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2512 George Mason Drive • P.O. Box 6038 Virginia Beach, Virginia 23456-0038   757.263.1000 • 757.263.1240 TDD

Future Focus: For Children's Sake

Feb. 27 at 6:30 p.m.

Superintendent James G. Merrill recently gave his review of the state of the school division during his Future Focus address. Merrill highlighted many of the division's accolades and achievements and also addressed the ever-growing gap between funding for public education and the amount of new educational mandates coming from state and federal legislation. View his presentation in full.

Questions submitted to Dr. Merrill during Future Focus and the corresponding answers are below.

In resolving education transition issues for military families, the Interstate Compact Commission has been adopted to include Virginia. How has VBPS adopted the interstate compact to support military families? Yuchen Hubbard, Ph. D.

VBCPS supports the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children as a means to ensure timely enrollment and appropriate placement of military connected students in our schools and to help current VBCPS students as they transfer out of Virginia Beach. In fact, Virginia Beach Superintendent James Merrill serves on the Virginia Council on the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. The division's participation in the interstate compact is also aimed at helping military connected students graduate on time. For example, under the compact, VBCPS accepts out-of- state assessments in an effort to ensure students can meet graduation requirements for earning verified credits. VBCPS has also used the interstate compact to assist students with meeting eligibility requirements for athletics and activities under the Virginia High School League. The interstate military compact helps VBCPS to ensure a seamless transitioning in or out of our schools for all military connected students.

Why are the children of Virginia Beach not being taught vocabulary and spelling? Denise Jackson

Virginia Beach students are engaged in vocabulary development and spelling in the context of a comprehensive approach to literacy. We think some of the misunderstanding on this front might be the result of the fact that the methodology for teaching vocabulary and spelling might not be exactly the same as it was a few years ago. For example, in the past, vocabulary and spelling lists were often employed. That was good for those students who excelled in memorization and seeing patterns... However, for the vast majority of learners, studying the elements of language needs to be approached in more authentic and meaningful ways-not just through memorization. Engagement in Word Study, learning Latin and Greek roots, and uncovering vocabulary in the context of reading and content are highly effective methods and are among the ways in which Virginia Beach students are learning vocabulary and spelling.

The President stated in his recent State of the Union Address that he wanted to see high school students graduate with an Associate's Degree like the students in Germany. Is this a reality for us? How can this be obtained and what do you think the curriculum look like? Lorinda Hughes

The Code of Virginia was recently amended to require community colleges to create plans with local school divisions to provide students the opportunity to earn an associate's degree or a one year certificate. While it is a rigorous course of study, students will be soon able to earn an associate's degree using a combination of advanced placement and dual enrollment courses. Tidewater Community College is currently developing a plan for review by VBCPS in spring of 2013. It is likely that any student interested would have to begin the appropriate program of study no later than grade 9 in order to meet both the courses required for graduation by the state and those for the degree or certificate.

The high school academy programs are a wonderful asset to our educational system in Virginia Beach. However they do pull the talented and more responsible students out of their home schools. Then the home school sees a slip in their SOL scores and overall academic performances because the best students are leaving. How are you addressing this sliding performance of the non-academy schools? This decline ultimately affects housing values as well as the students. Al Taxter

While the academy and advanced academic programs do provide attractive options for many students, the focus of the school division has been to improve the performance of all students, whether in an academy or not. One of our strategies has been to ensure students are aware of the many opportunities in their home schools. Every comprehensive high school offers a range of advanced, honors, Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses with curriculum that is rigorous and based on advanced content. Maintaining quality curricular offerings outside of the academy and advanced academic programs is essential to ensuring the availability of rigorous coursework for all students.

Why aren't students getting hardback textbooks for class? The online text book is very tedious not very efficient for study purposes when your lesson is on page 120 but you have jump to page 800 or more for answer review and charts etc. Not to mention that every child does not have a computer at home. Tanysha Carter

The use of online textbooks is relatively new and admittedly there are some challenges. We recognize that navigating an online textbook and using it for teaching and learning require practice and application... We will continue to work with teachers and students so they can expand their comfort with online resources, including textbooks. We want our students to benefit from the resources, up-to-date information and dynamic tools that online materials offer so we will continue to refine our work in this area. Students who do not have Internet access at home can request a hard copy of any textbook and it will be provided.

With technology increasing what is the plan to utilize tablets in place of books and what are the security plans that are being developed to ensure student security with a high dollar item moving around freely? Rajeeb Islam

Ideally, publishers would develop electronic textbooks that could be used on any tablet device and transferred from one device to another. At this point in time that is not the case. For example, Apple recently began marketing some textbooks that can only be read on an Apple iPad. In this case, the textbook cannot be moved from one device to another as a student's needs or courses change. The school division is moving cautiously and deliberately in the area of providing electronic textbooks. Until the industry standardizes, it would not be practical to make a large investment. Security of the devices is a topic that will need to be addressed in any plan to move forward with an electronic textbook implementation. Practical safeguards must be in place prior to implementation.

Have uniforms ever been a consideration for Virginia Beach Public Schools? In my opinion uniforms enable all children to focus solely on academics, without the distraction and peer pressure of fitting in. Thanks. Johnese Smith

In the 1990's several of our elementary schools had student uniforms. For many reasons, they discontinued those programs. For the most part, parents were not entirely supportive and some reported that the cost of uniforms as a concern. When uniforms are worn every day, their use is virtually constant. Consequently, replacement is often required and can become costly.

There is a uniform policy at Renaissance Academy, our alternative middle and high school which houses several programs for students who were not successful in traditional school settings. Because of the varied programs housed within Renaissance Academy, a uniform code is in place to identify the program to which the student is enrolled, and to recognize a system of privileges associated with positive behavior. All students are required to wear khaki pants, shirts identify the program/level status, and accessories (undershirts, shoes, etc.) can only be black, brown, gray, white, green and or any variation of these colors. Students are still able to express their individuality while the uniforms maintain the structure that they need to have in place.

Please justify the departure from a traditional 100 percent grading system to the use of a 4-pt grading system in elementary schools, particularly given that it inherently creates ambiguity, invites arbitrariness and results in disparate treatment, both intra and inter teachers? (2) A related observation is that the 4-pt grading system, being directly related to SOLs, has fostered an environment of writ memorization, rather than education (at least in some class subjects). Taylor Boone

In 2011, when the administration looked at the elementary teacher workload, teachers who participated in the focus groups requested one method of grading at the elementary level as a relief measure. At that time, there were multiple ways of grading which included percentages, letter grades, total points and four-point rubrics.

The four-point rubric was used in kindergarten through second grade in all subjects. For grades 3-5, the four-point rubric was used in Mathematics and in Writing, although the writing rubric was then calculated into letter grades, percentages or total points. Rubrics were also used to assess performance in Art, Music, PE, Citizenship and Work Habits. Since it was the most common method of grading, it was the logical choice to move to the 4 point grading system. Furthermore, it is the recommended method of grading because it has greater validity, inter rater reliability and ability to measure 21st century skills.

In addition, rubrics are used in standards-based grading, and more states and school divisions are moving in that direction (Fairfax, Stafford, Loudon, Montgomery County, MD). Standards-based grading is a way to communicate what students know at a specific point in time and it measures a student's performance according to the standards taught.

How will the federal sequester potentially impact VBCPS? Debbie Aardahl

Early projections indicate Virginia Beach schools stand to lose about $3.9 million, or 8.2 percent of their federal grant funds in sequestration. This year, the schools are receiving about $47.3 million in federal grants. Most of that money is restricted, meaning it has to be used for a specific purpose, but about $14 million used to offset the impact of military families who don't pay state taxes goes into the unrestricted general fund. Virginia Beach could lose about $1.2 million of those funds in sequestration, with the rest coming from specific areas. It's soon to know exactly what would be cut. Local funds wouldn't be used to fill the gap. Under a "maintenance of effort" practice, doing so would commit the city to filling the gap every year from now on, even if the federal government was eventually able to return the funds.

I am especially interested in helping to further close the achievement gap in African-American males as mentioned in Strategic Object #3. What progress has been made regarding this particular goal? Clarence E. McPherson, Ph. D.

VBCPS students outscored their Hampton Roads counterparts on all three sections of the SAT. In fact, the total mean SAT score for VBCPS seniors was 19 points higher than the next highest mean SAT score among the seven Hampton Roads school divisions. In further good news on the SAT, our African-American students outperformed their counterparts at the state and national level in all three sections of the test. There has considerable growth among African-American students scores sine the 2006-07 school year. Critical Reading saw a 10 point increase, a 6-point gain on the writing section and a 13 point increase in math. In that same time period, the number of African-American males receiving advanced diplomas has also increased. We have also seen a decrease in the dropout rate of African-American students in grades 7 12.

Why take away busing and then create another program within a neighborhood that causes a safety problem? Mr. Jefferson

VBCPS has established policies that determine non-transportation zones in school neighborhoods. No school transportation is provided within 1 mile of an elementary school and 1.5 miles of a secondary school.

How will the additional minutes in the high school schedule affect the middle school schedule? Middle school after-school activities get out so late already. Michele Powell

The new hybrid schedule which will be implemented at all high schools next school year requires a corresponding adjustment to the middle and elementary school start and dismissal times. Although no additional instructional time is being added to the elementary or middle school day, the adjustments for arrival and dismissal are needed for transportation reasons. Beginning in September 2013, the school schedule is as follows:

High School 7:20 a.m. 2:10 p.m.
Middle School 9:20 a.m. 3:50 p.m.
"A" Elementary School 8:10 a.m. 2:40 p.m.
"B" Elementary School 8:40 a.m. 3:10 p.m.

I am concerned about the new HS schedule. I have two children that are enrolled in the Math & Sciences Academy at Ocean Lakes HS are very active in sports, church, scouts and many other clubs. As I understand, they may have to enroll in 8 classes with no study hall next year. This will greatly affect our children. They will have to give up extracurricular activities in order to get homework done. They do not need to take more than 6 courses per year to graduate but they do need time to get homework done. They will probably not be able to take as many AP classes just because the workload of 8 classes will be too much. Explain how this new schedule is beneficial to my children. Ellie Zechchini

The hybrid plan was adopted because the current schedule does not offer students the room to meet new state-mandated graduation requirements. Beginning with the freshman class of 2011-2012, all students were required to take Economics and Finance (one additional credit), and the credit requirement for an Advanced Studies diploma increased from 24 to 26. In addition, beginning with the freshman class of 2012-2013, those pursuing a Standard diploma will have to earn a Career and Technical Education (TCE) credential (one to two additional credits). The current schedule limits the opportunities for students to meet these additional graduation requirements, to have a lunch and take electives. The adopted hybrid schedule adds 15 minutes to the high school students' day and enables all students to have a lunch block daily, regardless of the number of courses they take. Students will take six to eight classes a year, up to 32 credits over four years, and have increased opportunities to take electives or receive assistance in instructional support programs. The adopted hybrid schedule also will enable students to receive instructional support and more easily recover credits for specific core courses through a 4x4 model, rather than stay after school or attend summer school. Some students will be able to take study blocks, labs or other remediation courses under the new schedule.

When will the elementary Parent Portal be corrected? Data that shows is not accurate with student data and grades in the classroom. Sandy Beale-Berry

Enrolling in Parent Portal gives you an immediate look at your child's grades, attendance records and upcoming assignments. Elementary grades look much different from the secondary report cards, but there is no division wide issue with Parent Portal. Should you continue to have difficulties please contact your child's school. Middle and high school parents can see individual assignment grades as well as access your child's cumulative grades from each nine weeks and semester. For more information or to register for VBCPS Parent Portal, visit

Virginia public schools are operating in an environment of increasing governmental and societal pressure. Funding issues, state and federal mandates and the need for more student choices are pressing challenges. Superintendent James G. Merrill will examine how Virginia Beach City Public Schools is working to address such challenges yet still keeping its focus on the division's strategic plan, Compass to 2015. Come hear how well VBCPS is faring! Following Dr. Merrill's address, a question/answer session will be held.

Presented by Virginia Beach Education Foundation and its sponsors:

  • HBA
  • Breeden
  • Speight Marshall & Francis
  • RRMM Architects
  • Chili's
  • BB&T
  • Tidewater Home Funding
  • Willcox Savage
  • Pace Collaborative
  • Virginia Beach Schools Federal Credit Union
  • Patsy & Jim Slaughter
  • Deford Ltd.
  • Waller Todd & Sadler Architects
  • Lifetouch Photography

Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions after Dr. Merrill's presentation. Questions may be submitted ahead of time.

Landstown High is located at 2001 Concert Drive, across the street from Sentara Princess Anne Hospital.

Future Focus will be streamed live on

Future Focus will be streamed live in the player below starting at 7:00 p.m.

Last Modified on Monday, January 30, 2017