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Louisa County Public Schools fight for teacher retention gains recognition

As schools struggle to hire and retain teachers in the classroom, Louisa County Public Schools has been recognized for the innovative ways it’s been able to do so.

The school division was one of the seven to receive the Virginia Department of Education’s Innovative Practice Award. It received the award for the development of strategies to enhance teacher retention and recruitment.

“I’m so proud of our team here and just the ideas they’ve had to innovate and think outside of the box to really find a great solution to a really big problem, which is our teacher shortage across the country and certainly the commonwealth and just Central Virginia as well,” school division Superintendent Doug Straley told The Daily Progress.

The Innovative Practice Award recognitions are part of the state Board of Education’s Exemplar Performances Awards Program, according to the Virginia Department of Education. Awards are based on the performance and practices of the schools in the 2021-2022 and prior school years.

Louisa County Public Schools used a three-pronged approach to earn the award, according to Andrew Woolfolk, a school division spokesman. The approach included the creation of a Little Lions Learning Lab, Instructional Assistant-to-Teacher Pipeline and the Louisa County Public Schools job fair.

The Little Lions Learning Lab is a program that provides child care to the school division’s staff, Woolfolk said. The program also serves as a learning space for students to gain hands-on experience in child development and supervision, according to its website.

“We’ve actually had a 200% increase in students who have graduated from here and went on to teacher training programs after we instituted a Little Lions,” Kenneth Bouwens, director of Career and Technical Education in Louisa, told The Daily Progress. “So we really do think it’s working on both levels there.”

Students at the lab do things “as simple as helping with lunch or as advanced as teaching a lesson,” according to Bouwens.

“It’s one thing to learn about child development in textbooks, it’s another thing to actually go in there and see it,” said Bouwens. "So it’s really exciting to give our students that experience and let them grow that passion around education and teaching.”

The Virginia School Boards Association awarded the lab with the Excellence in Workforce Readiness in 2021.

Louisa’s Instructional Assistant-to-Teacher Pipeline is for individuals who want to become teachers but don’t currently have the certification, according to Michael Pelloni, assistant superintendent for administration for Louisa County Public Schools. To help move the process along, the school division partnered with Grand Canyon University for instructional assistants to take online courses to become certified and become teachers. While taking online courses, instructional assistants are working in classrooms as well.

“They’re able to be full-time employees with us working with kids in classrooms as instructional assistance while they’re working online to get the credential to become a full-time teacher,” Pelloni said. “Our goal at the end of it is to be able to hire them for the vacancies that we may have in the teaching certification areas.”

The school division also received a $30,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Education. The grant was awarded as part of the Recruitment and Retention Support Grant program. Funding was used to help pipeline participants pay for schooling.

There are currently three vacancies in the school division for the upcoming school year, but the superintendent hopes to have them filled soon.

“We have to be able to fill our vacancies with high quality individuals who really are going to get in that classroom and make the magic happen for our students and that’s what’s so exciting,” Straley said.


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