MCPS Schools Once Again Fully Accredited

August 16, 2017 by

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) released official results of state testing today, and Middlesex County Public Schools (MCPS) continues to shine.  Virginia public schools administer 29 state assessments each year, tests that are based on the the Commonwealth’s Standards of Learning (SOL).  The results of these assessments, along with graduation rates, provide the framework for Virginia’s school accountability system and the VDOE’s School Quality Profiles.

Once again, all MCPS schools have met the state’s benchmarks and achieved full accreditation.

“We are extremely proud of this accomplishment,” noted superintendent Dr. Peter Gretz, “but the state tests are singular measures of proficiency. We want our students’ learning to move far beyond those minimum standards.”

The division has embodied a philosophy that by focusing on what’s ultimately best for students and pursuing an engaging, relevant instructional model, student performance on the SOL tests will continue to excel.

“Our students need to be practicing 21st century disposition skills such as creativity, communication, and collaboration,” Gretz continued. “We will be seeking more opportunities for students to engage in project-based experiences that require these essential skills. We’re confident that by focusing on deeper learning and skill building, SOL achievement will come as a byproduct of that great instruction.”

A comprehensive report of student achievement data including a deep analysis of specific student subgroup performance will be presented during a school board meeting this fall.

Parent Information from 3Rivers Health District

June 11, 2017 by

Parents and community members,

Please find important information from the Three Rivers Health District office. Click the picture below for helpful information as we all head into the summer, and head outdoors!

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 3.42.07 PM

Hey, Show Some Respect!

June 8, 2017 by

Adults hear it all the time. We are out of touch. We don’t understand. So maybe that’s accurate, but that still doesn’t mean that we need to tolerate the rolling of the eyes, sighs of exasperation and that little irritating scoff that we frequently endure from the younger generation.

Hey, we’ve been through a lot & deserve a little respect!

Think about what we have had to deal with over the years:

1. The only way to have that new song before you bought the complete vinyl album or the “45” came out was to hover over the record button of the tape recorder indefinitely waiting to tape it off the radio. What’s a “45”? Well, ask anyone over 45 and they can tell you!

2. Anything you needed had to be purchased from an actual brick and mortar store. No Amazon, no 2-day delivery, no Google Play, no iTunes. Virtually everything was closed on Sunday so that everyone could spend quality time with the “fam”.

3. We didn’t have Wikipedia. We had 24 volumes of Encyclopedia Brittanica. Do you know how tedious this was? (Full disclosure: it was kinda fun, too.)

4. We couldn’t just “change plans on the fly.” Either you got to the right place at the right time, or no one knew anything, and everything was ruined.

5. Meeting someone required some effort and courage, not just a social media app.

6. You actually got to watch movies in the theatre without knowing the spoilers in advance and weeks later, new movie goers still didn’t know the ending of the movie.

7. We didn’t have “on demand,” streaming video. Heck we didn’t even have RedBox. We had “driving to the video store and spending an hour looking at the dust jackets and picking out some video that might not even work.” What’s a dust jacket you ask? UGH…Let’s just move on…

8. We didn’t have video games with “immersive worlds,” we had one pixel at a time…think PONG.

9. We didn’t have Skype, we had calling cards.

10. Taking trips involved planning, a road atlas and the AM radio travel alerts. You didn’t have all this GPS stuff with second by second updates.

11. We couldn’t take a million digital photos and hope one came out well. Every shot was money out of your pocket.

12. Pretty much everyone could smoke anywhere anytime. In fact at many high schools, there was an actual smoke zone where students had free reign to “light up” as needed.

13. Privacy for phone calls was restricted to how far you could stretch out the curly cord, and there were pay phones on every corner.

14. The closest thing to health food was the tasteless rice cake!

15. We didn’t have Craigslist or LinkedIn or any other such wizardry. We had a newspaper, the classified section and a highlighter.

16. We didn’t have Instagram. Sharing your travel photos meant boring people to death with albums, scrapbooks or slides.

17. If we lost the Entertainment sections in the newspaper, everything on TV was a complete mystery, but actually that wasn’t quite as huge of a deal as you might think because there were only 3 channels to choose from!

18. But we did have this amazing thing called BOREDOM. Complete boredom was totally acceptable and in fact, it built character. You could relax, daydream and imagine what great inventions would be developed in the future…

So remember next time you want to lash out at someone of the mature variety. We really do deserve respect. We’ve earned it. We’ve clearly had to endure a lot!

SOL Review for You

May 16, 2017 by

Over the next two weeks, chances are if you have a student in 3rd-12th grade, they are probably going to be taking one or more of the Virginia Standard of Learning…aka, the dreaded SOLs.

For those of us familiar with the SOLs, it’s time for a refresher, and for those of us new to the SOL experience, below is important information for your perusing enjoyment.

The Standards of Learning (SOL) for Virginia Public Schools establish minimum expectations for what students should know and be able to do at the end of each grade or course in English, mathematics, science, history/social science and other subjects. Student performance is graded on a scale of 0-600 with 400 representing the minimum level of acceptable proficiency and 500 representing advanced proficiency. On English reading and mathematics tests, the Board of Education has defined three levels of student achievement: basic, proficient, and advanced, with basic describing progress towards proficiency.

All items on SOL tests are reviewed by Virginia classroom teachers for accuracy and fairness and teachers also assist the state Board of Education in setting proficiency standards for the tests.

Today’s online SOL assessments challenge students to apply what they have learned in ways not possible with traditional multiple-choice tests. Reading, writing, mathematics, and science assessments include “technology enhanced” items that require students to demonstrate critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, much as they do in response to classroom assignments from teachers.

Students who take online grades 3-8 mathematics and grades 3-5 reading tests will be administered a computer adaptive version of the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests.  A computer adaptive test or CAT is an assessment that is customized for every student based on how the student responds to the test questions.

Almost all SOL tests are now taken online. Online tests in science, mathematics, reading and writing include interactive non-multiple choice items that require students to apply what they have learned. Only students with a documented, disability-related need take pencil-and-paper tests. In addition, elementary and middle school students who fail SOL tests by narrow margins or because of extenuating circumstances now may be retested before the end of the year — provided that school divisions first secure parental permission. The retake policy does not apply to the Grade-8 Writing SOL test.

The Virginia Department of Education has been working to expand the types of devices approved for use in the administration of online SOL tests. By transitioning to a new version of test delivery software, TestNav 8, Virginia school divisions gain the flexibility of administering online SOL tests on a wider variety of devices, including touch-screen devices. The TestNav 8 software, via a custom application, allows tests to be administered securely on additional devices, while continuing to support the use of traditional Microsoft Windows-based and Mac OS-based workstations.

Taking the SOLs should not be a source of major stress and anxiety for your student. It should be an opportunity for the student to demonstrate his/her mastery of the material as established in the course curriculum.

MCPS School Board Members Attend VSBA Hot Topics Conference

April 24, 2017 by

Jim Goforth and Richard Shores joined Dr. Gretz for the Virginia School Boards Association’s Hot Topic Conference on April 20 in Charlottesville, VA. The event brought together school board members, superintendents, and other educational leaders from across Virginia.

Attendees heard from Phil Gore, Director of Leadership Team Services for the Texas Association of School Boards on the hot topic issue of how school boards make a difference in student achievement in their school divisions. Participants also practiced board governance skills related to improving student outcomes and developed action plans for their board to implement to help improve student achievement.

“Working collaboratively with leaders from across the commonwealth to design strategic ways to link school board actions to maximizing student potential was invaluable,” remarked Dr. Gretz. “Dr. Shores and Mr. Goforth both bring a tremendous amount of experience and discretion to their role on the board and it was inspiring to see them learning with other great board members from other localities.”


Death of the Library

April 18, 2017 by

The cost of textbooks is rising, the print press is collapsing and the accessibility of digital resources is the perfect, cost-effective solution for financially challenged school systems.

Are the days of school libraries numbered?

Ever since the internet spread to what…a few million people?…there have been forecasts for the collapse of the print industry. The ease with which people can share media and information makes print media pretty much obsolete. Major book retailers which were once shopping mall staples are now struggling to survive. Can libraries be far behind?

School systems across the country are embracing the usefulness of digital media. The amazing intellectual advancements of the last decade would have been impossible without the expansion of digital media technology across the educational sector. As this trend continues, we could be looking at entirely digital libraries, but is this a good thing?

Textbooks are more expensive than ever. Digital materials offer a lower cost, and with open textbook initiatives, often free alternative. Finding information digitally is easier than finding it in a book, and it is instantly updatable, meaning it can be changed to react to new discoveries and convey new findings within seconds. It’s searchable, without the need to spend time manually hunting through books. It’s available to everyone with an internet connection, and it doesn’t require the storage space of physical books. Digital media is more convenient. It’s easier to carry a tablet than a bag full of books, and highlighting is as simple as touching a screen. It sounds like a no-brainer to me…say bye-bye to libraries…

But wait a minute…libraries are more than just rooms with books, they’re social hubs. They’re centers of partnership, sharing and debate. It is this collaboration, this exchange of ideas and opinions that fuels social, intellectual and scientific progress. Libraries are the places which advance societies, devise better world order and spark revolutions. It’s the nature of the place that’s important. People learn from each other. Removing the social component of learning is a detrimental break-down to growth and development, and we do not want that to occur.

So visit your school…or local library. Pick up a book, interact with a friend…before it’s too late.

What Better Way to Learn about the Human Hand than to Build One!

April 10, 2017 by

Using a collection of materials that cost next to nothing, MHS teachers Vanessa Edwards, Melinda Hodges and Jessica Newsome created an extraordinary experience for students to explore the anatomy of the human hand.



The activity is part of the school’s larger MakerSpace initiative that grew out of Edwards’ desire to give kids a place to explore hands-on learning, design and creativity. The MakerSpace is open in the library every Friday morning before school and students use an assortment of materials and objects to design creative solutions to real-world problems.

And now teachers have started to book the MakerSpace during the week.

Vanessa was able to get $5,000 through a Department of Education grant, and the division is part of a Mary Washington College grant that will provide 3-D Printers, laser-printers, and a host of other “maker materials” that will further position the space to be an authentic 21st-century learning lab.

We are excited about the future of the MakerSpace movement and how allowing students to explore learning through creative problem solving with enhance the skills they will need to thrive in today’s economy.

Interested in Becoming a Math Specialist?

April 9, 2017 by

MCPS teachers,

We are thrilled to announce a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for anyone interested in leadership in mathematics education!

We have been selected to participate in a grant initiative, The Virginia Mathematics Specialist Initiative: An Online Program to Prepare K-8 Mathematics Teacher Leaders for High-Need School Districts, which will fund one teacher from our division to receive full tuition and a $10,000 salary supplement for 3 consecutive years after completing the mathematics specialist preparation program.  

The Details

The grant covers tuition, fees, and books for the selected teacher to complete the mathematics specialist preparation program outlined in the attached document.  All course work will be offered in an online format.  Upon satisfactory completion, participants will receive a Masters in Interdisciplinary Studies, Mathematics and Science Leadership track, from VCU as well as Virginia’s K-8 mathematics specialist add-on endorsement to their teaching license. In addition, the teacher will receive a $10,000 salary supplement each year for 3 years (Fall 2019 – Spring 2022).  

Conditions for teachers

Teacher recipients must (1) complete the entire MIS degree program, (2) maintain full-time employment in their nominating school district for five years (Fall 2017 – Spring 2022), (3) take on mathematics teacher leadership responsibilities during the 3 years of the teacher leadership service commitment (Fall 2019 – Spring 2022) and (4) participate in the online monthly meetings of the Mathematics Teacher Leader Mentoring program for 2 years (Fall 2019 – Spring 2021).

To be considered:

Please submit the following to Dr. Tracy Seitz no later than April 25:

  1. complete the screening application
  2. an updated resume
  3. brief statement of interest


If you have any questions, feel free to contact any of us and we’ll be happy to discuss this amazing opportunity with you!

Peter Gretz, Division Superintendent

Tracy Seitz, Assistant Superintendent

Carol Walsh, Mathematics Specialist

Reality Store: A Partnership with an Engaged Community

April 7, 2017 by

Members of the Middlesex Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs and the educators at St. Clare Walker Middle School team up each year to create a remarkable experience for middle school students. The “Reality Store” is set up in various locations throughout the school. The different aspects of life within a community are created virtually to allow students the ability to interact with the financial decisions and responsibilities that await them in adult life.

Students log onto a secure web portal where they research and select careers, they acquire (monopoly) money, learn the essence of the fundamentals of banking, and are then unleashed into a virtual society of decisions that require reflection and careful planning. At one station, a volunteer walks them through housing decisions, at another they recreate the purchase of vehicles and clothing – all the while coaching and mentoring students through the checkbook balancing process so they can see, in real time, the challenges of living within a budget.


We are thankful for the time, energy and expertise our selfless volunteers bring and share with our students. Reality Store is an incredibly valuable educational experience and one we look forward to flourishing for years to come!

Who You Gonna Call? Stress Busters!

March 27, 2017 by

Feeling stressed in today’s society is pretty much inevitable.

Young people should have everything to be happy about, right?  But the generation that one would think has the least responsibility, actually experiences the most stress.  In fact, studies show a whopping 65% of students feel unhealthy anxiety on a daily basis.

It’s no secret that being a teenager is hard and comes with its own set of difficulties. It’s also no secret that school and the pressure to succeed are becoming larger and larger percentages of these difficulties. While some stress may come from simply being a teenager and its inherent struggles, too much stress is unhealthy.

Stressed-out teenagers can show signs of insomnia, depression, altered eating habits, substance abuse, and other dangerous stress-related symptoms which begs the question:  Could today’s society be putting too much pressure on teens?

Yes, it’s important for parents to push their children to succeed, but it’s also important that the fun of simply being a child isn’t taken away.

Without smart habits for dealing with situations that could be stressful, life can be a whole lot more burdensome that it needs to be. Students may feel tired before the week has barely begun. Being overwhelmed on a daily basis can cause upset stomach, headaches or migraines, or feelings of despair – when everything seems bleak and there is nothing left to give.

It might not seem like it when you’re down, but living a more stress free life is possible, even for adults. There are some really easy ways to beat stress effectively. Here are a few that we can all try that can really make a difference:

1. A varied and healthy diet

Eating fresh ingredients and lots of fruit is really important. Juices filled with vitamin C, such as orange or grapefruit juice, are said to be good for the immune system which can help reduce stress.

2. Exercise

Doing something athletic at least once a week is the best way to reduce stress. It helps your body produce endorphins which make you feel good. Even a 30 minute walk can help reduce stress levels so everyone needs to ‘get those steps’!

3. Try meditation, yoga or relaxed breathing

It might sound simple, but sitting quietly for 10 minutes a day can really help with stress levels. Good breathing techniques can put the body in a more relaxed state as they send oxygen surging through the bloodstream, helping you calm down and beat the stress.

4. Sleep (and turn off the electronic devices!)

Sleep is always the best medicine and some people find that small 20-minute naps can help increase productivity.  Teenagers, whose bodies are growing and changing, need even more sleep.

Students tend to spend too much time perusing social media sites and answering texts. Sociability is fun – but too much of it, and too much phone time, can lead to more stress.

5. Listen to music

Listening to music can help calm you down and put you in a better frame of mind.  If you’re feeling stressed, try turning on some music while you work to relax and motivate you.

6. Laugh…at lot

They say that laughter is the best medicine, and it’s truly is!  Laughing out loud increases oxygen and blood flow which automatically reduces stress.

7. Make a list

Jot down ideas, tasks and stuff you have to remember, then you won’t have to worry about forgetting.  You will free up your mind for focusing on other things than remembering.

8. One thing at a time

You’ll feel better and less stressed if you do just one thing at a time. If you must multi-task a few things during the day then set some time aside for that.  Single-tasking will allow higher quality results right away and give a sense of accomplishment and relief.

9. Don’t make mountains out of molehills

One of the best ways to make your day and life easier, lighter and less stressful is to not build mountains out of molehills. Try not to create extra drama, overthink or create a problem out of something that doesn’t matter much…or just out of thin air.

10. Spend 80% of your time focusing on a solution

…and only 20% of your time on dwelling on the issue or problem. You’ll live a much more action-filled life and feel less pessimistic and powerless if you do!

11. Ask instead of guessing

Reading minds is impossible.  Misunderstandings will be plentiful if you try to do it.  Communicate instead. You’ll have a lot less unnecessary conflicts, negativity and waste less of your and other people’s valuable time.

12. Make sure you take time to do what you love to do

Learn to get the necessary things done then relax. Prioritize what really matters and carve out time during the weekend or evenings for some downtime. Few things are better at relieving stress and creating positive energy than doing an activity that you love to do.

13. Ask for help and talk it out

This may be the most important thing for us all to remember. You don’t always have to go it alone. Reach out to a friend, a parent, or a teacher and talk about what’s weighing on your mind.  Just letting it out and verbalizing the issue can often help decrease the stress quite a bit… And remember to return the favor when someone else needs a sympathetic ear.

Finding a few favorites among these tips and habits can make a huge difference in taking the first step to living a much lighter and more balanced life.

Sure, there is always going to be a certain amount of stress placed upon us, but it is important to make sure that it does not get out of hand. It is also important not to place too much pressure on teenagers. Certain precautions should be taken to limit the amount of pressure and worry they have in their daily lives, so room is still left for leisure activities and fun.

Who likes anxiety and stress anyway, especially when you’re a teenager and still trying to figure it all out?

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