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Accreditation Progress in Petersburg, VA!

Celebration fills the air in Petersburg, VA, these days, and rightly so. For the first time in the history of the Virginia Standards of Learning, Petersburg High School has received full accreditation! A.P. Hill and Walnut Hill elementary schools also achieved full accreditation this year and Robert E. Lee was accredited for the third year in a row.  Petersburg City Public Schools (PCPS) is indeed making progress.

“The Algebra Project is proud to be a partner in the district’s tremendous success,” said David Dennis, a community and site development consultant for Algebra Project, Inc. “Three years ago, when we began working into Petersburg, only one of the district’s nine schools was accredited. Today, four of the district’s schools are accredited. And those that aren’t have made notable strides.”

PCPS AYP Math Pass Rates

Overall PCPS Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) math pass rates increased by 23.35 points (47%), from 49.65% in the 2006-2007 academic year to 73% in 2008-2009.

Dr. Doris Williams, Community/Site Development Consultant  for the Algebra Project is quick to add that “success in Petersburg is the result of a lot of hard work on the parts of many entities, including the districts’s teachers, administrators, and partners.

With generours support from the Cameron Foundation of $1.8 million to the Petersburg City Public Schools to match the commitment of the District to support the Algebra Project’s programs in Petersburg the Algebra Project began work in Petersburg with the formation of a Design Team in 2005. The team spent the next yea planning the implementation of the Algebra Project and a K-16 Partnership Model for student success. Among the many collaborators that the Algebra Project brought together to design the model were local government officials, school personnel, faith-based and community representatives, parents, and faculty and staff from Virginia State University (VSU). This team is being re-tooled to meet the changing needs of the community, school and students.

The emerging K-16 partnership model has proven to be of mutual benefit to all of its key partners, but especially to the students of Petersburg Public Schools. One Senior summed it all up in her comments to teachers, students, business partners and community members at the district’s recent celebration. “I am going to graduate in May from an accredited high school,” she said. Fellow students shared her joy, chanting what has become the high school’s theme song, “Ain’t no stopping us now!”

Key components of the model include K-12 teacher professional development, summer academies for students, and community trainings and dialogues around quality education. In 2007, 29 teachers attended the Algebra Project summer institute conducted by Algebra Project trainers Jessie Cooper-Gibbs and Merle Harris. That number increased to 68 in 2008 and 73 in 2009 when former Algebra Project trainer Nancy Dennis and Dr. Leo Edwards joined the professional development team. So 80% of teachers who participated in the summer institutes also participate in the academic year follow-up workshops.

Over the past three years, four Petersburg High School math teachers have received intensive training from renowned research mathematicians via the Algebra Project’s National Science Foundation-funded Instructional Materials Development program. The teachers are implementing Algebra Project materials in Algebra I and geometry classes and contribute to the improvement of those materials with teachers from Algebra Project sites around the country, in sessions with the mathematicians.

Also included in the program is a community building program where local parents, community leaders and students are taught how to facilitate community dialogues on “Quality Education as a Constitutional Right” and their role and the role of the community in the development and implementation of a process that provides quality education for all students. Approximately 26 facilitators for these dialoques have been developed and are conducting sessions throughout the community.

Perhaps one of the most successful efforts outside the classroom work has been in creating venues, facilitating dialogue, and building bridges between VSU and the school district. Multiple departments at the university have come together to provide services to PCPS students and teachers that they had not provided previously. For example, this summer, VSU provided a summer bridge program for PCPS students. This is an important development given the fact that the university in the past has enrolled very few students from Petersburg and engaged virtually none of its students in its summer programs.

More importantly, VSU has engaged faculty across disciplines in an emerging K-16 Partnership Model. Faculty from the Psychology Department, the Math Department, the School of Education and the Institute for Race Relations have all committed to building a long-term relationship with the school district and to working with the district and the Algebra Project to get PCPS students into the STEM pipeline.

VSU has consistently expressed an interest in incorporating the Algebra Project pedagogy into its freshman algebra courses.  To that end, the Algebra Project engaged Bill Crombie (one of the original group that worked with Bob Moses to found the Algebra Project, a developer of the Algebra Project curriculum, and presently a lead Professional Development Specialist for the Algebra Project) to work with VSU faculty to re-design selected freshman math courses, train faculty members in the Algebra Project pedagogy, and design pathways from high school to college for students who otherwise might not have considered college an option for them.

VSU has also provided Praxis II preparation for PCPS teachers in need of certification and presented with Algebra Project staff at national conference. Future plans include offering dual enrollment courses for high school students. Finally, VSU has agreed to evaluate the Algebra Project’s work in Petersburg, to become a regional training center for K-16 partnerships and to offer up to six hours of graduate course credits for Algebra Project institutes.

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