Back-to-School 2019: Pennycuff begins first school year as PGCPS superintendent

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: September 2, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.

School division slated for another year of full accreditation

PRINCE GEORGE – The start of a new school year is filled with moments, be it a child’s first day of school, a young student transitioning from elementary to middle school, or the beginning of a senior’s final 180 days as a high school student.

Those moments aren’t confined to the student body or the parents who are taking traditional first day of school photos of their children as they also reach the halls of Prince George County Public Schools’ central office as Dr. Lisa Pennycuff celebrates a milestone of her own, her first school year as the school division’s superintendent.

In the spring of this year, it was announced that longtime educator Renee Williams would be retiring after over 30 years spent in service to the school division, including nearly four years as its superintendent, with Pennycuff, her former assistant superintendent for accountability and instruction and a key member of her leadership team at the time, being named her successor.

In July, the school board honored Williams for her time with the school division as she served as a transition specialist until August 1, aiding in the change in administration from herself to a fellow veteran educator in Pennycuff. As the doors open across the county for students and teachers begin penning lessons on their whiteboards, the new superintendent shared some of her thoughts about the start of her service as the school division’s leader.

“The spirit of Prince George, for me, is about relationships and partnerships,” she remarked. “It is ensuring that I have the opportunity to develop those relationships early on and continue the ones that we currently have and build on those. It is also important to have teachers realize how valued they are, how much we need them, and how they are more to us than a person who comes to spend their working day. They are a person who comes to make a difference here for the children of Prince George so we want to show them that they are valued.”

Pennycuff comes into the position with a decorated background in education, possessing nearly three decades of educational experience, instructional leadership, professional development, and leadership coaching. Her education has seen her earn a Bachelors of Arts in Education from Queens College, a Masters of Education in special education from The College of William and Mary, and an educational specialist degree in educational leadership and administration from George Washington University, along with a doctorate in educational policy planning and leadership from The College of William and Mary.

Her credentials, paired with her time in PGCPS as its assistant superintendent and a sterling recommendation from former state superintendent of instruction and former Prince George educator Dr. Steve Staples, made the decision to select Pennycuff as Williams’ successor an easy one, according to Prince George School Board Chairman Robert Cox, Jr.

“When you have somebody that is here and has been with us for four years and we have had the opportunity to view them at work and see their work ethic, working with Ms. Williams side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder to move the division forward, you can’t ask for a better scenario,” the chairman said.

Beginning her first year as superintendent, Pennycuff also stressed the importance of fostering and growing relationships beyond the confines of the school division.

“We want our community partners, the police and fire department, our board of supervisors, and others to know how much we value them and want to work closely with them as great partners to make our community a place where families can continue to be proud to live and send their children to school,” she shared.

When discussing some things she has in mind for the upcoming school year, Pennycuff explained providing access to further professional development for the school division’s teachers are among the most important topics PGCPS is evaluating.

“In order to recruit and retain teachers, one of the most powerful things we can do is give them the support and tools to allow them to be able to serve the children and feel like they can serve them well,” she detailed. “Professional development for our teachers focuses on personalized learning, including the tiered system of supports, meaning, if you don’t learn it in first instruction, then we have a plan to help you have multiple opportunities to learn.”

Another area she and her staff, which includes a pair of new appointments as Dr. Bill Barnes, a longtime member of Prince George County Public Schools now serves as the school system’s interim assistant superintendent for accountability and instruction and former J.E.J. Moore Middle School principal Stephanie Bishop becomes PGCPS’ new director of secondary instruction, is looking into is the deployment and implementation of technology that supports instruction as computers and smart devices continue to find applications in the classroom.

“This year, we are going to have class sets in our math classrooms of Chromebooks for grades six through nine,” Pennycuff shared. “So part of the professional development that our teachers will receive for math, grades six through nine, will be the use of those to personalize instruction for those students in the area of math.”

She continued, “We also have professional learning communities that focus on balanced assessments, which are a combination of performance assessments that get to the profile of a graduate, which measure competency of the ‘five Cs’ – communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and character. This tells us that learning is much more important than just content. It is the content skills, plus the process so we want our children to graduate with both. You use those processing skills, those ‘five Cs,’ to learn the content. The content is only part of what they are learning to do but it is the ‘five Cs’ that are going to continue on and help them to be successful as they leave K-12 instruction.”

As she settles into her first school year as Prince George Schools’ superintendent, Pennycuff offered humble thanks and appreciation to the school division’s staff and the parents who entrust their children to schools in the county every day.

“We are the people who serve the children of this community,” she said. “We care to make sure they are part of positive environments in their schools. We care to ensure that their working conditions are positive. We look for the type of people who have a heart for all children and a work ethic to stay at it and not give up until we are successful with every child. We care to invest in our teachers and grow them so they can be the best resource for the children that they can be.”

Speaking to parents, Pennycuff remarked how the school division “wants to be meaningful partners with them.”

“We want them to know how their children are doing,” she said. “If their children aren’t having the success they hoped they would, then we want to be having conversations with them about the new things that we are trying to help them be more successful and what they can do to support the work that is happening in the schools to be in partnership with us to provide that foundation for their child.”

She ended by offering a welcoming message to students, telling them that it’s their needs which are being put first when they attend class everyday in Prince George County.

“They are our priority. We are going to care to find out what they are interested in and help them find opportunities, whether its robotics after school or they may struggle in an area and feel they may need more help. We want them to feel like they can talk to us and that help will be provided. “

“We want them to grow up and be successful and be proud to tell people they graduated from Prince George Schools,” the superintendent closed.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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