Interview and visit with Lisa Fernandez, Principal and Kelli Reeves, former Vice Principal.
By Frédéric M. Martin, Editor-in-Chief
The School was designed as the safest school in the Madera Unified School District, with secure exit doors for only the children and staff in lockdown situations, and secured classrooms where a lockdown mode prevents a perpetrator from entering any of the classrooms from the outside. The school was designed in cooperation with the school staff with great care and attention to details. This school has a very high percentage of parent participation in school events and functions, including the Parent Resource Center (PRC) program with a lot of training events that are well attended and have workshops for parents twice a week. The campus was designed with meeting rooms to accommodate such activities and the facility is being used for that purpose. In the 2017-2018 school year, the school had 765 students, and can accommodate up to 850 children.
Virginia Lee Rose Elementary is a walk-in school, so it is easy for parents to easily access the campus, visit the school, and be involved with the school activities, such as the ongoing weekly Monday evening exercise class, from 6:00 to 7:30pm. Virginia Lee Rose is a feeder school for MLK Middle School.
Once the Concurrent Enrollment middle school is built next door, the quality of our services will be greatly enhanced with the use of shared facilities and access to state of the art teaching tools. Some unique opportunities available at VLR include the ubiquitous use of Promethean boards for the children, with chrome books and iPads available to the students. Access to the latest technology tools was facilitated by a partnership with Google and Facebook grants. Although the students cannot take the computers home with them, they can easily use the tools after hours. Digital accessibility is a very important component of our infrastructure and we make sure it is not just a slogan. We do not know how many children can access technology outside of school, although it appears most parents have smartphones today (this finding is corroborated by research indicating market saturation for young adults aged 24 to 40 with a 97% market penetration). Another thing we do well at VLR is ClassDojo (https://www.classdojo.com) and school dojo: a free texting communication tool used in K-9 schools in the US, that delivers a content-rich instant communication platform. Our teaching staff enrollment in the classdojo system is at about 95%. Initial performance assessment benchmarks are showing growth.
Virginia Lee Rose Teacher selection was performed via the establishment of a leadership team, followed by advertising for teachers across the district. The challenges are multiple yet rewarding because of the meaningful engagements established between the students and their teachers, which was the main goal of this school. Opening a new school is challenging but also very exciting. Facebook and Google have dedicated resources for the Summit Learning Platform in place at VLR. All the professional development and associated fees are covered by Facebook. The program was developed through a cooperative partnership between Google and Facebook, implemented as a pilot program for 6th grade at VLR. In 2017, the Chan-Zuckerberg initiative became Summit’s long-term engineering partner on the Summit Learning Platform.
While visiting the school, Lisa Fernandez showed us the spaces dedicated to MUSD wide and VLR school specific tasks, for example, the network and server room was designed for growth, particularly since the site is designed to act as an off-premise data back-up location for the school district’s server. The school also features a staff “High Table” room, emulating the “round table” concept of medieval times, where guests of honor were hosted, a further embodiment of the “Knights” mascot of the school itself. The table itself was built with Knotty Pine from North Fork, CA. The school library is also impressively designed, with movable furniture to accommodate events and cooperative learning; the children move the tables all the time. The classrooms are also equipped with mobile Promethean interactive displays boards, allowing for multimedia and internet-based research right from the board, for all the students to see, interact and learn.
The Parent Resource Center also has its dedicated space that accommodates its very active members quite efficiently. A generous music room, conceived to house many instruments, located near Rose Hall, with a state-of-the-art stage area, computer driven stage lighting, and audio set up. Next to the stage, the kitchen features modern cooking equipment, a full walk-in freezer and refrigerator set up that altogether allows students to learn about food preparation. Construction delays last year, due to heavy rainfall, required students to initially met outside of Rose Hall, until construction was able to catch up within a few weeks after the beginning of the school year. Today, the school is fully operational, can accommodate about 100 more students that it did in its first year. Virginia Lee Rose is ready to welcome its students back for its second year, and to deliver superlative educational services to the community.