I was very surprised and honored to learn that I had been named Times-Democrat 2012 Citizen of the Year.
These past five years have been challenging, and it was gratifying to read an accounting of our progress and the list of school division accomplishments.
While I am extremely thankful for this personal tribute, the successes FCPS enjoyed are the result of the hard work of hundreds of Fauquier educators and support staff who braved these difficult years with grace and determination.
Their unwavering commitment and their belief in our children's ability to succeed and grow despite the obstacles have been a source of inspiration to us all.
Last week, I retired as superintendent of FCPS, and it's natural to become nostalgic, to reflect on the journey and the many people who have touched my life along the way.
I will resist this urge to reminisce, however, and instead look forward to what I believe will be the greatest challenges facing our school community over the next five years.
These challenges are by no means Fauquier-specific; school divisions around the nation will grapple with similar issues.
I share them in no particular order. They are all important, and addressing them will be critical in securing the school division's long-term health and viability.
• It will be paramount to bridge the achievement gap between student test scores in the aggregate and test scores for certain groups of students who have historically struggled to succeed comparably.
To bridge this gap, the school division must continue on its current path of eliminating barriers to rigorous and relevant curricula and ensuring that teachers and administrators hold high expectations for all children.
Federal and state mandates will hold schools and school divisions increasingly accountable for improving the performance of all children and for narrowing the performance gap. This will not be an easy task, but it can be accomplished.
All children can become successful students, but many children need extra support. Some need to begin school sooner than others to be working on grade level through their primary years. (A level playing field early on makes all the difference in the world.)
Many children require smaller classes, more personalized instructional experiences, and additional time for learning.
Our school day/school year paradigm must change, and our one-size-fits-all school calendar must become a thing of the past.
In addition to political will, these accommodations will require resources, and FCPS, like school divisions across the country, has been living in a period of declining support for public education.
Meeting rising expectations to narrow the achievement gap without additional resources to provide focused accommodations will be difficult, if not impossible.
• Finding ways to harness the power of technology for learning in a safe, responsible, and affordable manner will be an important riddle for the school division to solve, as well.
In Fauquier, Internet access varies greatly depending on where you live. Local government must work to improve Internet access for residents throughout the county.
In homes where the Internet is available, many students enjoy pervasive access to technology, yet we struggle to replicate that experience at school.
A lack of adequate devices and an overriding need to protect students from problems commonly associated with unfettered Web access currently limit student use of technology for learning.
Going forward, technology must become a driving force in the delivery of content, and it will be incumbent upon schools to overcome resource and logistical issues to make this happen.
Why is this so?
Schools as we know them today will change, and this change will come rapidly.
Increasingly, students will be learning online, and the role of the teacher will be less focused on instructional delivery and more on the facilitation of learning.
• The workplace will increasingly demand a comprehensive knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), as well as the ability to work cooperatively in teams. Excellent communication skills will be fundamental.
The world will become the classroom, and students who access the global curriculum with aplomb will thrive in a shrinking and increasingly competitive economic environment.
FCPS must continue the conversation about how our schools respond in these dynamic conditions.
• The workplace is rapidly evolving. Many jobs for current Fauquier students do not yet exist.
Students must become nimble, lifelong learners, who are prepared for the rapid pace of change in the workplace.
Career readiness will demand a thorough evaluation of our current career and technical education offerings, and the school division must be willing to abandon training that serves no practical purpose and focus on study that truly prepares students for the work that lies ahead.
A comprehensive review of career and technical education programming must be high on the school division's to-do list.
• Teaching tolerance and respect must continue to play a major role in our schools. Bigotry and intolerance are learned behaviors and, as such, can be unlearned.
Students cannot flourish in a climate of fear and isolation. Our schools must be places where every child is valued and greeted with kindness and respect.
We must never assume that students naturally understand the negative effect their words and actions have on others; schools must take a focused and planned approach to teaching the life skills that allow students to build and maintain caring, nurturing, and supportive relationships with one another.
We have made great progress toward this goal. The work must continue.
As Fauquier superintendent, I was fortunate to work with an outstanding school board and talented, dedicated educators. Together, we made great strides these past five years, and I will be forever grateful for their confidence, patience and support.
Working with children and those who teach them has been a blessing for me in many ways. Children are the best of us; they love generously, forgive quickly, and find joy simply living in the moment.
We should listen to our children more often, and at times, perhaps, behave a bit more childlike ourselves.
Most importantly, we must never forget that their welfare and happiness must always be our sacred trust.
Lewis retired as superintendent of Fauquier County schools on Jan. 4.