Students were keynote speakers at IWCS convocation

Published 2:36 pm Monday, September 2, 2019

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Isle of Wight County Schools’ annual teacher convocation was a little different this year.

Instead of inviting a guest keynote speaker, sometimes from out of state, to kick off the start of a new school year with an inspirational lecture or presentation, this year IWCS sought inspiration much closer to home. Specifically, from a group of seventh-grade students at Smithfield Middle School.

“I can be anything, create anything, dream anything, because all of you believe in me, and it rubs off on me!” a seventh-grade girl shouted out to the crowd from Smithfield High School’s auditorium stage.

“Do you believe that every student can achieve?” another student asked rhetorically. “We need you to know that what you are doing is the most important job in the country today. We need you to believe in us. You have helped me get to where I am today.”

Next to take the stage was Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton.

“You can’t have equity if you don’t have high expectations for every child,” the superintendent said. “Some may need more time, but we have to keep them all here … You have a school board that believes in the growth mindset, that believes in professional development. I want you to take those opportunities and dream big for our children.”

Thornton also took the opportunity to announce that he, along with 48 other Virginia superintendents, had met in Charlottesville the week of Aug. 12-16 to work on a 2025 plan for education in Virginia. The finance committee on which he had served, he said, had included in the plan a recommendation to give teachers a 5-percent raise each year for the next four years.

“We need to get past the national average,” Thornton said.

“Virginia’s producing here,” the superintendent added, gesturing with his hands, “and we’re paying you [down] here, and it’s wrong.”

Another change the division implemented this year was to do away with the skit that the central office personnel had traditionally performed, and instead, have them make a music video. This, Briggs said, was produced with a “budget of zero.”

This was also the challenge for the annual teacher school spirit contest, which Windsor Elementary School won this year.

Lynn Briggs, IWCS’s director of community and media relations, who served as master of ceremonies for the convocation, said the changes to the convocation this year were more to accommodate time constraints than to cut costs. She explained that this year, there was a need to shorten the convocation so that teachers could attend an afternoon of professional development that same day.

Regarding the students who served as keynote speakers, Briggs said, “We’re always looking at ways of incorporating our students into our events.”

She added that the students who spoke where those who had been in the class that Dr. Thornton had taught at Westside Elementary School last school year.

The first day of classes for the 2019-2020 school year will be on Tuesday, Sept. 3.