hanover shines very brightly. We took the proactive step of physically touring these schools and talking with the administration, teachers and students because we knew that is where the color and substance resides. Just as the numbers above don't tell the real story of the other schools, they don't reflect the true story of Hanover High.

We are grateful for the opportunity that we had to do this research. We think the information we gleaned was valuable and impossible to achieve via phone calls. We learned that we share many challenges with other high-performing schools, we learned of programs and ideas we would like to explore further and we came to the conclusion that there are many things that our school does remarkably well. We are committed to maintaining our culture, while seeking to improve and refine our program so that it maintains the high quality our community expects and deserves. This recent visit has spurred a great deal of thought with respect to who we are as a school community; where it is we think we should be; and, the means and opportunities by which we approach that journey. Much work has yet to be done as we synthesize the results of this visit and others planned for later this fall. We look forward to continuing our journey of self-reflection and understanding of what truly constitutes “best schools” as we begin in earnest the strategic planning process which is already underway at Hanover High School.

Here are some of the challenges we share with the other schools: 
  • Communicating the success stories of all students, not just the top performers 
  • Spreading positive attributes of good teachers around 
  • Improving teacher collaboration 
  • Increasing communication between teachers in different departments 
  • Having effective project-based learning opportunities 
  • Getting overall buy-in by staff and students for culture of high expectations 
  • Ensuring homework is meaningful and relevant 
  • Inspiring a community culture 
  • Building meaningful, long-term relationships between staff and students 
  • Promoting a growth mindset 
  • Challenging the middle 
  • Defining and demonstrating rigor 
  • Helping students manage stress 
  • Focus on learning, not just grades 
  • Moving from aspirational to operational re: changes 
  • Continuous monitoring and improvement of the teacher evaluation system
Some notable items we would like to explore further:
  • IB — actual program and/or adding the overall tenets and principles to our current program 
  • Project-based learning opportunities across the curriculum 
  • Connecting education with practical life — internships, apprenticeships — connecting with the community 
  • More uniformity and articulation in the layout of the academic program — expectations, measures, results 
  • How to “connect” with all students – socially, emotionally, and academically (Advisory, Common Ground, expanded counseling services, etc.)
Some areas that particularly shine bright for HHS:
  • Council 
  • Class size – teacher/student ratios 
  • March Intensive 
  • German Language Testing Standard 
  • Classes at Dartmouth College (not duplicated at HHS) 
  • National Debate Championships 
  • Quiz Bowl/Granite State Challenge Championships 
  • Ethos and climate of school culture 
  • High participation rate in cocurricular activities — 82% athletics, 92% overall 
  • Teacher Evaluation 
  • Teacher recruitment 
  • COI 
  • Democratic School – Autonomy and voice

Notes and Observations

    Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science & Technology, Lawrenceville, Georgia 

Dr. Jeff Mathews – Principal for 6 years 
Stacey Lovett – Tech Coordinator, PD Coordinator, “Julie” 
Chris Gagan – Tech Coordinator, Media & PR, production background

Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science & Technology (GMST) was located in another high school for 1st 3 years, which allowed them to test all of their technology before their move to the new building. School has nearly doubled in enrollment over the last three years.
  • All classes taught at advanced or AP level 
  • Students and staff “buy in” to high expectations. Graduates come back to talk to Advisory Board. 
  • Not focused on rankings – byproduct of school’s focus on excellence 
  • Curricular approach:
    • Student engagement: rigor, relevance, relationship 
    • Appropriate challenge 
    • Formative assessment most important; they don’t grade everything. 
    • Homework flexible and relevant; a small percentage of overall grade 
    • Spanish classes go to Costa Rica with Science classes 
    • Kids learn their areas of weakness and spend time on them 
    • Interdisciplinary efforts are teacher-based. 
    • Telecommunications: Establish understanding of world and relevance. 
    • Technology integration throughout building; widely used.
  • Assessment: 
    • Common assessment is important. Gradebooks should be fairly equivalent.
    •  Fewer categories: Formative (5-10%), Summative (80%), Exams (10%
  • Assessment strategies linked; striving toward uniformity; high degree of collaboration.
  • Measuring success – look at kids 4-5 years down the line, “not to college, through college”
  • Spreading attributes of good teachers around – Who is your best teacher in xx dept? Link them up with another teacher. How do we accomplish without looking like a pet or making other teachers envious?
  • Teacher collaboration
    • Have teacher teams evaluate themselves on how well they are collaborating; they have a collaboration rubric. 
    • Humanities teachers share ideas and integrate. 
    • Writing across the curriculum. 
    • Math, science and technology classes linked whenever possible; math and science classes strive toward cross disciplinary approaches.
  • 35-person Advisory Board – graduates, university & tech schools, Cisco, NCR, international businesses – look at curriculum and soft skills and give advice on what GMST needs to focus on 
  • Outreach in began in community 2006-07. Community engagement includes internships and partnerships. 
  • 168,000 students in district; 20 other high schools. Many have long drive. Bus trips up to 45 minutes and up to 3 hours total.
    • SPED (1% of student body). Twelve adults supervise these students; there is no formal planning time. Departments connect regarding these students. Foundation provides some funding. 
    • Population 70% minority, of which 90% is Asian, mostly Korean. 22% Black. 35% on free and reduced price meals. 
    • All students out-perform their peers.
  • About the Faculty:
    • Helping/supportive culture 
    • Informal recruiting 
    • Hire most qualified 
    • Teacher evaluation is rated on seven standards; moving toward more formatively based approach. 
    • Communication to staff: FYI’s sent electronically. In staff meetings, teachers can share information about individual students. 
    • Teacher development: Administration connects teachers and plays significant role in spearheading efforts both embedded and external. 
    • Summer leadership conference is held for GCPS teachers. 
    • Must pay the same rate for teachers as other GCPS schools. 
    • GMST hires teachers with varied backgrounds – many have experience in their fields and industries, not just teaching 
    • Charter schools (like GMST) can hire uncertified teachers and get them certified 
    • Some go on study abroad programs. Math teachers discuss aqueducts. 
    • Most teachers are available extra hours – do not just work hours contracted to work. Really care about students. 
    • Why do teachers like to work at GMST? Because they are working with other driven people, up each other’s game, students want to be there. 


  • 2 lecture halls with video conferencing throughout the world
  • State of the art music technology room, production room
  • Foreign language rooms with headphones
  • 1:1 device donated by Lenovo
  • Science labs are set up like college — lab is separate from classroom
  • Money goes to infrastructure instead of into athletics


75% of teachers use Desire2Learn (D2L) (like Edmodo -- https://www.edmodo.com/ ). D2L gives students 24/7 learning access

  • Allows teachers to give online tests, essays etc. 
  • Teachers can monitor the tests in real time 
  • Lock down feature – no stickies, Internet access etc. 
  • Allows teachers to grade all individual questions at one time, anonymously, no messy handwriting issues 
  • Reduces expenses for scantrons (used for testing) 
  • $40/teacher/yr 
  • Math teachers are also using it
  • Inspiring quotes all over the building – classrooms, hallways etc. (Confucius, Aristotle, etc) 
    • “For success attitude is equally as important as ability”
    • “Listen and silent are spelled with the same letters”
  • Students can take PE or health online to free up more time for academic classes. 
  • No free periods for students
  • Zero period 7-8am – band/orchestra plus a period during the day
  • 7 period school day
  • 48 minute periods with some courses taught on block schedule


  • Part of 9th grade curriculum – communicating with others in foreign countries (via videoconferencing) 
  • Common core was aligned with AKS (academics, knowledge, skills) and never called common core again 
  • Long, project based assignments 
  • Flipped classroom – learn the lower level concepts at home and have higher order discussion in classroom. Use almost all in-house videos made by teachers or previous years’ students. Very few Kahn videos. 
  • Do homework in class because most parents don’t understand physics 
  • There are many experts in class (students), not just the teacher 
  • 6 – 8 week project units. Teachers create the templates. 
  • Student group contract template online 
  • Every project has established rubric 
  • Unit is 6 weeks; has 3 break-outs. 
  • Whole group concept 
  • Overarching project 
  • Intervention by peers 
  • Remediation during lunch. 
  • If math is weak, student does double periods. 
  • All work on Google site. 
AP Calculus/AP Physics collaborate
  • AP calc teacher is an engineer by trade. Teachers collaborate if they have common planning time or typically in the hall on the fly 
Curriculum Misc:
  • Summer before 9th grade there is a 1 week mandatory class – test on STEM areas. 
  • Give students with incoming math “deficiencies” more time to reach math expectations – 1 extra year of a math strategies class to get them up to speed (and let them experience success). They also teach them the fundamentals of engineering in this time. PhysEng class is then delayed until 10th grade. 
  • Approx 11% of incoming students drop out after this week.
  • Polished, well spoken, mature, confident 
  • All take AP Bio & AP Calculus 
  • Senior capstone project – internship with local company. Ex: Music technology – create an album, develop website, market it, have a concert, develop a portfolio
Partnership Program – 100% students participate; cannot exist without community.
  • 21 companies needed, or it wouldn’t work; first secured big companies then smaller ones. 
  • 9th grade – Speaker series (4x/year, approx 18 speakers each time, 1 hr each) Speaker examples – engineers, researchers at colleges and universities; 1o min. on background, 10 min on what person does, rest on questions from students; students list 1st, 2nd, 3rd choices. 
  • After assigned, they do background research and develop list of 5 questions, including 1 “back pocket question.” ELA teacher makes sure this is done. Molly meets with the speaker right after the meeting, asks about how they like the school and if they are interested in having an intern etc. (Idea is to hook a new partner at this level and move them up to the internship level) 
  • 10th grade – Job shadow (2 hour program at the company) 
    • HR professionals from GMST partners come in for the afternoon – work on résumé writing, personal branding, interviewing skills, professional attire. By the end of day each student has a working résumé. At the end of 10th grade year they are applying for an 11th grade internship. 
    • February of 10th grade year each student spends the morning with a college or university rep. Kids rank 1-3 choices and only see 1 school. Then they come together in a language arts class and debrief about their experiences. In World History class they draft their thank you letters. 
  • 11th grade – Junior Fellowship Experience 
    • Students partnered with university and industry experts and complete “in-depth work assignments and projects”. Students can do an internship or independent project. Summer, semester or year. 
    • students watch mock interviews and participate in mock interviews 
    • ex: working for an orthopedic surgeon on an “X-ray puzzle” 
  • 12th grade – Senior Capstone Experience 
    • Integrated with ELA. All students write a research paper. All teachers and administrators have a student match (even Jeff). 3 days in April where seniors present their portfolio to a panel – advisor, mentor at company, GMST administration & 3 peers. Some 9th & 10th grade classes watch as a model for the future. Choose between internships and independent projects. 1 year long.
Counselor Staff
  • Molly McAuliffe – Internship coordinator; oversees partnership program; does outreach to get businesses involved, works with Chamber of Commerce. 
  • Leverages the connections of GMST parents, the advisory board, Rotary (“ate chicken at every bbq”) 
  • Internship value to the company – unpaid, training STEM graduates for workforce in 4 years, some co’s require volunteerism by employees and this gives them a connection to GMST where they can volunteer in other capacities 
  • Molly holds a mentor orientation each fall; helps them develop project ideas – if it already exists, how can we frame it? 
  • Amy – Head counselor – 9th grade focus (10th graders don’t need much) 
  • Meg – College placement specialist; expectation of 100% placement. Focuses on 11th/12th graders. Has relationship with alumni; gets to know students by being in the cafeteria, after school, at events; responsible for approximately 170 seniors and 170 juniors.
  • Building relationships with kids 
  • Collaboration between teachers – logistics, big building, time 
  • Maintain rigor with broad spectrum of academic abilities 
Students’ perspective
  • Internship was life changing – some think they are interested in a specific field, but this changes their focus to something else. (engineering ->MBA) 
  • Learned about different types of engineering routes 
  • 9th & 10th grade projects force collaboration and working with others 
  • 11th & 12th grade – more individual challenges, no projects 
  • learn time management, not to procrastinate 
  • US History – 2 chapters/week, 3-6 hrs/chapter/week in reading and note taking 
  • Leadership opportunities at school are amazing – clubs, student council 
  • Initiated acts of appreciation – banners & cards, gifts for teachers, partners, custodians, other students – all student driven 
  • Mentor middle school robotics classes and do work in community 
  • They’ve received a huge gift of a high quality education at GMST and they want to give back 
  • One complaint about the transition into 9th grade 
  • Majority of students go to U of Georgia or Georgia Tech 
  • 75% in GA colleges 
  • Some to Ivies, MIT 
  • 90% declare a STEM major 
  • Hope scholarship 
  • Alumni tell GMST that they should not change anything about JFE and SCE!
 Differences Relevant
  • 1% special ed.
  • No varsity sports
  • Long commute/waiting time
  • 11% leave before 10th grade
  • More assistant principals
  • $ from athletic facilities goes into classrooms and technology
  • Higher student ratio
  • No free periods
  • PE/health available online
  • staff wear nametags
  • Galvanize students, teachers, partners, community through STEM principle.  What is ours?
  • Internship/speaker series/connections with community
  • Advisory board
  • Connect classroom with practical, real life companies, projects, community etc.
  • Connecting humanities with STEM subjects and make relevant
  • PD day – effective use of homework
  • Keep teachers focused on being a piece of larger community/world
  • Common calendar – teachers, students, parents
  • The way Huck Finn is taught (understanding what was going on in history at the time)
  • Part of 9th grade curriculum – communicate with others in a foreign country
  • Students and staff “buy in” to high expectations
  • Focus on “fit” – students, teachers, administrators
  • Send specifics for staff meetings in email so time spent in meetings is focused on best interest of students
  • Growth mindset
  • How do we share the successes of middle/lower kids?
  • How do we tell the story about kids scoring above their predictors (2 on AP exam)
  • Building relationships with kids
  • Collaboration between teachers – logistics, big building, time
  • Maintain rigor with broad spectrum of academic abilities

Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax, Virginia

Karen Garza – Superintendent
24,000 employees, 30 high schools, 197,000 students, 2.8 billion dollar budget
  • Developing “Portrait of a Student” (upon graduation) and working backwards to determine what is needed in the curriculum, preparation during school. 
  • Do our teachers know our district’s goals and priorities? Include them in goal development (strategic planning). 
  • Planning for electronic portfolios for each student – evaluated 
  • Very little project based learning 
  • 12 member board – 4 year commitments 
  • Use Bridges – (like Naviance) in middle school. Develop 6-10 year plan 
  • Big fan of backwards design (UbD) 
  • In Lubbock & Plano, TX they selected World Language Labs – after looking at all international programs. Require a lot of speaking, use headphones and students talk a lot more. About $30,000 upfront. 
  • Have 1:1 initiative in some classes, but do not take equipment home 
  • Use I station at elementary level in reading and math. Kids can use it at home; parents can see it. 
  • FCPS use Gallop Strengths Finder 
  • FCPS spend $13,500/student ($6,400/student in Lubbock) 
  • Thomas Jefferson – home district must pay your tuition; undergoing $90m renovation, 1,800 students, $1800 tuition/student (is this right?). May be able to share how they challenge their high performers. Use labs, project based learning. 
  • Admissions – teacher nominations, assessments, student inventory about interests 
Use We Learn We Teach surveys – gives evidence of
  • disconnect between student’s opinion and teacher’s opinion 
  • Big supporter of strategic planning; cited Houston schools’ turnaround as a result of sound strategic plan. 
  • Organizational management by clusters and striated with several mid-level assistant superintendents and directors; similar at the building level with as many as 8 assistant principals at the high school level. 
  • Due to large size of county takes a 30,000 ft view of teaching/learning continuum. 
  • Articulation, consistency of message, and uniformity of purpose, FCPS superintendent mantra 
Quotes: “I’m impressed that you’ve engaged in this process. People get comfortable. But people can learn from each other…Very forward thinking on your part.” In response to our depiction of HHS, “You have Utopia!” Karen Garza

Robinson Secondary School, Fairfax County

Dan Parris, Associate Superintendent
Responsible for 2 high school pyramids and 23,000 students; 32 years in FCPS
Matt Eline – new a/o 9/2013; grew up in the Berkshires
Mike Mukai – Associate Principal
Wendy Vu, Lisa Green – IB Coordinators

A class discusses humanities in a Fairfax County high school.

International Baccalaureate (IB) was originally brought in to Fairfax County Public Schools that were underperforming as a means to reduce number of students moving out of the district. Jeb Stuart HS (70% free & reduced) and Annandale HS are two.
  • Success of IB is the pride of the county. 
  • Like the enclosed 7-12 model because middle school students can take high school classes. 
  • 200 IB diploma candidates (4,000 students total) 
  • 30-40 junior/senior IB candidates out of 600-700 student classes 
  • 900 out of 1300 juniors/seniors take at least 1 IB class 
  • Offers some online courses if the school unable to offer all IB courses. 
  • MYP IB – middle school program (7-8th) in all feeder schools to Robinson (K-12 alignment)
  • MYP has extended essay project due at end of 10th grade 
  • PYP IB – primary years program 
  • Robinson has had IB since 1997 
  • IB teaches the how/why vs. AP emphasizes “the what.” 
  • IB marketed as college prep vs. AP marketed as college credit 
  • IB courses give a global perspective, have more depth, ask you to think like scientists, historians etc. 
  • University of Virginia has commented that the extended essay done in the IB program indicates better performance in students. IB kids are getting research jobs for professors. 
  • Professions aren’t looking for kids who can tell you what you told them – they want analysis, depth of thinking; knowing used to be good enough, now you have to understand 
  • IB expense - $10,000 + $150/exam +$104, teacher training expense 
  • Focus on 10 years from now: What are you going to remember? 
  • “You get what you pay for” 
  • IB has high-quality programs and materials 
  • Robinson runs a certificate (1 off classes) and a diploma IB program 
  • IB English is a two-year program 
  • There is autonomy for teachers to choose the literary works for their classes from a long list 
  • Most teachers teach IB and non-IB course; there are 2 full-time IB Coordinators 
  • There is spillover from IB class principals and approach to regular non IB classes 
  • Dan Parris mentioned teacher as Rocky Run (middle school) who taught high level courses also teach lower level courses, which ratcheted up rigor for all. His 3 kids all went to Robinson. 
  • IB headquarters is in Baltimore 
  • 50-70% of kids at Robinson take IB, AP or honors classes 
  • There is no senior outside project at Robinson 
  • Students work on an extended essay all throughout junior and senior years. They write a 4,000 word essay (heavily uses research skills, write 10-14 pages) 
  • IB has standard and higher level courses, including “math for English majors” 
  • Jay Mathews – writer for The Washington Post, writes about IB 
  • Robinson IB coordinators most impressive; truly understand value and application of IB 
  • Associate Principal, Mike Mukai also most impressive; very thoughtful and big picture oriented. 
Teacher Evaluations
  • Assessment data not effective because not all students/teachers in district more than 3 years. 
  • SMART(ER) goals are self-developed. 
  • School though large (3800) incorporates walk-throughs as formative assessment. 
  • 275 students/counselor 
  • Higher teacher/student ratios 
  • During block periods students choose the class they want to attend 
  • #1 thing Mike would bring to another school is mutual respect, especially teachers’ respect for students 
  • Pie day – day before Christmas break 
  • Ice cream truck for everyone on the first day of school 
  • Takes IB tenets and puts them into their program 
  • Has senior research project – often those projects are worked into dissertations later 
  • Optics and modern physics is the first chance to have applied knowledge in physics (per Mike) 
  • Look at “Portrait of a Graduate” and then do backwards design. 
  • What is your capstone project and how does it fit? 
  • Look at key Passage Points and foundational skill levels (i.e. reading in 2nd grade) 
  • “How do we operationalize these lofty goals?”
Langley High School, Fairfax County

Matt Ragone – principal for 6 years 

Quote: “This community demands a good school. Our school believes in lifelong learning. And, that’s for teachers too.”

Principal’s proud precepts:
  1. Positive relationships 
  2. Learning for all 
  3. Collaboration 
  4. Professionalism 
  • In the midst of a strategic plan review 
  • Matt engages with teachers on curriculum discussions and visits classrooms 
  • There are 10-13 expectations for every teacher; protect from burnout. 
  • He has issues getting humanities teachers to mix with science and math 
  • Before Matt arrived there was distrust within the school community 
  • Saw a flipped history class – 31 kids/class; kids read at home, do homework in school – allows for more, deeper discussion; not impressed with the quality of this teacher. 
  • Matt taught at McLean High School. Project Enlightenment (social studies, English, Science, Math) - Project Enlightenment is an educational outreach program designed to engage students and community members by placing academics in a historical context. Each student assumes the role of an early American figure and aims to personify their professional achievements, personal philosophy, and way of life. Through character research and prop development the student achieves an understanding of his/her historical figure, then employs theatrical methods such as period attire and dialect to convey this understanding to an audience. By promoting this method of living history, both members of the club and the community gain a greater appreciation for the past. 
  • In order to increase teacher collaboration Matt questions the teachers on what they and their teams are focusing on. “Eventually I’ll need to prove that you are collaborating.” 
  • Powerful sense of community 
  • PTSA very active fundraisers – raised $70,000 last year; most spent on technology 
  • Classes tended to be large… upwards of 27/28: VA rule 35:1 cap 
  • Limited in terms of faculty collaboration and cross-disciplinary opportunities 
Perception and opinion that “middle kids” were not being attended to
  • Matt went on a PR campaign – every assembly, every meeting, open house – “There is a place for you at Langley” – club, group, etc. or create your own club 
  • Added honors classes between regular and AP

McLean High School, Fairfax County

Ellen Reilly – new principal
  • Appreciative of student body - academic focus, confident, polite 
  • Over the summer had all teachers read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, and teachers attend a summer training. 
  • Teachers set high expectations but must set up support to make it happen 
    • Teachers understand students’ high stress 
    • Teachers are challenged by working with diverse populations (SPED, Hispanic) 
  • Hired instructional coach – 1 year position, this is the first year 
    • Centrally trained – 1 month in August 
    • Doesn’t talk about teachers with the principal 
  • Assessment coach gives Ellen data (ex: on students’ SOL scores vs. grades in class) – that allows her to focus her efforts on specific teachers 
  • Best Buddies – intellectually disabled kids matched with other kids 
  • Encourage all kids to take 1 honors or AP class 
  • McLeadership mentoring – 15 student exec board; 140 McLeaders (1 has 5 freshmen); trained over summer (leadership, mentoring)