Southmont’s Burgess lays foundation for district improvement

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NEW MARKET — Southmont Sr. High Principal Jesse Burgess and others are formulating an overall academic improvement plan for the district.

Presenting the plan’s foundations to the Southmont school board Monday during a regular meeting, Burgess told members that a simple plan may be the best route to overall growth.

“We’re going to narrow our focus and we’re going to begin understanding what we show up every day to do,” Burgess said. “This is the centrality of everything we’re doing: We are going to be student-centered in every decision we make. If it’s not student-centered, we’re not even going to entertain it.

“Furthermore, whatever decision we make, we want to support our teachers in that process.”

Focusing on students while supporting teachers are two of the plan’s three focuses. The other, Burgess said, is to expand on the district’s professional learning community.

With simplicity and the three focuses in mind, Burgess said the school’s mission and vision statements needed to be reimagined so they can be better instilled in the minds of students, parents, teachers and administrators.

Burgess gave his teachers a pop quiz on the first “teacher day” of the school year to see just how many could recite the district’s complex mission and vision statements.

“None of them could write down the mission statement — not one,” Burgess said. “I said, ‘Let’s write down the school vision statement.’ None of them knew. I said, ‘OK, let’s start smaller. Write down your departmental goals.’ Some departments, two of the eight, knew. So I said, ‘Write down your personal goal for the year. How do you want to improve as a professional?’

“They all knew that,” he continued. “So I use that as a point that, unless we know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there ... we’ll forget, we’ll get sidetracked or we’ll get bogged down with our day-to-day operations.”

The new mission statement: To empower students to think critically, act responsibly and pursue excellence.

The new vision statement: Creating a culture of growth.

And culturalization is critical in today’s civil and political landscape, he added.

“One thing that we’re looking to do is to try to expose our students to different cultures and different groups of people,” Burgess said, adding that exchange programs will hopefully be reinstated following the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Another part of the plan is to increase student growth in academics through four goals:

• Students will increase individual growth by improving reading comprehension scores by 1% in four years as measured by ISTEP+, SAT, SRI, PSAT and NWEA;

• Special needs students will increase individual growth in the same areas by 1%;

• All students will meet or exceed pass rate for the ELA and math components of the ISTEP+; and

• Continued focus and evaluation of Action Plan — improvement priorities per AdvancED accreditation and evaluation process.

These goals can only be achieved through collective commitment, he said.

“Things like: We will always put students first, we will always give students the benefit of the doubt, we will always work with our state, and we will always respond with kindness to frustration,” he said.

Furthermore, committees of teachers and students will be formed to create a constant flow of feedback for the administration, on which it will base its decisions.

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