9To the strains of “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” blaring from a loudspeaker, teachers and school employees streamed into the high school Tuesday for a pep rally to celebrate good news before the start of school: full state accreditation for all nine county schools.

“You’re the ones that did it!” said school trustee Walter Potts, one of several speakers who praised teachers who gathered at the HCHS cafeteria for the mid-afternoon rally. “The schools that needed to come up — you did that.”

The Virginia Department of Education made the news official on Tuesday morning with the release of statewide testing data, based on the round of SOL testis administered in the 2018-19 academic year. Halifax schools achieved full accreditation after coming close to the milestone last year, with only Clays Mill Elementary falling short with an “accredited with conditions” rating.

Clays Mill Principal David Duffer described for the crowd the feeling last year once he learned Clays Mill, alone among county schools, still had work to do to raise student performance: “It’s awful.” But he credited the Clays Mill staff with putting in the hard work to improve student test outcomes, and reminded listeners that educators accomplish more important things, too.

Detailed lesson plans and teaching rubrics, the grind of preparing students for SOL tests — such work is quickly forgotten, said Duffer, drawing knowing laughs from teachers, but students “will remember the times when you stood out in the hallway and you gave them fist bumps as they passed by your door. They’re going to remember the time when you called them at home to ask where were they today. Were they sick? You were worried about them.

“That’s what a teacher does,” Duffer continued. “It transcends those lesson plans. And these test scores are important, and it’s very important to make 9-of-9, but that’s only one thing. The best thing that can we can do is to make relationships, build relationships, make connections with our students.”

The 9-of-9 accreditation — celebrated on t-shirts donned by Central Office administrators — comes two years after Halifax County Public Schools saw only four of nine schools attain full state accreditation. In 2017, Sinai Elementary was denied accreditation outright. Clays Mill and Meadville elementaries were tagged with the “Warned School” label, and Halifax County Middle School and Scottsburg were partially accredited.

Now all schools have made the grade.

Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg said the turnaround has many reasons: “One, we have very good teachers in our division. We’ve stabilized our leadership, we’ve stabilized our workforce, we’ve had very little turnover, and we’ve been consistent with our curriculum.”

He also pointed to having “consistent leadership” in the administration at each of the nine schools “for two or three years, and I think that is big — it really, really helps when you do that.

“We’re going to do what we do — and we think that’s based on sound educational principals,” Lineburg said.

A principal who has moved to a new school this year, Dawn Miller, was also a featured speaker at Tuesday’s celebration. Miller, who has taken over as middle school principal after serving in that role last year at Sinai Elementary, said “collective effort” led to the 9-of-9 accreditation. She harkened back to two years ago when Sinai, her old school, was ranked on the bottom rung of the state’s accountability rankings.

“When you are in that position, you hate being there,” Miller said. “Sometimes you feel that you’re the black sheep of the school system, when everyone’s looking at you like that school where no one wants to be.

“But when you make a decision to be an educator there, you look at those kids like they’re golden like anybody else … that’s the work we did at Sinai, that’s the work we do in all schools.”

In his remarks, Potts, who represents ED-8 on the School Board, urged teachers to come together to achieve another objective: getting the November sales tax referendum passed to build a new Halifax County High School.

“The credit goes to you,” said Potts of the accreditation results, “just like we’re going to vote that sales tax in, and we’re going to get a new high school. So go out and talk that up [the referendum] so we can have a new high school.”

The celebration of across-the-board accreditation, Potts continued, “is important — because we wouldn’t know what the outcome [on the sales tax] would be if we didn’t get 9-for-9.

“But we did.”

From The News and Record