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Safe and Engaged

Amy Cashwell column: Acclimating to a school year unlike any other

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It seems like only a short time ago that we entered 2022, blinked a few times and, all of a sudden, it’s June. After two years of remote and hybrid learning, 2021-22 marked the first full year back in our school buildings.

Things moved so fast, it’s easy to forget we returned to school in September wearing masks, and with COVID-19 vaccines not yet approved for those younger than age 12. The adjustments back to full-time, in-person learning were anything but ordinary.

Our teachers and staff members spent countless hours addressing the new norms of transporting, feeding, teaching, caring for, and keeping our students safe and engaged in their learning. I am more than proud of the way everyone acclimated to the challenges of the unique school year.

Despite the necessary attention on navigating health and safety concerns, Henrico County Public Schools never wavered from advancing important prepandemic work on behalf of students and staff members. HCPS opened replacement high schools for J.R. Tucker and Highland Springs students; an enlarged Elizabeth Holladay Elementary School; and a new telehealth clinic at Glen Lea Elementary School — the first step in a larger initiative for full-service community schools.

We also adopted a new HCPS “Career Ladder” — a first-of-its-kind program for Virginia schools, offering personalized opportunities for teachers and staff members to advance professionally without leaving the classroom. We prioritized teacher and staff pay in the new budget with raises, bonuses and increased days off, and we absorbed increases in health insurance premiums for our staff members. We are thankful to our school board, county supervisors and legislators for their support in the ongoing effort for better compensation for our employees.

In addition, our school division garnered a number of awards and accomplishments honoring staff members, students and programs. HCPS is home to both Virginia Counselors of the Year, 15 more National Board Certified Teachers, Distinguished Educational Leadership awardees, and Scholastic Art & Writing Award winners.

We are a national leader in music education, have received recognition for a number of innovative grants and programs, and recently held another great celebration of our nationally renowned Career & Technical Education Letter-of-Intent Signing Day, just to name a few. And let’s not forget our many state champion athletic teams and individuals at several of our high schools.

Increasing student achievement, innovation and personalized student-centered learning are not new goals for Henrico schools. They are the very heart of our ongoing work in service to students.

HCPS maintains incredibly high standards, while continuing to address pandemic learning gaps with all the tools and supports at our disposal. As a result, our graduation rates are up, the scholarship monies earned by students have increased and the number of industry certification opportunities for students continues to grow.

I am especially proud of the HCPS Class of 2022. I’m so thankful students in our nine comprehensive high schools got to experience their commencement ceremonies in person, at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center.

In a year unlike any other, our students, teachers and staff members continue to wow us every day. It hasn’t been easy, but our employees set a new standard for professionalism, perseverance and teamwork.

Their fortitude in identifying and removing barriers at every turn has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. I am incredibly grateful for all of our colleagues in Henrico schools and I invite our community to join me in saying, “Thank you!”

Dr. Amy Cashwell is superintendent of Henrico County Public Schools. She provides leadership and direction for Virginia’s sixth largest school division, which has 72 schools and program centers, serving more than 50,000 students. Contact her at: Superintendent@henrico.k12.va.us

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