Rockingham Schools Create Innovation Committee

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November 16, 2018
Daily News-Record  11/16/18
HARRISONBURG — Rockingham County Public Schools has created a panel to look at new ways to engage with students and the community.
Among things the innovation committee will look at are ways to increase hands-on learning, improving school and community relationships, and how to support the emotional and behavioral needs of students.
Formed this year, it is made up of 30 people from a variety of professions and met for the first time recently. Division Superintendent Oskar Scheikl said three subcommittees are focusing on specific areas.
The first one focuses on authentic learning opportunities, such as hands-on projects and learning.
“The schools have taken big strides in getting away from the memorization model of learning,” Scheikl said.
The second subcommittee is looking to improve school and community relationships. It aims to identify innovative ways to work with families and businesses to provide resources for schools.
The last subcommittee is the most important in a lot of ways, Scheikl said. One of the biggest challenges facing Rockingham County Public Schools is providing support for children facing trauma at home.
“Students dealing with trauma simply aren’t ready to learn. And to be ready, they need to feel safe and have a sense of belonging,” Scheikl said.
This isn’t a new challenge, and it’s one facing school divisions across the country. But it’s a challenge that’s being addressed in different ways than in the past. “It used to be just kick them out,” Scheikl said.
While suspending a student for acting out benefits the other children in the class in the short term, it doesn’t help the student who misses out on learning, he said.
The subcommittee on students’ emotional and mental health needs is approaching these issues with the understanding that students don’t simply have bad behavior, but they behave the way they do to deal with something else they’re going through, Scheikl said.
Rockingham County Public Schools has retained the services of two crisis counselors from the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Services Board to work specifically with the schools. The division also has behavior specialists and early intervention specialists to help address the issue of trauma in the home.
Becky Hill-Shifflett is director of support services for the school division and a member of the innovation subcommittee. She said she’s excited to address student behavior issues by promoting positive behavior, instead of reacting with punitive measures.
“While we still have a zero tolerance policy for a reason, every day is a new day for every child,” Hill-Shifflett said.
The subcommittee consists of five members who have met three times, and an extended committee of 10 pulling from many backgrounds that meets less frequently.
They have two goals: to develop tiers of support to promote positive behavior, and to enhance knowledge and skills to help students form healthy relationships.
The subcommittees will continue to meet throughout the year. In the spring, they will present suggestions to the School Board for actions they feel will further their goals, Hill- Shifflett said.
“I’m really excited about it,” she said. “It’s a big task, but an important one.”