Dreaming big

School Board votes to create new ‘academy’ at Highland Springs ES
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It was, perhaps, fitting that days before the nation paused to honor the life of a man known in part for his powerful dream (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), the Henrico County School Board voted to approve a program whose design could help some of the county's most at-risk students realize their own dreams.

The board Jan. 12 unanimously approved a five-year, $2.16-million agreement with An Achievable Dream Certified Academies, Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Newport News that will begin operating its acclaimed educational program at Highland Springs Elementary School this summer.

The aim of the program is simple: to engage the most vulnerable students – whose family situations, economic levels or discipline issues might otherwise prevent them from achieving academically.

It's the most intensive, regimented plan ever adopted in the county. It will require participating students to attend school more often (about 200 days annually, on a year-round basis, compared with 180 currently) and for longer periods of time (about 8.5 hours daily, compared with 6.5 hours a day currently). They'll also meet on some Saturdays, take a number of field trips and adhere to a dress code, as will staff members.

"This is a great opportunity and. . . an effort to address some students who in some circumstances are struggling," said Varina District School Board member John Montgomery, whose district includes the school.

The program will be phased in gradually, beginning with about 285 students in kindergarten through second grade this fall, according to the terms of the agreement. It will expand by adding one grade level annually during each of the final three years of the agreement, concluding with the 2020-21 school year and a target student population of 570. (The first half of 2017, during which HCPS and Achievable Dream officials will prepare for the 2017-18 school year, is considered the first "year" of the agreement.)

After that, the agreement will automatically renew in one-year increments unless either side opts out with four months notice.

Both parties hope to continue adding to the program after its initial period – expanding it to the middle school and high school levels, though the agreement does not cover such goals.

‘Character development’
HCPS officials selected Highland Springs Elementary – which historically has housed one of the county's most at-risk student populations – for the program after analyzing 13 possible schools. Highland Springs recently was partially accredited with warning by the state's Department of Education.

Highland Springs Elementary School parents who want their rising kindergartners, first- or second-graders to be a part of the academy must apply. Students will be evaluated according to six categories: family economic status; family status (whether the child is being raised by a single parent, no parents, grandparents, etc.); whether a sibling is involved with the Achievable Dream program; disciplinary history; attendance during the previous school year; geographic proximity to the school.

Parents of students who do not want them to be part of the program may request transfers to nearby Fair Oaks Elementary.

As part of the program, HCPS will fund two additional full-time positions – a director of operations and student services and a student enrichment coordinator – as well as provide three "rotation teachers" during the coming school year, each of whom would spend five hours a week in the program teaching etiquette, spoken words and conflict resolution.

Five Achievable Dream employees – including its president, two vice presidents, director of curriculum and collegiate services and director of certified academies – also will be involved with the program at Highland Springs.

Longer school days and a longer school year allow "additional time for reading and math instruction and for the curriculum enhancements and enrichment activities, for the character development and morning exercises that help establish the school culture and instill positive values, and for tutoring," according to the agreement between HCPS and Achievable Dream.

The agreement allows for some or all of the school system's payments to be made by the Henrico Education Foundation rather than the School Board, should the HEF choose to do so.

“It’s going to be a very exciting time,” Montgomery said of the program. The students who are participating in the program will not only be the beneficiaries, but we will constantly be pulling some of the practices from the program and sharing them across the county. [T]here are some components of it I think that can have an immediate impact in schools, regardless of where they are in the county.”
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Community

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


If the snow last weekend had you stuck at home, then you will appreciate free admission all weekend long at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden! Other free options this weekend include a Classic Family Film series at Varina Library, “Crafternoon” at Libbie Mill Library and the tenth annual Richmond Jewish Food Festival taking place Sunday and Monday at the Weinstein JCC. Concert options include the 8th annual Djangoary Music Soiree at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen and Flight Risk, performing at The Tin Pan. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

 

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Flight Risk will perform at 8 p.m. at The Tin Pan, 8982 Quioccasin Rd. Comprised of experienced music industry veterans from the greater Richmond area, Flight Risk plays iconic classic rock songs at a comfortable volume so the crowd can rock too, while still enjoying a conversation. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $10. For details, call 447-8189 or visit http://www.tinpanrva.com. Full text

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