The Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) at the University of Virginia initiated the first Leadership Academy last week, as part of the VPI+ Initiative. The academy is intended to help division teams use data to plan program improvement and professional development for teachers. Another goal of the Leadership Academy is to bring division teams together to learn with and from each other.
In late 2014, the US Department of Education awarded the state of Virginia a 17,5 million expansion grant to fund a project called Virginia Preschool Initiative Plus (VPI+), that will allow the Commonwealth to serve as many as 3,000 additional at-risk four-year-olds in new, high quality classrooms annually. With the VPI+ Initiative, CASTL aims to partner with divisions to transform Virginia’s existing State Preschool Program into a national exemplar.
Becoming a national exemplar means making meaningful changes—program-wide, within classrooms, and working with families. To achieve that, CASTL is helping division teams reflect on data, research, and experience to decide how to focus their continuous improvement efforts. In addition to experiences like the Leadership Academy, CASTL is providing individualized consultation to division teams and training for coaches.
With the new year just underway, the first data as part of the VPI+ Initiative, is in. “We are on the right track,” says Ann Lhospital, implementation specialist for VPI+. “All divisions have met their goals classroom quality for the first year, but we’ve set ambitious goals for year 3 and beyond.’’ And one of those goals is to effectively use data to inform plans for improvement. “That’s where the Leadership Academy comes in,” says Lhospital. “The academy is a two-day training to help VPI+ coordinators, family engagement coordinators, coaches, and administrators make sense out of data and use it for the benefit of children in their program.”
This information, backed with support from the experts at CASTL, the school divisions can better decide where to focus their program resources and professional development. “We share research about what professional development works for coaches and teachers, but they are in the driver’s seat. Divisions are assessing their needs and making their own choices accordingly,” says Lhospital. “Most importantly, we want them to be intentional about their decisions.’’
Another goal of the 2-day academy is to create a learning community across school divisions, says Lhospital. “We hope to improve cross-division collaboration. So, during the academy we are giving opportunities for partners to share what’s worked in their programs and what innovative ideas they have for making improvements.”
Last, Lhospital and her colleagues at CASTL hope to learn more about how to best support divisions. “We’re using the academies to get lots of feedback from divisions about this training experience and what they need from us going forward. Their feedback will be critical for us to design future trainings and focus our consultation with each division. Transforming VPI+ into a national exemplar can only happen together.”