Virginia Beach Education Association

VBEA president asks for school board to consider calendar option

The following are remarks made by Virginia Beach Education Association president Trenace Riggs concerning the 2016-17 school system calendar at the Dec. 15 School Board meeting in which she asked for them to consider voting on a calendar with two full day embedded professional development days without taking any winter holidays away in December or summer vacation days in August.

Good evening Chairman Edwards, Vice Chairwoman Anderson, members of the school board, and Superintendent Spence. My name is Trenace Riggs, President of the Virginia Beach Education Association.

I am here this evening to discuss the upcoming adoption of the 2016-2017 School Calendar.  I had the distinct privilege of sitting on the calendar committee this fall and would like to share with you some of the important discussions generated from this committee.

The administration presented three calendar options to the committee.  Option 1 was similar to that of the present calendar, Option 2 was quickly dropped because no one liked it and the Option 3 incorporated embedded professional development days for staff.  The committee was tasked with creating a calendar that would keep 183 instructional days, not extend the school year past graduation, not begin the school year before labor day, and find time to embed professional development days for staff.

It was soon evident that there were not enough days in the 2016-2017 school year to accommodate embedded professional development without compromising the summer and/or holiday break in August or December.  Many of the comments from the Alert Now feedback indicated a lack of support for compromising any holiday breaks, stating a desire not to lose valuable time with their families.

Therefore, I propose that the school board consider adjusting the 2016-2017 calendar to allow administration the flexibility to embed professional development into the school calendar without compromising holiday time. The calendar should also allow for full professional development days, rather than half-days, in order to promote continuity and flow during the delivery of instruction. Also, half-days of professional development make it difficult and dangerous for bus drivers in getting students to and from school in a timely manner. Embedding full professional development days into the school calendar will enhance student performance as administration and staff will have time to develop, implement and analyze best practices in the classroom.  Providing staff with time to infuse new programs with lesson plans will enhance student engagement, provide timely feedback on student performance and ultimately raise scores on high stakes tests.

Furthermore, allowing flexibility in the school calendar to create meaningful and engaging professional development will allow for innovative solutions for inclement weather make-up days and boost morale among staff because family time is protected.  Prioritizing meaningful professional development becomes the corner stone of Great Dreams need Great Teachers.

In conclusion, I would offer that 2 instructional days be substituted for professional development days; one day embedded at the beginning of the year and one day embedded after the SOL tests in May.  This way, administration has the flexibility of rolling out new programs at the beginning of the school year, teachers and staff would have time to implement these programs into valuable lesson plans, and then be able to analyze best practices at the end of the year.

I believe that working collaboratively, we can find a working solution to maintaining quality instruction in the classroom while protecting holiday time for all of our stakeholders – the families, the administration and staff of Virginia Beach City Public Schools.  Thank you for your consideration of my proposal and I look forward to a workable solution.

Attorney General releases video outlining dangers of heroin use

In the wake of his appearance at a Virginia Beach forum with school board member Carolyn Weems on heroin use, Attorney General Mark Herring has released a video, “Heroin: The Hardest Hit,” which focuses on heroin and prescription drug abuse in Virginia.

The film examines the epidemic from all angles with Virginians sharing their own stories of addiction and overdose, testimony from parents who lost their children to an overdose, and insights from law enforcement and public health professionals who are working to address the crisis.

Heroin overdose fatalities in Virginia have more than doubled from 100 deaths in 2011 to 239 deaths in 2014, while an additional 547 Virginians died from prescription drug overdose in 2014. Between 2011 and 2013, every region of the state experienced an increase in heroin overdose fatalities. More Virginians were killed in 2014 by heroin and prescription opioid drug overdose than car crashes.

In response to this growing public health and public safety problem, Herring has launched a five-point plan to combat heroin and prescription opiate abuse by creating and implementing partnerships and creative solutions for a complex problem. This film is one example of the preventive and educational measures the Office is pursuing to make all Virginians—from teenagers to adults—more aware of the growing crisis involving heroin and prescription and the risks associated with these dangerous drugs.

See the video below:

VBEA president on American Education Week

The following is the address given by Virginia Beach Education Association president Trenace Riggs during the Nov. 17, 2015 Virginia Beach City Public Schools school board meeting. 

This isn’t merely a commemoration of American Education Week. It isn’t just a simple acknowledgement and then we move on and forget the hardworking teachers, support staff, administrators, volunteers – and students – who make Virginia Beach City Public Schools the great schools they are.

Our schools are places with open doors, open minds and open hearts. It’s something we need to take time to appreciate not just on designated days or weeks, but year round. That appreciation not only needs a sincere thank you, it needs sincere compensation and recognition.

We take for granted the people who open up the building every morning, and the people who open the doors to the buses and diligently bring our students to school every day.  We take for granted our great teachers who we count on to enrich and expand the minds of everyone who comes into their classroom, and open their hearts to the world.

They welcome everyone – with open doors, open minds and open hearts.

Great public schools are a basic right, and our responsibility, and it’s a responsibility everyone associated with them takes seriously.

Every student comes into the classroom carrying a heavy backpack of burdens – broken homes, poverty, perhaps violence or drugs, trying to keep up, trying to catch up, all the while trying to get a leg up.

Even for ones whose backpack of burdens doesn’t seem so severe on the surface, there are still other burdens – or perhaps pressures – which make that backpack a heavy one.

Peer pressure, academic pressure, athletic pressure, mental and emotional pressure. No matter the student, each has his or her own backpack of burdens. These students, nonetheless, have great dreams, and those great dreams need great teachers.

Our teachers open their doors in order to enrich their students’ minds and open their hearts. They do it amidst these many challenges, AND as teachers add roles to their job description – counselor, coach, mentor, mediator, motivator, a resource person, enforcer – and have placed upon them added burdens in paperwork and extra duties which result in lost planning. That’s in addition to the meetings, interruptions and other changes which result in teachers leaving the building long after students are gone, and then taking their grading and planning home.

They don’t have a choice in who comes through their classroom doors, and yet they have to quickly assess what is in each student’s unique backpack of burdens to determine how best to turn his or her time in school into a productive one in which they can comfortably remove that backpack from their shoulders  ­- all the while providing them with the best environment in which to enrich their minds.

Our teachers, and all those who work for Virginia Beach City Public Schools deserve more than our sincere thanks and gratitude.

They deserve sincere compensation and sincere recognition, and they deserve to be heard with sincerity when they say they’re overburdened with large classes, when they tell us they have too little time to plan, when they say their students face too many standardized tests or are facing their backpack of burdens.

The work our teachers do is life-changing and life-affirming. They open their doors, enrich minds and open hearts, and for the myriad roles they play in the lives of their students, and their community, we owe them complete sincerity.

Dyslexia group co-hosts symposium, movie screening at Webb Center

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, affecting 15 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Sinkinson Dyslexia Foundation was founded in 2008 with the mission to teach children and adults with dyslexia how to read, at no cost to the families. On Thursday, Oct. 1, the foundation and Old Dominion University will co-host “Why Can’t I Reab Like Everdoby Else?,” a symposium on dyslexia.

The event begins at 6:30 p.m. in the North Café of Webb University Center with a viewing of the documentary “Dislecksia: The Movie,” which was created and produced by award-winning filmmaker Harvey Hubbell.

The movie tells the funny, though sometimes heartbreaking, story of the life of a dyslexic child (Hubbell himself), his many challenges in surviving the school experience and his ultimate discovery of the effective reading methodology that changed his life.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Hubbell and other panelists with varied expertise in the field of dyslexia. They will address the current state of treatment, the needs of those struggling with dyslexia and pending legislation which will attempt to meet those needs.

Despite average to above average intelligence, children with dyslexia have difficulty learning to “decode,” or read words by associating sounds and letters or letter combinations. They have difficulty recognizing common “sight words,” or frequently occurring words that most readers recognize instantly.

The Old Dominion event will provide families, students and educators the opportunity to learn about this reading disability from adults and children that struggled with dyslexia, as well as professionals in the education and medical fields.

This event is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are strongly recommended.

McAuliffe: ‘We have not honored teachers the way we should have’

Vowing to put K-12 public education atop his budget priority list. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and other state officials received a litany of suggestions on how to improve the working conditions of teachers and provide a better learning environment for children during a education roundtable Monday at Kellam High School.


The crux of the these improvements involve restoring the state money to education to pre-recession levels. McAuliffe, for much of his tour around the state, has heard the calls for increased funding, adding near the end of the forum that with education as the backbone of Virginia’s economy, more resources have to go to classrooms and those who teach in them.

“We can’t expect you to build the workforce of the future if we’re not giving you the resources to do it,” McAuliffe said at the roundtable. “Everything to me is return on investment – ROI. The best money we can spend is making sure that our K-12 system is the best in the country.”

Besides McAuliffe, State Secretary of Education Anne Holton and State Superintendent of Instruction Dr. Steven Staples were among those participating in the roundtable with educators from across south Hampton Roads and the Peninsula. Virginia Beach Education Association president Trenace Riggs was among those in the audience at the roundtable and was pleased with what she heard.

“There was a great representation of legislators from … all over Hampton Roads and they were honest, and they clearly articulated the needs of education in Virginia such as looking at too much testing and restoring the funding for public education in Virginia,” Riggs said. “I feel like he and his state officials were very responsive and have been responsive to our needs. And he also said, and I truly believe that he will be doing this, that he will be making K-12 funding his top priority in his budget this year.”

Tom Anderson, a teacher and track coach at Landstown High School who was on the panel of educators during the roundtable, recommended a once-a-month time for teachers to collaborate, share ideas and engage in research in order to be more effective for students. He said teachers are overwhelmed with paperwork.

“When do we have the time to be better as teachers? Teachers want to be good and we want the resources and the opportunities, but … when you’re limited, when you have 125 or 130 students and you’re trying to have individualized plans and you’re trying to have personal growth, time becomes a factor, ” Anderson said, adding, “our classrooms are really a sanctuary for our kids and they are starving for information. And I think sometimes we can get frustrated as teachers because we can’t always meet all their goals and challenges because we don’t have the time and the resources.

Anderson said his wife, a math teacher at Ocean Lakes High School, “is literally working until 11:30 at night and getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning. It not only affects you as a person, it goes into your family time. … She’s exhausted.”

He noted another teacher at Landstown who has a daughter on the volleyball team was grading papers at 7 p.m.

“I saw her at 7 o’clock the next morning coming down the hallway with a Mountain Dew,” Anderson said. “And literally her eyelids were this close,” holding two fingers millimeters apart. “She said, ‘I cannot keep my eyes open,’ and we’re just in September. We have not gotten into October, November, December. Teachers are being pulled in a multiplicity of ways, so I think we have to be very creative as a group to make sure that we are adhering to the physical challenges, the mental challenges, in order to be more effective for our students.”

Teachers from across south Hampton Roads and the Peninsula, along with state education leaders, took part in an education roundtable on Sept. 28 at Kellam HS. Current Virginia Beach City Public Schools teacher of the year Bradley Ward, a fifth grade teacher at Rosemont Forest Elementary School, called for scaling back objectives.

“They’re coming up with so much more stuff that we have to deal with, yet we keep adding objectives,” Ward said. “And it’s not removing a higher expectation, it’s creating a more specific expectation. Because a higher expectation doesn’t necessarily mean more stuff, it’s, let’s make the stuff that we do need to know, as rigorous as possible.”

More of the assembled panel called for better support of special education teachers, fewer standardized tests and smaller class sizes, in addition to increased funding. Another on the panel called for a pre-Labor Day start to the school year, and yet another said teachers – especially math and science teachers – need a living wage in order to keep the best and brightest from going into the private sector.

Virginia Beach City Public Schools superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence noted McAuliffe’s outspokenness in his support of public schools, teachers and students.

“Your attendance, and the attendance of everyone in this room, points to the value you place on public education, and the important role that we all play in advocating for the children of our region,” Spence said.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe participates in an education roundtable at Kellam High School. McAuliffe told the roundtable and the assembled audience of education stakeholders that teachers deserve more support.

“Unfortunately, in the last few years, we have not honored teachers the way we should have,” he said. “We have not given them the resources they need to be successful.”

Said Holton: “We are in a moment where we have recognized that we have been putting our local schools all across the Commonwealth in some significant stress.”

“These kids deserve our best, and in order to give them our best, we have to be at our best,” Anderson said.