After three recent parent meetings with administration at Loudoun Valley High School where parents expressed concerns about school safety and teaching methods, Principal Sue Ross responded last week with a letter sent to the school community.
At last week's meeting -- attended by more than 100 parents -- people expressed outrage about the way a new personalized learning approach is being unrolled at Loudoun Valley and how it is affecting their children.
They say Ross' method of implementing the program includes allowing students to leave their classrooms whenever they wish -- going on “wellness walks” -- and they are able to work on class assignments in hallways and other areas of the Purcellville school.
Parents and teachers told the Times-Mirror they believe school safety and security is being compromised because attendance is not being taken and students are able to come and go from classrooms throughout the day. They say students are being disruptive, there's no accountability, the new system has created a difficult learning and teaching environment and their students are failing SOL tests this year.
Ross responded by saying next year will be Loudoun Valley's fifth year working with project-based learning, or PBL, and while she is not concerned about the way it was unrolled in the school, she plans to monitor the situation more closely.
“Most of our staff has been trained and all staff will be trained by 2020. We do not have concerns about the rollout of PBL over the past five years, nor do we have concerns about our first year of personalized learning. We will continue to emphasize deeper learning and the Virginia Profile of a Graduate, rather than specific initiatives such as PBL and personalized learning,” Ross told the Times-Mirror.
In the next school year, Ross said she will monitor classrooms differently than she has been, and she said she will utilize student and parent surveys more frequently “to maintain a finger on the pulse of their experiences with teachers.”
Ross said she will be prioritizing visibility throughout the school day and throughout the building to ensure school safety and security. She said there will be daily reminder announcements providing clarity and guidance to students and teachers about hall traffic. She said hall traffic should be academically purposeful, monitored and verifiable.
On the issue of vaping in bathrooms -- a complaint from numerous parents -- Ross said administration will continue to work with a variety of staff to help monitor the restrooms.
Parents were upset to hear the school offers car passes allowing students to leave the school to go to their cars and that the passes are not monitored. Ross said she is implementing a new car pass system for anyone needing to leave the building.
“In addition, we continue to gather feedback from students, parents and staff as we plan for next year,” Ross said.
Loudoun County Public Schools Information Officer Wayde Byard told the Times-Mirror LCPS has been training teachers in project-based learning for several years.
This year, four Loudoun high schools were part of the countywide “Wave 3” program for unrolling personalized learning. “Wave 1 and Wave 2” included 25 elementary and middle schools, according to LCPS.
Byard said training has been ongoing for several years, and most schools have several staff members trained in PBL, with teachers doing a minimum number of projects each year.
He said communication to parents is handled at the school level, with different approaches based on existing communication structures at each school.
“There are varying levels of implementation of PBL and personalized learning across LCPS, with the goal of all schools providing deeper learning experiences for students. Many schools took a 'dip your toes in' approach, while others 'dove in' with all teachers. The decision to take one approach over the other depends on the school and the staff,” Byard said.
Parents are concerned this type of learning where students are expected to be in charge of the process is too unstructured and provides too much freedom at a young age.
Loudoun Valley Parent Tracy Robinson said Ross' letter to parents was just a way to calm people down.
“Nothing will change as long as she is in charge. She won't do anything about addressing specific issues,” Robinson said.
Another parent, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution against his children, has two children at the school currently. He said the general sense is that the school is going “downhill fast.”
“We never see Ms. Ross. She doesn't know any names. I don't think she genuinely wants to listen to us," he said. "The only way to change it back to be the best high school in the county is that she is no longer the principal. We need to talk to the School Board to see what needs to happen for that process to take place."