Curry Alumni Ground Virginia’s SOL Innovation Committee


This past summer, through an exhaustive review of stakeholder recommendations and applications, Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton selected 30 Virginians from across the Commonwealth to serve on the Standards of Learning Innovation Committee. The Curry School of Education is proudly represented on the committee by seven experienced professionals who are alumni of our graduate programs.

Charged with making recommendations to the Board of Education and the General Assembly on ways to further reform SOL assessments and student growth measures and encourage innovative teaching in the classroom, the committee is chaired by Stewart Roberson (B.S. ‘77 Secondary Ed; M.Ed. ‘81, Ed.D. ‘87 Admin & Supv).

Roberson is an enthusiastic supporter of the Curry School who teaches as an adjunct professor in our educational leadership program and serves on the Curry School Foundation board of directors. He is a former superintendent of Hanover County Public Schools, who retired in 2011 as one of Virginia’s longest serving school superintendents. He then went to work for Moseley Architects as chairman of the board and president/chief executive officer.

An update on the committee’s work is provided here by Roberson and is followed by contributions from each of our six other alumni members about their goals for the committee and the role of the Curry School in preparing them for this task.

From Stewart Roberson, Committee Chair:

Stewart RobersonVirginia enjoys a very strong reputation across our nation for its successful efforts at responsively serving its school children and its public schools.  From the earliest days of the introduction of high stakes assessments and accountability measures to this point in time during which the next generation of assessments is being imagined, it has been a true honor to be asked to play a leadership role in these designs.

My focus as an educational leader was the same in the earlier days as it is today as a business leader: to promote responsive change which assures a rigorous approach to assessment and accountability while building on Virginia teachers’ and principals’ substantial capacity to direct the work in their schools.

The first meeting of the full Committee was on July 15, and the full Committee will meet again on September 30.  In the meantime the Elementary Subcommittee and the Secondary Subcommittee are meeting, with a charge of imagining how the next generation of assessments can be made most responsive.

It is expected that the subcommittees will make reports to the full Committee that will represent near-term change opportunities.  All Committee members have been asked to begin considering a long-term, thoughtful vision of how the work can be completed most effectively over the course of the next two years.  Finally, it is intended that the Committee’s work will cast a new vision of assessment and accountability for the long term.

All Curry constituents are invited to follow the progress of the Committee by visiting the Secretary of Education’s website.

The Committee’s work is being supported by teachers, school leaders, parents, legislators, professors, deans, business and community leaders, and more throughout the Commonwealth.  Especially, Governor McAuliffe has signaled his enthusiastic support.  The Committee was formed as the result of a bipartisan approach to this need within the General Assembly.  Senator John Miller and Senator Creigh Deeds along with Delegates Tag Greason and Rob Krupicka joined together to co-sponsor the legislation.

At each step, the Committee is especially inspired by the support and vision of Virginia’s Secretary of Education Anne Holton, Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Steve Staples, and Virginia’s Deputy Secretary of Education Jennie O’Holleran.

All Curry constituents are invited to follow the progress of the Committee by visiting the Secretary of Education’s website.  Meetings of the Committee are open to the public.  Our citizens are invited to lend your voice to this important work at any stage of the process.

Hear from the following committee members who are also Curry alumni:

Kelly C. Booz

Kim Dockery

Jenny Sue Flannagan

Laurie McCullough

Wade Whitehead

Benjamin Williams

Kelly BoozKelly C. Booz

(M.Ed. ’08 Social Fdns)

Member, Alexandria City School Board

“Students, parents and educators deserve solutions that will afford students the ability to compete and thrive in the global economy. I am honored to join the committee to find those solutions so that students will benefit in Alexandria, where I serve on the school board, and across Virginia.”

The greatest challenges before the committee:

“The committee is made up of a diverse group with various perspectives and beliefs on SOL reform. At the core, the group wants to ensure that students in the Commonwealth learn the skills and knowledge necessary to be productive members of society. The challenge will be reaching consensus on the best path to reach this goal.”

What special expertise do you bring to the challenges?

“I bring a strong background in civic education and an understanding of how high-stakes testing has impacted social studies subjects and, in particular, civic education. The old saying since the creation of NCLB [No Child Left Behind] is that if it’s not tested, it’s not taught. We need to take that belief to heart when making recommendations and that will impact policy and day-to-day classroom instruction.

“The new legislation impacting science and social studies SOL tests makes a good first step at reforming SOLs while still encouraging learning through authentic assessments. That said, we must ensure the accountability piece remains so that a generation of Virginians do not graduate without a solid foundation in social studies and the sciences.”

What aspect of your Curry experience contributes to your work on the committee?

“The SOL Innovation Committee is truly the social foundations program at Curry in practice. As a member, I can’t help but draw comparisons to the readings and class discussions and debates we had about assessments, standards, and data. As a member, it helps to have an understanding of the history of education and assessment and how decisions may impact our diverse group of students and teachers.”

Booz is a member of the elementary subcommittee.

Kim DockeryKim Dockery

(Ed.D. ’11 Admin & Supv)

Chief Academic Officer, Fairfax County Public Schools

“Changing the assessment framework for the State of Virginia will impact teaching and learning for students in Virginia for the next 10 years. To be part of that work is an exciting honor and an opportunity to collaborate with others across the state to bring teaching and learning to the forefront of our work as educators.”

What do you see as the greatest challenges before the committee?

“I think the biggest challenge will be gaining the time and resources for teacher professional development to make assessment part of the instructional cycle to inform instruction and build assessment capacity. After a decade of multiple-choice testing, using performance assessment and assessing students on application of skills and thinking will require education of the community as well as teachers. There is vertical alignment required for teacher preparation programs and also the need to explore new technologies to capture student work.”

What special expertise do you bring to the challenges?

“I think that I bring several perspectives that may be helpful to the committee. First, I have instructional and assessment knowledge from working with some external organizations such as EdLeader21. This organization has a consortium of schools across the nation looking at these same issues. We can learn from the work of other states. I also have many years in a large, diverse district and have worked to bring other large assessment initiatives to scale.

“I have served as the assistant superintendent for special services and have been very active in alternative assessments for special education students. Last, I am a passionate advocate for engaged learning that translates to school and life success.”

What aspect of your Curry experience contributes to your work on the committee?

“I believe that my Curry experience in the areas of research and school improvement as well as the focused mentoring of faculty that challenged the norm using evidenced-based research to make decisions have helped me in my career and will help me on this committee.”

Dockery is a member of the elementary subcommittee. She also serves on a smaller subset of the secondary subcommittee to examine the place of the verified credit in high schools of the future.

Jenny Sue FlannaganJenny Sue Flannagan

(M.Ed. ’00 C&I; Ed.S. ’03 Admin & Supv)

President-elect, Virginia Association of Science Teachers

“The work of this committee is critical to the future of education. The impact of decisions and the vision resulting from this group are paramount for education throughout our commonwealth. As I have travelled this state and met many incredible educators, I am well aware that there are a vast array of suitable and competent educators well above my knowledge and competence. I am humbled to serve on this committee.”

The greatest challenges before the committee:

“The greatest challenge will be to think differently – it is too cliché to say, “Think outside the box,” or “Don’t do as we have always done.” The vision that will be laid out here must be forward thinking to years ahead and the experience students will have when they walk into any classroom in Virginia.

“Assessment reform is just one small piece of the larger system. Systems are only as strong as their weakest link. How do you improve the system? You strengthen all areas. Right now Virginia is focused on changing how we assess and the overall accountability system in Virginia. But we must also strengthen our standards, the development of curriculum and instructional practices. Virginia has great things happening. This is a great time to bottle that greatness and share it for all students in the Commonwealth.”

What special expertise do you bring to the challenges?

“I feel like people know me for my work in science education. However, I also bring perspectives from having served as a K-12 administrator tasked with building professional development programs along with developing integrated curriculum. I took that experience to higher education as an associate professor of education, where I spend a great deal of time working with teachers and schools.

“The vision I bring is a comprehensive idea of how the “vertical articulation” of educational practices and policies are critical to the success of all students in Virginia and will play a direct role in preparing the next workforce. For example, if we want more students to choose a career or to enter a STEM-related career field in college, the foundation begins in elementary school. Research has shown children have very clear career ideas by fourth grade.

“To inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, or mathematicians who are able to use technology as a tool to solve very complex problems, they have to envision themselves in those careers. As early as preschool, we can begin to lay the foundation but it will take a focused approach to creating classrooms that use real-world problems to weave a tapestry together that creates unique learning situations where children learn to read, learn the importance of numbers, and ultimately become literate in the skills they will need to be successful.”

What aspect of your Curry experience contributes to your work on the committee?

“Curry helped to shape my teaching and leadership skills! The curriculum and instruction coursework provided me with the most current trends and latest research in education, and I was able to take what I learned and apply it to my work as a science coordinator. The program also opened up doors to working with faculty such as Carol Tomlinson, Tonya Moon, and Catherine Brighton. Having access to work alongside national experts certainly affords you the opportunity to learn and grow in your professional skillset.”

Flannagan is a member of the elementary subcommittee.

Laurie McCulloughLaurie McCullough

(M.Ed. ’79, Ed.D. ’83 C&I)

Executive Director, Virginia Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

“I represent Virginia ASCD on the Innovation Committee. VASCD has about 1,600 members across the Commonwealth, including K-12 teachers, building and division-level administrators, and higher education faculty. Our members want to ensure that as we make changes in assessment and accountability policy, excellence in teaching and learning remains the highest priority. I’m honored by their faith in me to do this work on their behalf.”

The greatest challenges before the committee:

“We want to reduce the high-stakes testing load in order to create more time and space for innovative teaching. We want more of a student’s typical day to be spent working on rich, challenging, authentic tasks. At the same time, we need to be able to measure student achievement, growth, and school quality using methods that are efficient, valid, meaningful, and not overly cumbersome. Each of these goals suggests a different set of solutions. In my view, finding the right balance will be the greatest challenge.”

What special expertise do you bring to the challenges?

“I think my experience working with, teaching about, and writing on classroom performance assessment gives me a good picture of how assessment for learning can and should look in schools. Because I have taught at the elementary, middle and high school levels as well as served as a principal, director of testing and director of instruction, I understand assessment and accountability issues from a variety of perspectives.”

What aspect of your Curry experience contributes to your work on the committee?

“During my time at Curry (a long time ago!) I learned research methods, but more importantly I had professors who helped me become an informed consumer of research. As a result, I value the role of research in informing decisions about assessment and accountability in Virginia. Committee members and stakeholders bring a variety of beliefs, preferences, and gut feelings to the table. Our discussion should be wide ranging, but our ultimate recommendations should be supported by sound evidence. I will frequently remind both myself and others about this!”

McCullough is a member of the elementary subcommittee.

Wade WhiteheadWade Whitehead

(M.Ed. ’09 Admin & Supv)

Teacher, Roanoke City Public Schools

The greatest challenges before the committee:

“The SOL Innovation Committee will challenge itself to consider whether or not Virginia’s systems of standards, assessment, and accountability serve our number one concern: student learning.  I hope we will be willing to imagine a completely new paradigm that puts students first and that builds robust and exciting support systems for them.  The committee’s greatest challenge will be to balance a world of possibility with the need for specific and achievable policy and legislative action recommendations.”

What special expertise do you bring to the challenges?

“I am a fourth generation Virginia public school teacher who prizes imagination, discovery, and sharing as the core tenets of a quality classroom environment.  My work through the Teachers of Promise Foundation, which I established in 2010, is centered on one assumption: that attracting and retaining high-caliber teachers to our classrooms is the secret to reaching the ambitious goals we should have for public education.  Contributing to an honest and comprehensive examination of standards, assessment, and accountability – all with the goal of increased student learning in mind – excites me and will, I hope, inspire innovative and workable solutions for Virginia’s future.”

What aspect of your Curry experience contributes to your work on the committee?

“My Curry experience weighs significantly in my work on the committee and, of course, in my daily work in the classroom.  My professors taught that great schools are created and maintained by educators, not by policy or mandate, and that the many resources at our fingertips, including standards and technology, should serve as useful means to a greater end.  Public school classrooms are the last bastion of democracy in America. As my U.Va. professors emphasized, and as I strive to practice, expert educators hold the keys to unlocking our society’s true potential.”

Whitehead is a member of the elementary subcommittee.

Ben WilliamsBen Williams

(M.Ed. ’02 Admin & Supv)

Associate Director of Testing & Remediation, Roanoke County Public Schools

“I’m honored to be a part of any process that brings balance to the assessment process and moves it closer to what we should aspire to – emphasis on 21st Century skills and college/career readiness.”

The greatest challenges before the committee:

“After the SOL test removals in the most recent General Assembly session, it is unlikely that any more elementary tests can be removed without a change in federal law/policy.  This means that fundamental changes in the standards and assessments themselves need to be the next point of focus.  Even this, however, is heavily mired in federal regulation.  We could do so much better for Virginia’s children if we were not under archaic federal laws and regulations.”

What special expertise do you bring to the challenges?

“I’ve been the division director of testing in Roanoke County for the last ten years and currently chair Virginia’s Region VI directors of testing group.  Through that time, I have been the face of standardized testing in my division.  I’ve seen the benefits of standardized testing as well as what happens when one-size-fits-all policies come face to face with children that don’t fit the policymakers’ mold.  I hope that I can use my experience to bring insight into the real-life impact of any policy changes proposed by the committee.”

What aspect of your Curry experience contributes to your work on the committee?

“Curry professors modeled the professional respect and maturity that I have tried to emulate in my leadership roles within Roanoke County.  Often the noncurricular life lessons they gave – like “perception is reality” and “the best way to receive praise is to give it” – were the most powerful.”

Williams is a member of the elementary subcommittee.

Last words from Stewart Roberson:

“As a Curry graduate, Curry faculty member, and employer of other Curry grads, I am always bullish about the Curry experience. The school is the gold standard for excellence in teacher and school leader preparation, among its many leading programs.

“With Curry’s clear emphasis upon the value of research-based decision-making, coupled with the lessons in following the data to effect real change in a caring way, those of us who are Curry grads are well focused on how processes like the Committee can achieve desired results.

“Curry’s instructional emphases align with goals articulated for the Committee:

  1. Focus on data which demonstrates gaps in student achievement across all student populations,
  2. Position schools, especially high schools, to prepare their graduates most effectively for a productive future, and
  3. Infuse the view that that the most effective, joyful learning results from the relationship formed between a motivated learner and a highly skilled teacher.”

Update 12/1/14:

Governor McAuliffe Announces SOL Innovation Committee’s Interim Recommendations