Public Comment Open on Proposed 2017-18 Calendar

May 25, 2016

The public is invited to review the proposed 2017-2018 calendar for Suffolk Public Schools, and submit any comments.  The Suffolk School Board is considering the proposal an upcoming meeting.


Click here to see Proposed 2017-2018 Calendar


Click here to share Comments

Voluntary Majority-to-Minority Transfer Options

May 22, 2016

The voluntary Majority to Minority transfer option currently in place at Booker T. Washington Elementary, Mack Benn, Jr. Elementary, and Pioneer Elementary will be expanded to Elephant’s Fork Elementary for the 2016-17 school year.

Because of a long-standing federal court order requiring desegregation of Suffolk Public Schools, the U.S. Department of Justice was required to review and approve the zoning plan.  The district can further desegregation by adopting a voluntary Majority to Minority transfer option at Pioneer Elementary School, Booker T. Washington Elementary School, Mack Benn, Jr. Elementary, and Elephant’s Fork Elementary.

The schools will be holding information meetings to explain the optional transfer in more detail:

  • Monday, May 16 at 5:30 p.m. – Booker T. Washington Elementary
  • Monday, May 16 at 7.00 p.m. – Mack Benn, Jr. Elementary
  • Wednesday, May 18 at 5:30 p.m. – Pioneer Elementary
  • Wednesday, May 18 at 7:00 p.m. — Elephant’s Fork Elementary

Here are a few facts about the voluntary Majority to Minority transfer option:

  • A majority is defined by the largest percentage of students by race. For example, a school with 60 percent white students would be considered a “majority white” school, and a school with 60 percent black students would be considered a “majority black” school. Booker T. Washington Elementary is currently 89% black, making it a “majority black” school. Mack Benn, Jr. Elementary is currently 75% black, making it a “majority black” school, Pioneer Elementary is currently 70% white, making it a “majority white” school, Elephant’s Fork Elementary is currently 70% black, making it a “majority black” school.
  • Students attending a majority school will be allowed the opportunity to attend a school where they will be in the minority.
  • For example, black students assigned to Booker T. Washington, Mack Benn, Jr. and Elephant’s Fork Elementary will be given the opportunity to attend Pioneer Elementary, and white students assigned to Pioneer Elementary will be given the opportunity to attend Booker T. Washington, Mack Benn, Jr., or Elephant’s Fork Elementary.
  • The division will make space available at Pioneer, Booker T. Washington, Mack Benn, Jr., and Elephant’s Fork Elementary for students who choose to participate in the voluntary Majority to Minority transfer.
  • The division will provide free transportation and ensure reasonable travel time on a school bus for those students participating in the voluntary Majority to Minority transfer option.
  • Students will be allowed to complete their elementary education at the school they started under the Majority to Minority transfer option.
  • Students who choose to attend Pioneer Elementary under the transfer option will be allowed to attend middle school at Forest Glen Middle School. Students who choose to attend Booker T. Washington Elementary, Mack Benn, Jr. Elementary, or Elephant’s Fork Elementary under the transfer option will be allowed to attend middle school at John F. Kennedy Middle School. These students could also choose to attend the middle school which they are zoned to attend.
  • Siblings will be given preference in the event there is a waiting list.

Attached is a voluntary Majority to Minority option form. This form should be submitted to Pamela Connor, Director of Elementary Leadership, School Administrative Offices by June 1, 2016. Questions may be directed to either your school principal or Pamela Connor (at 925-6760).

Link here for the April 29, 2016 letter mailed to the home addresses of students eligible for the transfer option.

Completed forms are due June 1, 2016:

This form should be submitted to Pamela Connor, Director of Elementary Leadership, School Administrative Offices.  Questions may be directed to either your school principal or Pamela Connor (at 925-6760).


2016-17 Transportation Forms Available

May 4, 2016

An immediate concern of Suffolk Public Schools in providing school bus transportation is the number of students projected to ride our school buses during the upcoming school year.

Every effort is made to predict school bus loads, even though numbers continually change from day-to-day.  There are a couple of issues that make these numbers difficult to predict; those students who request transportation to an alternate daycare location within the same school zone and those students who do not ride the bus.  Overcrowded buses are not safe and adding additional school buses come at a significant cost, therefore, we are requesting your assistance.

In order for us to adequately plan for the 2016-2017 school year, we are requesting that you submit the attached form to the Transportation Department, at 120 Forest Glen Dr, Suffolk, VA, 23434.

You may also email the attached form to , drop it off at your child’s school or complete the form online at

The forms are due by June 30, 2016.

We will notify you only if we are unable to meet your request.  Although every effort will be made to accommodate childcare bus transportation needs, the Suffolk Public Schools transportation department cannot guarantee its ability to provide transportation service to all requests.  Any form received after August 15, 2016 will not be acted upon till September 26, 2016 in the order that they are received.

If you are requesting for your child to attend a daycare provider out of your assigned school zone, you will need to contact the Pupil Personal Department for Suffolk Public Schools at 925-6750.

Again, thank you in advance for you willingness to provide Suffolk Public Schools with important information regarding your child’s transportation.


2016-17 Transportation Form to print — click here

Fill out form online here —

Early Start Pre-Screening Applications Now Available

March 25, 2016


Submitting this form does NOT guarantee acceptance into the program.  

Click here for Information Flyer.


  • Child must be Suffolk resident
  • Child must be 4 years of age by Sept. 30, 2016

Eligibility criteria considered includes, but not limited to:

  • Income – Family income at or below 200% of the poverty level
  • Family income is less than 350% of federal poverty guidelines in the case of students with special needs or disabilities
  • Homelessness
  • Education – Parents or guardians are school dropouts
  • Language and Development Assessment of child

You will receive an appointment date to have your child screened for the Early Start program.

Acceptance letters will be mailed the week of August 3, 2016.

NOTE:  Because Early Start classes are not located in each elementary school, school placement will be determined based on Early Start zoning. Students are not guaranteed placement in the home-zoned school.  Transportation is provided.


VIDEO: 2016 City-Wide Teachers of the Year

April 29, 2016

Join us in celebrating our 2016 City-Wide Teachers of Year and all who teach, coach, motivate and engage.

 This video shares the teaching experiences of the 2016 Teachers of the Year for Suffolk Public Schools.

Click here for the video:

The video made its debut at the 2016 Teacher of the Year Banquet, celebrating all school-level and division-level Teachers of the Year, held Thursday, April 28 at the First Lady of Suffolk.

TOY banquet_group

CONGRATULATIONS … Dr. Deran Whitney Named Regional Superintendent of the Year

May 3, 2016

May 3, 2016 LEAP deran_crop


ROANOKE, Virginia — Dr. Deran R. Whitney, Superintendent of Suffolk Public Schools since 2011, has been named the Region II Superintendent of the Year by the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS).  He was one of eight regional finalists considered for the organization’s state-wide recognition.

Region II encompasses the counties of Accomack, Isle of Wight, James City, Northampton, Southampton and York, and the cities of Chesapeake, Franklin, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach and Williamsburg.

Through partnerships with families and the community, Dr. Whitney strives for all students to become life-long learners equipped with the skills, knowledge and attitudes to succeed as productive citizens in a local, national and global society.

“Dr. Whitney has worked diligently to make Suffolk Public Schools a great institution for educating our students,” said Dr. Michael Debranski, Chairman of the Suffolk School Board.  “He is an individual that incorporates information and advice to promote our trademark – Every Child a Star … Together, We Help Them Shine!

“I am very humbled to be able to represent the 15 school Divisions in Region II,” added Dr. Whitney.  “Serving as superintendent in Suffolk is an honor with so many dedicated and committed teachers and staff members. I feel privileged to serve in a community where the support for education is so very evident.”

Starting as an elementary school teacher and principal before assuming division-wide responsibilities in elementary education and K-12 instruction, Dr. Whitney has served Suffolk Public Schools for 18 years.

During that time, Dr. Whitney has strengthened early childhood education programs, enhanced professional development, reshaped the Leadership Academy for Potential Principals, and helped start an International Baccalaureate program.  As a champion of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) initiatives, he initiated the start of two high school focus programs – one in engineering and another in biomedical sciences.

In recent years, Dr. Whitney has also:

  • Spearheaded a City-Wide College & Career Readiness Fair, which offered middle and high school students and parents a series of workshops on preparing for high school, planning for college, and transitioning to the workforce.
  • Revived the staff recognition program – now called the Superintendent’s Star Awards – which honors each semester both the top-scoring honorees at a reception as well as city-wide winners for both support staff and instructional staff;
  • Implemented recommendations of a comprehensive compensation and pay study, which provided teachers their first pay raise or step increase in 5 years, which increased teacher retention. Likewise, the implementation brought salaries for SPS employees in line with like positions in similar and surrounding organizations;
  • Opened a new elementary school in 2014 in the southern part of the city;
  • Negotiated the construction of a new elementary school and new middle school in the city’s fast-growing northern end to open in 2018.

Most recently, Dr. Whitney demonstrated his strong leadership for learning with the award-winning elementary summer program called Learning and Enrichment for Academic Progress (LEAP), which is designed specifically to prevent “summer slide” for students with low socioeconomic status.  LEAP kicked off in 2015 as a collaborative, community-based approach between the school district, United Way’s United for Children campaign, and more than 20 other funding partners and service providers.  LEAP expanded the remedial summer school from a 4-week half-day program to an 8-week full-day program that combined academics and enrichment.  Students were offered classes in foreign language, martial arts, cooking, woodworking, and more.  The program also recognized that physical and behavioral health is critical to children’s academic success, and provided physical fitness assessments, screenings in hearing, vision and oral health, and coping strategies to help with such distractions as bullying.

Dr. Whitney was also applauded for his communication skills, which have brought together diverse members of the community to support Suffolk Public Schools.  Stakeholders include teachers, support staff, parents and students, as well as government and business leaders.  Through Superintendent’s advisory councils, stakeholder opinion surveys, and his Key Communicators Network, he both shares the division’s successes and challenges and listens to constituent concerns and ideas.

Like other school divisions across the United States and Virginia, Suffolk Public Schools has also unveiled new evaluation processes for teachers and principals that include student growth as a component. The new approach has also demonstrated improved effectiveness because it focuses on providing quality feedback throughout the assessment and observation stages.

Suffolk Public Schools has also faced budget cuts like others across the country and state.  Dr. Whitney has said he is “compelled to focus on two things: maintaining a quality education for our students and ensuring all stakeholders understand the impact reduced funding may have on our school division.”  In recent years, cost-savings strategies relied on technology by reducing print and offering parents information online, such as teacher gradebooks, attendance, handbooks, and school flyers.  Web-based meetings and professional development sessions reduced the cost of travel reimbursement.

Dr. Whitney added: “As we saw the need to eliminate positions from our budget, we did this through attrition, however; I wanted to minimize the impact on our students so we focused on replacing full-time paraprofessional and or custodian, with two part-time positions. This was cost effective by eliminating benefits yet allowed, in some cases, more human resources for our students and schools.”

Besides his leadership of Suffolk Public Schools, Dr. Whitney is also an adjunct professor at Old Dominion University, and has previously been an adjunct profession at the University of Virginia.  He is Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity chapter education director, a member at Canaan Baptist Church, the husband of an elementary school reading specialist, and the father of a rising junior at Radford University.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from Christopher Newport University, his master’s degree from Old Dominion University, and his doctorate degree in education leadership & policy studies from Virginia Tech.


Read Across America Day at Oakland Elementary School, celebrating Dr. Seuss’ Birthday
Whitney and Mascot





MBES selected for PBS KIDS Camp

April 12, 2016

What’s better than an afternoon snack in front of the television?  For 20 students at Mack Benn, Jr. Elementary School, it will be creating their own stories with their favorite PBS KIDS characters during this week’s Code-to-Learn After-School Camp.

These first-, second- and third-graders will be “test pilots” for a new mobile app under development by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) called “ScratchJr” – an introductory computer programming language that enables young children to create their own interactive stories and games.

Using characters from Peg+Cat, The Kratt Brothers, and Word Girl, children snap together graphical programming blocks to make characters move, jump, dance, and sing. According to the website, children can modify characters in the paint editor, add their own voices and sounds, even insert photos of themselves — then use the programming blocks to make their characters come to life.

PBS was awarded a grant by the Verizon Foundation to help educate students and teachers about integrating computer coding into the classroom. WHRO was selected to receive funds from that grant to pilot this training, and will provide the instruction and bring its traveling iPad lab so each student will have hands-on access to the technology.

At this week’s camp, the five-day sequence of activities will use both digital and physical activities to teach children about computer coding. The students will progress from basic knowledge to more advanced programming skills over the course of the five days.  A national research firm will be on-site to evaluate the camp.

In addition to the camp for children, WHRO will host professional development coding camps this summer for elementary teachers as part of this grant.  Details on that opportunity will be available later this spring.

Developers explained on their website why they created ScratchJr:  “Coding (or computer programming) is a new type of literacy. Just as writing helps you organize your thinking and express your ideas, the same is true for coding. In the past, coding was seen as too difficult for most people. But we think coding should be for everyone, just like writing. As young children code with ScratchJr, they learn how to create and express themselves with the computer, not just to interact with it. In the process, children learn to solve problems and design projects, and they develop sequencing skills that are foundational for later academic success. They also use math and language in a meaningful and motivating context, supporting the development of early-childhood

numeracy and literacy. With ScratchJr, children aren’t just learning to code, they are coding to learn.”  The PBS KIDS ScratchJr app is available free through the App Store.

For more information, contact Angie Callahan, WHRO Director of Children’s Services, at (757) 889-9407 or

2016 City-Wide Teachers of the Year Announced

March 24, 2016

Congratulations to Michele Waggoner, Suffolk Public Schools’ 2016 City-Wide Teacher of the Year, who serves as the library media specialist at Oakland Elementary School.

Kudos too to Tracy Halvorson of John Yeates Middle School, named Middle School Teacher of the Year … Ariane Williams of Lakeland High School, named High School Teacher of the Year … and Cierra French of Elephant’s Fork Elementary as Rookie Teacher of the Year.

Now in her 20th year of teaching, Waggoner is known for her innovation, creativity, enthusiasm, and outstanding work ethic.

City Wide_Michele Waggoner

Waggoner has worked with all grade levels as a school librarian for nine years, and previously was a first- and second-grade classroom teacher.  The Oakland Elementary School library is more than just a place to check out books.  Waggoner has created a space where students develop hands-on projects and regularly use drama, music, and art in weekly resource lessons.

This top teacher shared her approach in encouraging life-long lovers of reading: “I believe reading is the key to success in all academic areas. Knowing all children are different and come with various strengths and weaknesses, my goal is to create a positive learning environment where students can feel safe taking risks.  A student’s love and excitement about reading is contagious!”

As part of the school’s resource team, Waggoner works with the music, art and physical education teachers to create unique grade-level learning experiences through special day-long celebrations, where students have fun with SOL-related and real-world activities.  Early Start preschoolers have a Shapes & Colors Fair. Kindergarten students have Five Senses Day. First-graders have Patriotic Day. Second-graders have China Day or Egypt Day. Third-graders have Greek Celebritas. Fourth-graders have Colonial Days. Fifth-graders have Civil War Days. These special days culminate several weeks of classroom lessons on the topic, and they include a fun activity in the music room, the art room, the gym, and the library.  For example, Waggoner’s library activities include first-graders learning about Benjamin Franklin’s printing press, and then creating their own books with paper, paint, and stamps. Fourth-graders read “Stone Soup” and then create their own soup to share with apple cider and pie. Fifth-graders read about Civil War soldiers, and then taste beef jerky, dried fruit, hard tack, gingerbread and peanuts.

Waggoner has also been successful in securing grant funding to supplement the library book collection.  In the past nine years, she has increased the number of books from 5,200 to 7,600 and updated the average copyright date from 1983 to 2003.

She believes family engagement is crucial to student success in school, and she encourages regular communication with parents, interactive homework assignments to encourage teamwork at home, and volunteer opportunities at school to provide parents the chance to be part of their child’s day.  At Oakland, she coordinates the school’s partners-in-education program, its Volunteer Connect program, career days, book fairs, and many PTA events.

Principal Temesha Dabney said she sees “the dedication and commitment Ms. Waggoner has for all students, staff and families. She continually works to ensure she only gives our students the best. Throughout teaching and modeling the importance of reading, her hope is that students will gain an interest and passion for reading.”

Oakland music teacher Rena Long added that Wagonner “is extremely dedicated to teaching the whole student. Her concern for her students’ learning and well-being surpasses that or the average teacher-student relationship.” Part of that unique connection is that resource teachers get to know students as they grow up and advance through the grade levels – often for six years from kindergarten to fifth grade.

Wagonner earned her bachelor’s degree from Christopher Newport University and her two master’s degrees from Old Dominion University.

JY_Tracy Halvorson

Tracy Halvorson, a social studies teacher at John Yeates Middle School, has been named the 2016 Middle School Teacher of the Year for Suffolk Public Schools.  This year, she is teaching both sixth-grade history and seventh-grade civics and economics.

In the classroom for 12 years, Halvorson is known for her dedication to students and her willingness to step up to a challenge.  Principal Daniel O’Leary praised Halvorson for agreeing to start teaching seventh-grade civics as well as sixth-grade history this year.  Students in civics must take a state SOL assessment, and their performance accounts for the entire social studies portion of the school’s accreditation status.

Halvorson explained her teaching philosophy:  “I believe a good teacher most importantly should be confident in what she is doing, should be someone all children can look to as a good role model, should have the ability to relate to students, and not only teach them, but inspire them. I believe education is a treasure – a treasure that should be freely accessible to everyone. Teachers should develop classrooms that practice fairness, trust and equality. Students need a sense of community in the classroom in order to feel more confident about their work and to be in a comfortable atmosphere for learning.”

Outside of the classroom, Halvorson organizes the school’s United Way student campaign, and she supports the school’s team to raise money for the March of Dimes and Relay for Life.  She said as a civics teacher, she wants to model civic responsibility and giving back to the community.

Halvorson earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Longwood University, and her master’s degree from Old Dominion University.


LHS_Ariane WilliamsAriane Williams has been named the 2016 High School Teacher of the Year for Suffolk Public Schools.  A 14-year classroom veteran, she teaches English at Lakeland High School.

She has been applauded by her colleagues as diligent, thoughtful and gracious. This year, Williams stepped forward as senior class sponsor.  Principal Douglas Wagoner said “the patience she demonstrates is sincere but always limited by appropriate boundaries. Her blend of love and toughness reaches her students and creates an environment where students can and do learn.”

Williams shared in her application:  “I believe that building a great rapport with my students and parents means I must have an open line of communication. I must be willing to make adjustments. I must be willing to listen. Although my classroom is firm, there is a sense of freedom in my class that gives students the room to learn from their own mistakes, accept responsibility, make wise decisions, and monitor their own growth.”

Outside of school, Williams is active in her church’s mission work, drama team, and praise dance.  She is a published author of the book “Images of Destiny.”  The senior pastor at Restoration Christian Church said she “possesses remarkable versatility in that she can transition from instructing teens and children, to providing insightful teaching to adult leaders as well.”

Williams earned her bachelor’s degree from Old Dominion University, and her master’s degree from Norfolk State University.


EF_ROOKIE_Cierra French

Congratulations to Cierra French, a fourth-grade teacher at Elephant’s Fork Elementary School, who has been named the 2016 City-Wide Rookie Teacher of the Year.

She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Meredith College.

More information coming soon.



United For Children – Community Update

April 8, 2016

Suffolk Public Schools and United Way of South Hampton Roads recently shared a Report to the Community about the Suffolk United for Children program.

In the summer of 2015, United for Children was instrumental in expanding elementary summer school. The program was named LEAP – Learning & Enrichment for Academic Progress.

The attached report shares how LEAP students benefited from the new approach to summer school.

It also describes a new look for middle school summer school which will start this summer (2016).  The program is named LAUNCH — Leading, Achieving, Unleashing, Navigating & Creating through a Healthy Lifestyle.

For more information, contact Deputy Superintendent Jacqueline Chavis at (757) 925-6760.

Click here for a PDF of the 36-slide presentation.

United For Children - March 2016 presentation - LEAP and LAUNCH_Page_01