‘The Harrisonburg Story’
School Division Gives State Official A Take-Home Message Of Innovation
Posted: October 3, 2012
Javaid Siddiqi (right), Virginia deputy secretary of education, chats with Harrisonburg High School junior America Mendoza, 15, at lunch during Siddiqi’s tour of city schools on Tuesday. Siddiqi said some of the city’s programs could be models for other school systems. (Photos by Nikki Fox / DN-R)
Harrisonburg City Schools Superintendent Scott Kizner gives Javaid Siddiqi (left), Virginia deputy secretary of education, a tour of the STEM program at Harrisonburg High School on Tuesday. Freshman Karan Chalishajar, 15, (foreground) works on a school project as they speak.
Harrisonburg High School Principal Tracy Shaver (right) escorts Javaid Siddiqi, Virginia deputy secretary of education, around his school Tuesday afternoon.
Which is why Virginia Deputy Secretary of Education Javaid Siddiqi was invited to hear the tale firsthand on Tuesday.
Siddiqi, accompanied by Kizner, Harrisonburg City School Board members, other division leaders and a James Madison University representative, made stops at Smithland Elementary, Skyline Middle and Harrisonburg High schools to observe some of the division’s unique programs.
Included on the tour were stops to see a dual-immersion program; a “newcomer” program; and the division’s new science, technology, engineering and math academies, which provide tailored courses to students interested in STEM fields.
Dual immersion is where students can choose to have half of each day taught in English and half in Spanish. The newcomer program is an English-learning program for students who are new to the country.
Siddiqi said the success of Harrisonburg City Schools lies in its innovation.
“That immersion program, I can tell you right now, I can list schools that would not have that program because the school board would be eaten for lunch by the parent population,” Siddiqi said.
When he returns to Richmond, Siddiqi said he would meet with Gov. Bob McDonnell to “share the Harrisonburg story,” particularly by informing McDonnell of the school’s dual-immersion and STEM programs.
Siddiqi said some of Harrisonburg’s programs could potentially be used as models for other divisions.
“It’s a K-through-12 approach,” he said about the division’s STEM programs. “[Students are] really starting to get a keen interest. We don’t have enough of that happening. I’m ready to go back to the governor to talk about doing elementary STEM [programs].”
In addition to talking about programs during the hourlong meeting that concluded the visit, issues facing local schools were discussed.
Among them was the difficulty in closing performance gaps among student groups on standardized tests, particularly English-language learners, Harrisonburg High School Principal Tracy Shaver said.
In Harrisonburg, about 40 percent of the division’s students have limited English proficiency.
Kizner expressed his doubt in the state accountability system’s ability to close achievement gaps between student groups.
“I wish … [we could] take every child and show growth,” he said. “There’s a flaw in the system [that relies on] testing more and raising the standards … to close [achievement] gaps.”
Siddiqi told the group that some of the concerns about accountability may be addressed by a new committee announced by the governor last week.
In a letter sent Sept. 26 to the Virginia Board of Education, McDonnell said that a group of education leaders would “begin examining the ‘gap’ and methods of closing it from within each school district.’”
Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or email@example.com