Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Agnor-Hurt Elementary is Awesome

When families come through Belvedere, many of them ask me about Agnor-Hurt Elementary, the Albemarle Public School district we send our children to. I have just got say, Agnor-Hurt is awesome.

I did what many parents do before they move their family to a new town; I checked out the public schools. I went to and tried hard to "figure it out" from a distance. I made several visits to Charlottesville before making the move to see what the schools were like. I visited the Waldorf School, Cale, Merriweather Lewis and Agnor Hurt. I was very worried about my son in particular. All he knew was a small very sheltered life in Vermont. His public school there was 100 kids k - 8th grad, and he had been with the same kids since kindergarten. We moved in the middle of his third grade year. I chose Belvedere and Agnor-Hurt became our school.

At first, it was a little daunting because of the size; about 475 students preschool through 5th grade. There were about 60-65 third graders alone (three classes of 20-24 each). We were all overwhelmed with the amount of people in Charlottesville and the kids in schools. But soon, we realized many positive things about Agnor Hurt:

  • The Diversity: Over 23 different languages spoken by students from 16 different countries. The children would never have had that exposure to the world if we had stayed in the Vermont. Nor would they have that kind of exposure if they attended private school or some other schools in the county.
  • The Prinicipal: Michele Del Gallo is amazing. I have attended many of the PTO meetings and witnessed to her organizational and leadership skills. She has really brought the team of 45 teachers, 23 assistants, and 16 support staff together. The teamwork sounds incredible. It takes a talented leader to bring so many people together and have them work efficiently and keep the moral up. She is there for most every afterschool and evening event (and there are plenty!). She makes herself available to students, parents, and all her staff. She is very inspiring to be able to work with to improve the lives of children. She also has tremendous vision for the school.
  • The Teachers: Almost half of the teachers in the school have advanced degrees. I have attended most every event I could and I have been impressed with the commitment of the teachers. The principal tells me the school is researching becoming an International Baccaluareate School because 28 of the staff members were interested in it. I come from a world that highly values homeschooling. I have listened to my friends say many bad things about organized schooling, especially public. While we all agree that the public school system does not work for everyone, I could not help but think that there is no way I could do as good a job as these teachers. They have played close attention to my son, nominated him for special programs, and helped him feel at home. There are many special supports in that school, from the Guidance Counselor Carol Fox who especially helped me make the transition mid-year with my son, to the in-school psychogist, to the Gifted and Technology teacher John Hunter. My son has already learned to make presentations in PowerPoint, something I only learned last year. I feel like this school is preparing my son for the bigger world.
  • The Parents: The PTO is really amazing, a group of parents many of whom have multiple children and a job. We do many things to support the school and their events. The list is long: Choral Programs, International Dinner, Special Assemblies, Skate Night, Chik-fil-A night, Book Fairs, Martin Luther King Play, School Dances, and more. The fundraising that we do also supports the teachers. It is an amazing circle of support for the students.
  • The Programs: Last year, the school put a lot of energy into math and the scores are there to show it. The following are quotes from a powerpoint presentation Ms. Del Gallo made at the beginning of the year:
"Agnor Hurt lead the division in math growth while maintaining our scores in reading on the 2008 SOL tests. We saw 15% gains in pass rates for each grade, bringing our overall pass rate in math up to 89.3%"

Here are some more quotes that are just amazing outstanding achievements for Adequate Yearly Progress reports:
  • 100% pass rates for 3rd Grade Special Education Students, up from 42.9% the previous year.
  • 100% pass rates for 4th Grade Special Education Studnets, up from 50% the previous year.
  • 19% increase in reading for 3rd grade free and reduced lunch students, from 66.7% to 85.7%
  • 52.5% increase in match for 3rd grade free and reduced lunch students, from 30.8% to 83.3% (check that out!!!)
  • 49.3% increase in match for 3rd grade African American students, from 38.9% to 88.2% (another huge wow!!!!)
  • 10.8% increase in math for 4th grae African American students, from 69.2% to 80%
  • 40.4% increase in math for 4th grade free and reduced lunch students, from 33.3% to 73.7%
  • 29.7% increase in math for 5th grade African American students, from 66.7% to 85.7%
  • 10.9% increase in math for 5th grade free and reduced lunch students, from 68% to 78.9%
I would say some learning is happening in that school. All the local press has reported is that Agnor-Hurt did not make Adequate Yearly Progress. I say, What? This school has made more than adequate yearly progress, it has made outstanding yearly progress. In reality, they only missed that mark by 1% in the reading levels in free and reduced lunch students. Give me a break. There is definitely a story there should be told and does not tell it.

Fourth grade for my son has been awesome. My son is a white. The scores for his population are extremely high (in the 95%). Gifted and Technology legendary teacher John Hunter joined the staff and he is a perfect match for my son. This incredible program will allow my son access to many special programs and the schoolwide programs are just as awesome. Here is the list from the beginning of the year:
  • Framework for Quality Learning: every team will create an share a new unit
  • Continue building strong home-school connections with families
  • Adopt a sister school in Africa
  • Continued emphasis on music and art
  • Continue highly effective math strategies
  • New Agnor-Hurt Literacy Plan
  • Writing Across the Curriculum (this is awesome, we just went to the Christmas concert and the music teacher had students write essays if they wanted to be a narrator introducing songs. So creative.)
  • 75 minute blocks for both reading and math
  • Restorative/Responsive Classrooms
  • Schoolwide celebration of every student's successes
I hope to make a difference in that school somehow, too, with nature-based curriculum. Every time Bret and I come away from that school we are in awe. So, don't let an outside report influence you if you are interested in that school. And go and visit for yourself. The school saying is, We Are The Dream. It is a pretty amazing place.


Anonymous said...

Your comments about living in Vermont border are really irksome.

"I felt very isolated and disconnected up there. I craved connection and community."

Living in any rural area in virtually any state can be isolating. If you live in Burlington, you would most likely feel a great deal of connectivity to your community and vibrancy of life- probably a great deal more than you ever will in your "self-segregating" (only the high net-worthy can be your neighbors of choice) subdivision.

And to say that your children "would never have that exposure (of language diversity at Agnor-Hurt Elementary ) had we stayed in Vermont" is simply not true. In Burlington School District, more than 47 native languages are spoken due to a very successful refugee immigration program.

I'm not defending Vermont, which as a small state has an overall 95% white population, but please, get your facts straight before making such disingenuous, ignorant statements comparing your former rural lifestyle to an exclusive, planned subdivision in a suburban setting.

KateRCST said...

I am sure Burlington would have been great, I never went there. I have heard great things about it.

If you don't like my comments, then why read my blog?

Elizabeth said...

Love your comments about Agnor Hurt and currently looking into buying in the area. Thank you!