Entitled to success



Herb Monroe moves through the halls of Lakeside Elementary School with a purposeful gait and a soft but direct demeanor.

Around every corner is a student waiting for a hug or a high-five or a teacher with a piece of information to impart. He makes a pit stop to address fourth-graders in the cafeteria, checks in with a teacher about a student who needs extra help, then flashes a smile to a volunteer before poking his head into a boys’ restroom to make sure order is in place.

For the most part, everything is very much in order here with Monroe, Lakeside’s energetic fourth-year principal, at the helm.

The school is a stirring success story, recognized earlier this month as Virginia’s representative in the category of “Closing the Achievement Gap Among Student Groups” at the National Title I Conference in Florida. Standardized test scores across every student demographic at the school – white, black, economically disadvantaged, English as a second language and students with individualized education programs (IEPs) – are nearly identical (ranging between 82 percent and 89 percent pass rates) just four years after those scores painted a much bleaker picture.

The process has not been an easy one, but for Monroe and his staff, its results are not surprising.

Promise kept
As Monroe, a former collegiate wrestler, makes his way to and from his office, he passes beneath a row of championship-esque banners hanging high above. But these banners tout achievement in academics, not sports. Monroe hung them soon after arriving in 2007 to the school, where morale was low but achievement – in certain pockets – was high: 62 students had earned perfect 600 scores on SOL tests during the previous school year.

Seeking a way to visibly promote excellence, he approached the Lakeside Business Association, whose members helped fund the purchase of the banners. The names of each student who achieved perfect scores on any component of the SOL test in the future would be added.

One Lakeside second-grader was so taken by the idea that he made an auspicious promise to his father, who was sick with cancer.

"He said, Dad, next year when I’m in third grade, I’m going to get a 600 on all four core SOL tests,’” Monroe recalled. “It breaks my heart, but his dad died over the summer.”

The boy, however, upheld his promise: four perfect 600 scores. “His name will hang forever here at Lakeside Elementary School,” Monroe said.

Traveling a rocky road
Lakeside is one of 19 Henrico elementaries that receive federal Title I funding and resources. One of the Title I instructional aides whose job exists because of the program, Heather Riddell, remembers feeling uncertain about Lakeside when she was transferred from Shady Grove Elementary in 2007.

“It was quite intimidating,” she said. “Student behavior was very disruptive.”

Monroe handed out 179 suspensions that year, also his first at the school. “It was a rocky road,” he conceded.

That year, test scores were mixed. The overall student pass rate for the reading portion of the SOL was 76 percent and just 71 percent for the math portion. The rates for blacks were disproportionately lower, and those among groups of students also were mostly skewed.

If the scores didn’t improve, Lakeside risked the possibility that parents would be permitted to pull their students and send them to other schools. That “school choice” option was not new to Monroe, who, as an assistant principal, had previously worked to pull Chesterfield’s Robious Middle School out of the same predicament.

“Lakeside was basically two years away from school choice when I arrived,” Monroe said. But he had a simple plan for improvement.

“We decided that at Lakeside Elementary School, we’re going to be about two things – teaching and learning,” he said, recalling initial meetings at the time with his newly assembled academic achievement team of staff members. “Anything that has nothing to do with those two things, we’re going to push out of the way.”

Nearly a dozen teachers left Lakeside during or following that year – Monroe’s first as principal. A handful of others have left in the years since.

“I don’t know if it was [because of] me – it could have been,” Monroe said.

But those who stayed and the new teachers who arrived quickly adapted to the new status quo.

“We had a build-up of newer teachers who were willing to try things different ways,” Riddell said. More teachers began using differentiated instruction, whereby classes are split into small groups so that students who learn similarly can work together with a teacher at their own pace.

The Title I funding allowed the school to purchase more supplies and helped it create a book room for students.

“Before, teachers were using old books or buying their own for students,” said kindergarten teacher Alyssa Hadd, who’s been at Lakeside since 2002. “That becomes difficult quickly.”

The funding also allowed teachers, including Hadd, to attend Title I conferences to learn from national experts. And it provided money for parent workshops and the refreshments that were served at each one – a seemingly insignificant amenity, but one that teachers said helped improve attendance and, ultimately, parent buy-in.

‘Let the horses run’
Today, Monroe looks around his school and sees teachers in every classroom who are excited about their jobs and anxious to exceed goals. Some have been so motivated that he had to institute a policy forbidding them from staying in the building beyond 7 p.m. Otherwise, he said, they might be there all night working on new concepts for students.

“Those [teachers] who bought into the program and bought into the vision are now unbelievably strong,” he said. “I brag now because I feel like I am a leader of leaders. I just feel like now I just hold the reins and let the horses run. I’m behind them now, supporting them, where when I got here I felt like I was in front leading them.”

Monroe made small but meaningful changes to the school’s daily bell schedule – for example, keeping early-arriving students in the cafeteria or auditorium until 7:50 a.m. to allow teachers 30 minutes at the start of the day to meet with parents or work one on one with students who need extra help. He also created an orderly process for dismissal, whereby parents who arrive to pick up their children proceed, one by one, to the front door, holding name placards as if in an airport greeting line.

Staff members use rewards such as the school’s ROAR (Responsibility, Outstanding behavior, Attitude, Respect) program to encourage prideful and appropriate behavior by awarding paw-print stickers to students.

It all adds up to a place where Monroe believes parents are now proud to send their students – and teachers are proud to work.

“We had to have a vested, focused strategic approach about how we were going to turn things around,” he said.

In 2010, the lowest SOL pass rate for any student demographic group at the school in math or reading subject was 82.4 percent (for English as a second language students). The overall pass rates were 87 percent in reading and 89.8 percent in math.

Riddell said she didn’t expect the turnaround to occur so soon.

“I am surprised that it only took a couple years,” she said. “This has just become such a wonderful place to work – it’s just so positive, and quite frankly, that wasn’t always the case.”

Said Hadd, who served as a student teacher, then substitute at Lakeside before becoming full time: “I’ve never taught anywhere else, and I don’t want to. I’ve been through tough times here and they’ve gotten better. I love the kids.”

For Monroe, these are signs that things have changed at Lakeside.

“They feel like the school has turned the corner for good,” he said.
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McShin Academy expanding to St. Joseph’s Villa


Two Lakeside-area nonprofits are partnering to create what is believed to be the first recovery high school in Virginia.

The McShin Academy will be a joint effort of the McShin Foundation (a recovery community organization based at Hatcher Memorial Baptist Church in Lakeside) and St. Joseph's Villa (a 183-year-old nonprofit on Brook Road that provides a variety of services for children with special needs). > Read more.

Reynolds CC dedicates student center


Reynolds Community College recently celebrated the dedication of the Jerry and Mary Owen Student Center, named for longtime supporters of the college who have made numerous investments in it.

Jerry Owen served on the Reynolds College Board from 1984 to 1988, and he and his wife support the college’s scholarship fund and created an endowment for the Reynolds Middle College, which helps students earn a high school equivalency and transition into a degree or workforce credential program. > Read more.

Capital One sponsors ‘Coders Experience’


Capital One hosted its “Coders Experience” event in Richmond and a number of other state locations Oct. 14. The events attracted hundreds of middle school girls, who learned how to create their own mobile apps, hone problem-solving skills and gain software development knowledge. A second day of Coders Experience events will take place Oct. 21. More than 500 Capital One volunteers are participating in the 10 events. > Read more.

Hermitage band member named All-American


The U.S. Army All-American Bowl Presented by American Family Insurance Selection Tour will visit Hermitage H.S. Oct. 19 to recognize Truman Chancy as a 2018 U.S. Army All-American. Hermitage High School will honor Chancy before his classmates, bandmates, family and friends at the high school’s band room during band practice, and he will be presented with his honorary All-American Marching Band jacket. > Read more.

Crime Stoppers’ Crime of the Week: Oct. 16, 2017


This week, Metro Richmond Crime Stoppers is asking for the public to assist the Richmond Police Department in the identification of wayward artists that were using buildings as their canvas.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 14, four people were recorded on security cameras vandalizing multiple properties in the area of the 2500 blocks of West Main Street and Floyd Avenue. The suspects (pictured) were walking north on Robinson Street and spray painting the properties as they meandered along. > Read more.

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October 2017
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The 2017 Central Virginia Kidney Walk will start at 9 a.m. in Innsbrook’s North Shore Commons, 4901 Lake Brook Dr. Kidney Walk, the nation's largest walk to fight kidney disease, raises awareness and funds lifesaving programs that educate and support patients, their families and those at risk. For details, visit http://tinyurl.com/2017KidneyWalk. Full text

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