Meet the Superintendent presentation & FAQs

Dr. John B. Gordon III started as Superintendent on Oct. 14, 2019.  He hosted three "Meet the Superintendent" events -- one at each high school.  Close to 200 community members, elected officials and SPS employees attended the series.
Dr. John B. Gordon III
If you were unable to attend, please see his presentation below and his answers to Frequently Asked Questions from the events. 

Presentation from "Meet the Superintendent" Series 

10-15-19 ... 10-23-19 ... 10-28-19

Frequently Asked Questions

What is your leadership style? I am a collaborative leader. I believe in coming in, learning what is working and what needs to be adjusted.  I believe in student voice in order to develop the buy-in necessary to implement both school and division policies and procedures. I have always been told that I am a good listener and have the ability to put action to discussion. I have also been told that I have the skillset to take what is working and make it better.

What can SPS do about getting students to school and home on time?  Late buses and double runs shouldn’t be the norm. Children not getting picked up in the morning, or so late they missed half of their first class.  We have begun to review data that shows how much instructional time is being lost due to late buses. We are also adding bus monitors to some buses as well as providing snacks to students in the afternoons that participate in double runs. In meeting with the transportation department, we also have five new drivers that will be on board within the next couple of weeks. We also have transportation supervisors and trainers driving routes.

Some parents of children with disabilities are unhappy with the special education program.  How will you address that?

We have a new director of Special Education, Ms. Stephanie Whitley, who wants to make the Special Education Advisory Committee meetings more collaborative. The improvement of student achievement from our special education students is a major focus of the school division.

Will there be more teacher training on classroom management, particularly when students with disabilities are in general education classrooms?  Also, will there be more special education workshops for parents?

We are reviewing our current collaborative setting models to ensure that we do some things differently in the classroom. The goal is to have our special education teachers take the lead more in instruction and for both teachers to teach all kids.

What resources are we able to offer non-verbal students in Suffolk Public Schools? Assistive technology is not available and not being put in the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), so parents are bringing their own equipment but some parents can’t afford this technology.

Resources and assistive technology for students that have special needs is an IEP based decision. SPS will collaborate with parents to make sure that ALL Students have what they need to be successful.

What are the options to prevent my child from being bullied and losing instructional time?

Bullying is not tolerated in SPS. However it is also our goal to help the bully learn how their actions affect so many students. With the use of Restorative Justice Practices, we want to eliminate bullying and build a collaborative setting where students support each other. We also strive to make sure that parents know the definition of bullying, being a chronic behavior or action that negatively affects others.

Because of the growing demographics in Suffolk, what is being done for our English Language Learners in Suffolk Public Schools? English Language Learners are the fastest growing population of students in the Commonwealth of Virginia. We need to make sure that our staff has the professional learning that they need in order to possess the instructional strategies for language acquisition, embracing different cultures, and celebrating the diversity of our students. We have discussed having more of our school messaging and signs being bilingual and ensuring that our communities embrace ALL of our students.

What is the plan for expanding Nansemond River High School?  Northern Shores Elementary is overcrowded and Col. Fred Cherry Middle School is at capacity after its first year. 

We are waiting for the results of our facility study, which should come out in the spring. Those results will determine if it is fiscally responsible to add a new elementary school, build an addition, or consider potential rezoning.

Can parents get clarification on how program capacity is determined? 

Design Capacity is the capacity of the building based on an average of 25 students per classroom. When architects design a building that is the number they use for capacity. Program Capacity is how the building is being used based on the needs of the students. This is determined by each school’s administration. 

Will the Superintendent’s advisory councils continue?  How will you involve students?

The Superintendent’s advisory council will continue with a start-up being in early 2020.

Why isn’t there budget equity between Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs at different schools?  Teacher says she’s teaching 18 classes this year. Budget allocations for departments are the decision of the building administration. The teacher has 18 sections and not 18 classes. Due to low enrollment in each section, the administration combined sections in order to eliminate scheduling conflicts for the students. Additional resources for this classroom were also provided by Mr. Andre Skinner, CTE coordinator.

A facility department employee asked if the next budget was going to treat support staff fairly, saying support staff has been getting the short end of the stick with salary and benefit increases.

We treat all of our employees in SPS with respect and we value everyone’s contributions.

Is there the possibility of returning high school graduations to the schools, or at least to Suffolk?  Going to the Ted Constant Center in Norfolk makes in impersonal, and families are rushed out so the next ceremony can start. 

Paying for graduations does not come out of the same budget line as instructional needs. The City of Suffolk currently does not have a venue that is large enough to host our graduations. We will take a look at how much time there is in between each graduation as we prepare for June 2020.

What is your vision for extra-curricular activities and the Arts? 

I am a strong believer in both the Arts and extra-curricular activities. Having students involved in clubs and activities increases graduation rates and decreases the drop-out rate. It also provides students with more buy-in to their learning experience. We are looking at ways to increase the total number of students that participate in the Arts.

What will you do about the Fine Arts program, which is great in the elementary and middle schools but suffers in high school because of scheduling.  Our current A-B block scheduling does not allow students to take a fine arts class and also participate in one of the specialty programs. A 4x4 schedule would allow an extra block for fine arts. 

We believe that students participating in the Arts is a great way to keep students involved as well as express their creativity. If we were to shift to a 4 X4 schedule, this would have a tremendous budget impact as we would need additional staffing in order for the new schedule to be successful. We are currently exploring additional options to increase the importance of Fine and Performing Arts in SPS.

Why can’t we have more recess time in the elementary schools?

We need to ensure that as we look at the length of recess every day that we meet the requirement to have 990 instructional hours a year. We have also encouraged our teachers to include more student movement in the classroom. Exploration for our elementary students is important in brain development. As a part of our review of the Master Schedule, we will also include the length of recess time in our research.

What are we doing to keep our teachers in Suffolk Public Schools and not leaving to teach in other districts? Teacher retention is a focus of the Human Resources Department. It is important that we work towards our teachers being highly compensated, receiving the supports that they need, and allowing them to grow professionally. We are currently in the beginning phases of a Teacher Salary Scale Review that we plan to present to the School Board during the budget process. It is our goal to provide continuity in pay increases at every step and to work for our staff to be in the top 3 to 5 pay points in the region at every step of the scale.

Suffolk is doing great things.  Thanks for being the change that we want to see. 

Change is good as long as it is for the betterment of the students. We will always keep students first.