A Closer Look

Posting Date: July 22, 2013
Expires 12/30/14

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Posting Date: November 14, 2014
Expires 12/31/14

Action Teams meet to begin next phase of Strategics

More than 135 volunteers have begun team-based work in the most critical portion of a yearlong Strategics process for Vestavia Hills City Schools.

Seven Strategic Action Teams are meeting now to formulate concrete actions to carry out each of the strategies created in October for school system improvement. These teams are comprised entirely of local volunteers including parents and alumni, community members, teachers, and administrators.

Each Action Team is supervised by a group of leaders trained directly by Dr. Bill Cook, president of The Cambrian Group which is leading the VHCS Strategics process. Team leaders include:

- Stephanie Meadows, teacher at Vestavia Hills High School
- Jason Bostic, assistant principal at Vestavia Hills Elementary Cahaba Heights
- Roger Dobnikar, assistant principal at Liberty Park Middle School
- Susan McCarthy, reading coach at Vestavia Hills Elementary Central
- Meredith DeFore, secondary special education specialist
- Lisa Cunningham, elementary special education specialist
- Cindy Echols, assistant principal at Vestavia Hills Elementary East
- Jennifer McMahon, VHCS PTO Council president

The team leaders are overseen by four internal facilitators: Superintendent Sheila Phillips, Assistant Superintendent Meredith Hanson, Andy Carpenter, assistant principal at Louis Pizitz Middle School, and Alicia Hunsburger, assistant principal at Vestavia Hills Elementary West.

“I was very impressed with the turnout of volunteers,” Assistant Superintendent Meredith Hanson said. “I feel like there is great representation of our community and school system. I’m also very grateful for our team leaders, who are doing this solely because they care so much about our system and had a passion to do this job.”

Teams held their initial “kickoff” meetings at Vestavia Hills High School on Nov. 3. Team members began by defining for themselves what each strategy means as well as what it doesn’t. In subsequent meetings, each team will research and draft specific, cost-effective actions to implement each strategy. Each of the seven teams will report their action plans to the Strategic Planning team when it reconvenes in January 2015.

Posting Date: November 05, 2014
Expires 12/31/14

VHEW's Bender wins Emerging Leader award

Vestavia Hills Elementary West’s Krista Bender was honored Nov. 4 as the recipient of the inaugural Emerging Leaders Award from the Alabama Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development at its fall conference in Orange Beach.

Bender, an instructional coach at West, has taught in the Vestavia Hills system for more than 7 years. She was honored as the district’s Elementary Teacher of the Year in 2013.

“We chose to nominate Krista based on her leadership here at West, and her extensive résumé of leadership endeavors within our district,” VHEW Principal Kim Hauser said. “We are proud of her and are certainly excited to have her at West.”

Posting Date: October 27, 2014
Expires 12/31/14

Superintendent's Message, November 2014

Superintendent's Message is published monthly in the Vestavia Hills Community News.

More than three dozen representatives from Vestavia Hills City Schools and our community recently collaborated for three consecutive days in the development of our system’s new Strategic Plan. We approached this planning as both a discipline and a process, with intent to generate innovation and creativity with a respect to the established traditions and our reputation for excellence. It is the purpose of this planning to serve the students and community with a commitment to unprecedented possibilities and continuous discovery. 

Out of our strategic planning on Sep. 22–24, the following seven strategies were created:

  1. We will provide multiple opportunities for students to choose pathways toward achieving their aspirations.
  2. We will expose students to an array of opportunities to discover their unique gifts.
  3. We will build staff capacity emphasizing individual responsibility.
  4. We will create a dynamic of learning and teaching that provokes questioning and honors academic risk-taking.
  5. We will create a culture of inclusivity and respect.
  6. We will customize and create global learning environments to facilitate learning without constraints.
  7. We will intentionally cultivate reciprocal relationships with our community.

Thanks to the commitment of dozens of community volunteers, we will now begin taking action on each of these strategies. Our seven Strategic Action Teams — comprised entirely of community and school volunteers — will begin this month developing plans for projects and programs to carry forward the success of Vestavia Hills City Schools. I extend my personal gratitude to them as we look forward to reporting their work to our community in the months ahead.

— Sheila Phillips, Vestavia Hills City Schools Superintendent

Posting Date: September 29, 2014
Expires 12/31/14

VHECH designated 'Let's Move! Active School'

Let’s Move! Active Schools (LMAS), an initiative of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign, has honored Vestavia Hills Elementary Cahaba Heights (VHECH) with the 2014 Let’s Move! Active Schools National Recognition Award for its outstanding efforts in creating an active school environment.

The award celebrates a school’s commitment to helping students learn, focus and grow through the integration of physical activity before, during and after the school day. Less than one percent of U.S. schools are recognized with this honor, according to a release from LMAS.

“I am so proud of the many accomplishments each and every VHECH student makes on a daily basis,” said Dr. Kay Cooper, VHECH Principal. “I’m especially proud of the hard work of our P.E. teacher, Jeremy Andrews, on behalf of our school and Let’s Move! Active Schools. Our students work very hard both mentally and physically each day, and they’re supported by the most loving and caring faculty and staff. This is a win all-around for the whole school.”

“We’re so proud here at VHECH of the hard work of the parents, teachers, and students,” physical education teacher Jeremy Andrews said. “Being physically active on most days of the week is the key to a healthy lifestyle. To be awarded for what we do each and every day is an honor.”

Powered by a national collaboration of leading health and education organizations, Let’s Move! Active Schools is a physical activity and physical education solution whose declared mission is to ensure that 60 minutes of physical activity is the new norm for schools. To earn the LMAS National Recognition Award, a school must meet significant benchmarks in five areas: physical education, physical activity before and after school, physical activity during school, staff involvement, and family/community engagement.

More information on the Let’s Move! Active Schools program is available at www.letsmoveschools.org.


Posting Date: September 17, 2014
Expires 12/31/14

VHCS convenes Drug Awareness Team to combat substance abuse

Vestavia Hills City Schools on Tuesday held the first meeting of its Drug Awareness Team, a new initiative in the system’s fight against substance abuse among young people.

The Drug Awareness Team consists of administrators from the district level, middle schools and high school, a representative from a local drug testing agency, a Drug Court judge, members of the city’s PTO and Leadership Vestavia Hills, school counselors, and Brad Blount, a Vestavia Hills High School alumnus who speaks publicly about his recovery from drug addiction. The team will likely expand as new needs are identified, team member and Vestavia Hills Board of Education president Kym Prewitt said.

“Drug and alcohol abuse is an issue everywhere, so we decided to convene a team to look at what tools we already have in place, as well as other programs and ideas that we could explore to help us better combat the problem,” Prewitt said.

Judge Shanta Owens, a team member who presides over felony drug abuse cases in her Birmingham courtroom, said in the meeting that one of the challenges of combating substance abuse was that many users have figured out methods of passing drug tests while addicted. “We have got to fight that,” Owens said.

Team members discussed current and ongoing programs the city and school system are utilizing to raise awareness about substance abuse, including a recent “Help the Hills” town hall meeting that will be held again on January 5, 2015, and the school system’s new Voluntary Drug Testing Program, which enrolled some 300 students at the start of the school year, according to VHCS Director of Administrative Services David Howard. Also highlighted was the district’s partnership with IMPACT Family Counseling for its upcoming Strengthening Families Program, a three-week course of study beginning in late September for middle and high school families, which will discuss substance abuse prevention and family dynamics.

Attendees proposed several ideas, such as cross-promoting drug prevention events being held in neighboring school systems, and providing parents with a centralized, online hub of resources to learn about drug prevention and to help children who have become addicted. The Drug Awareness Team is scheduled to meet monthly through the remainder of the year, Prewitt said.

Posting Date: September 10, 2014
Expires 12/31/14

20 Vestavia Hills High School students among 2015 National Merit Semifinalists

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation earlier today named its 2015 Semifinalists, including twenty students at Vestavia Hills High School — the most at any school in Alabama, according to the organization.

Vestavia Hills students among the approximately 16,000 Semifinalists include: Thomas Archibald, Ankit Bansal, Graziella Camata, Lynn Han, Amelia Haston, Kai He, Luke Hogewood, Jason Hsu, Kathryn Jason, Charles Li, Jin Lu, Collin McMahon, Tailin Pan, Mark Philpot, Caroline Sandoval, Katherine Stahl, Samuel Tindall, Deborah Van Camp, Philip Wang, and Amy Weng.

“We would like to congratulate our National Merit Semifinalists for their high academic achievements,” said Tim Loveless, interim principal of Vestavia Hills High School. “We also want to thank our teachers who help them with the study process to get to this point. These students and teachers have represented Vestavia Hills High School as a place of academic excellence.”

“National Merit Semifinalists represent the top achieving students across the country, and this program opens up scholarship opportunities to students at colleges across the nation,” VHHS college counselor Oliver Aaron said.

According to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, about 1.4 million high school juniors nationwide entered the 2015 National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the 2013 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). The nationwide pool of Semifinalists includes the highest-scoring entrants in each state.

Finalists will be chosen in early 2015 after a rigorous application process that includes information about each student’s academic performance, test scores, and endorsements from high school officials. Some 7,600 scholarships worth a total of $33 million will be awarded in the spring, the organization announced. 

Posting Date: August 27, 2014
Expires 12/31/14

VHCS Strategics to lay groundwork for system-wide growth and improvement

Vestavia Hills City Schools is embarking on a new Strategics program for school and system improvement. Strategics is comprised of three critical areas — Strategic Thinking, Strategic Planning, and Strategic Action. This comprehensive development process will be conducted over the 2014-15 school year and beyond.

Dr. Bill CookVestavia Hills’ Strategics process is being facilitated through The Cambrian Group, a Montgomery-based firm specializing in strategic planning for education. Leading this facilitation is The Cambrian Group’s founder, Dr. Bill Cook, a native Alabamian who in 1986 introduced the concept of strategic planning to education. Cook authored Strategic Planning for America’s Schools, which is considered by many in the educational community to be the definitive book on both the theory and practice of strategy.

The Strategics process began in August with a two-day meeting of the district’s Strategic Thinking Team. Led by Dr. Cook, the Strategic Thinking Team was made up of 32 stakeholders including teachers, administrators, Board of Education members, parents, city councilors, and community members. This course explained in detail the various arenas of strategic thinking from a historical perspective, and how current local conditions should affect the district’s future planning and decision-making.

Next is Strategic Planning, which will take place over a three-day period in late September. Many members of the Strategic Thinking Team, along with several additional invitees, will return to begin hands-on discussion and formation of the district’s new plan. Sessions will focus on development of the school system’s statement of beliefs, mission statement, objectives, and strategies. Out of these meetings, a draft plan will be formulated and communicated to the public.

Following the creation of the draft plan, the district will begin soliciting volunteers to take part in Strategic Action Teams. These teams will meet over the course of several months to determine ways that the district can achieve positive results from each strategy. The district will create separate teams for each strategy, facilitating an opportunity for many in the Vestavia Hills community to assist the school system in a creative way. By early 2015, these teams will report their suggestions back to the Planning Team, which will then agree on action plans and on a concrete implementation process.

Another critical phase of the VHCS Strategics program is school planning, which will likely begin in the spring of 2015. Each school in the Vestavia Hills system will develop its own Planning Team, charged with the task of making the district’s Strategic Plan practical for their school on a local level. Schools will also form Action Teams and develop programs to implement each school’s strategies. This process will be overseen and approved by VHCS Superintendent Sheila Phillips.

The bulk of the district’s Strategics program should be completed by the end of the 2014-15 school year. Unlike traditional strategic planning, however, VHCS Strategics is a continuously developed plan. Periodic reviews and updates to each school’s plan and the district’s plan will take place, ensuring that Vestavia Hills City Schools remain in a framework for continued growth and success.

VHCS Assistant Superintendent Meredith Hanson, who is taking part in her third Strategics process with The Cambrian Group, says that the yearlong process is that thorough by design. “It is very in depth, and intense, to promote thinking and reflection to guide our district so that we do what is best for all of our students in Vestavia Hills,” Hanson said.

“I look forward to setting new standards for teaching and learning in our district as we work to define and create goals for the next level,” said VHCS Superintendent Sheila Phillips. “The investment all of our stakeholders make in this conversation will only strengthen the results for our children.”

Posting Date: August 20, 2014
Expires 12/31/14

VHCS Students Raise ACT Composite Average

Students in Vestavia Hills City Schools raised the district’s average composite ACT score for the second consecutive year, scoring more than five points higher than the state composite average, ACT reported Wednesday.

433 Vestavia Hills students took the ACT in the 2013-14 academic year. Those students who took the test scored an average composite of 25.8 on a 36-point scale. The average composite for the 37,985 students statewide who took the test was 20.6, according to ACT.

This marks the second year in a row that Vestavia Hills students raised the district’s ACT average. VHCS students scored an average composite of 25.6 in 2013 and 25.3 from 2010 to 2012.

ACT also announced Wednesday that 58 percent of Vestavia Hills test-takers had met or surpassed all four of its “college readiness benchmark scores,” which ACT defines as the scores needed to indicate a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher in college-level English, algebra, social science, and biology. More than two-thirds of Vestavia Hills students met or surpassed at least one of the college readiness benchmark scores, ACT reported. By comparison, only 21 percent of test-takers statewide met the benchmark in all four areas.

"We are proud of the hard work that has gone into preparing our students for this standard of success and for their postsecondary endeavors," Vestavia Hills Superintendent Sheila Phillips said this morning. "We will continue to focus on providing educational experiences that prepare our students for this level of assessment."

Posting Date: December 11, 2014
Expires 1/31/15

State issues ACT Aspire results

On Thursday, Dec. 11, the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) released statewide, aggregated results from the ACT Aspire, a new assessment which replaces the discontinued Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test (ARMT). This test was implemented following a 2010 decision by ALSDE to strengthen its educational standards to an expectation that all students will be ready for college and career when they graduate from high school. This decision led to bold steps toward a more honest look and more congruent measurement of student achievement, which is a critical first step toward better preparing students for success after high school.

The ACT Aspire assessment for grades 3 though 8 has been successfully completed, and statewide aggregate results are available in a press release from ALSDE. Click here to download the release.

The statewide results follow an announcement in October of ACT Aspire results from Vestavia Hills City Schools. Results and highlights were presented to the Vestavia Hills Board of Education on October 29. Click here to download the presentation to the Board.

Evaluating students’ mastery of more rigorous standards such as the College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS) led Alabama to adopt a new assessment system that includes ACT Aspire. On the ACT Aspire, students are expected to perform at a higher level than on the ARMT. While this change in measurement may look like a decline in performance, the difference in scores is an expected result of a change in measurement. Results from the ACT Aspire cannot be compared to old ARMT results. The two assessments represent wholly different measurement systems of student achievement.

This assessment helps to measure progress towards being college- and career-ready in reading and math as well as English, science, and writing (which are optional tests). The ACT Aspire represents an important component of Plan 2020, the State Board of Education's strategic plan to ensure all Alabama students graduate from high school ready for real life, whether they continue their education or go straight into a career. A briefing from ALSDE on the ACT Aspire, as well as an FAQ and glossary about CCRS implementation, is available by visiting the CCRS page of our website

Posting Date: December 04, 2014
Expires 2/28/15

VHCS becomes Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador

Vestavia Hills City Schools this week became the first school system in Alabama to be named a Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador, district spokesman Whit McGhee announced Wednesday.

This program, overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), forms a two-way relationship between VHCS and the National Weather Service to help build weather preparedness and weather resiliency within the Vestavia Hills community, McGhee said.

“Being a Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador creates a partnership between us and the weather service that fewer than ten school systems in the U.S. presently have,” McGhee said. “It allows us to provide our local forecasters with critical information during weather events, while they in turn provide us with weather guidance and resources to help educate our students and our community about weather safety.”

WRN Ambassador Logo

The Ambassador certification came this week as VHCS completed a comprehensive review of the district’s weather policies and communication protocol. Several school districts’ weather plans came into focus following a January snowstorm that stranded hundreds of children and adults at schools around central Alabama. Though some local meteorologists took the blame at that time for an inaccurate forecast, VHCS administrators say the experience provided valuable insight to help the district watch and prepare for future storms.

“We try to look closer at weather trends in the days leading up to a storm now,” VHCS Director of Safety and Security David Howard said. “In the January snowstorm, we had multiple days in a row of sub-freezing weather. When the temperature stays that low, a dusting of snow has a much greater impact on the ground than it normally would.”

The review of the district’s weather policy led to the following updates:

- VHCS will now consult directly with meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Birmingham via a live chat as a Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador. District administrators will also communicate with city officials and other over-the-mountain superintendents to ensure that school closings and delays are conducted smoothly.

- Parents will receive notifications about weather events through VHCS’ rapid notification system (SchoolCast) as well as social media and local media sources. Whenever possible, the district will now alert parents to the possibility of a closing or delay before a final decision has been made.

- Whenever possible, delays and early closings will occur two hours from normal opening and closing times. Buses will adjust their arrival times accordingly. Schools will make every effort to serve all meals planned for the day when a delay or closing occurs. Field trips scheduled for the day of a weather event will be canceled. Normal checkout procedues will remain in effect.

As the city heads into the chill of winter and the turbulent spring severe weather season, VHCS Superintendent Sheila Phillips says the school system is more prepared than ever to make informed weather decisions.

“Our weather decisions will always err on the side of caution,” VHCS Superintendent Sheila Phillips said. “We will make those decisions with the best interest and safety of our students and employees in mind.”

Posting Date: December 16, 2014
Expires 12/31/15

New elective courses coming to VHHS

When students begin planning their fall semester this January at Vestavia Hills High School, they’ll have more than a dozen new electives to choose from.

Students will have the opportunity to enroll in four new courses in the Career & Technical Education Department and 12 new courses in the Arts Department. Courses will be taught in the 2015-2016 school year.

The new Career & Technical Education courses will provide students with instruction in software development, Java programming, college accounting, and management principles. The classes are targeted toward students who plan to pursue degrees in business, accounting, computer science, and technology, according to Career & Technical Education Department Chair Deana Goodwine.

To get the word out about the new course offerings, the department will host an “open house” on Jan. 12 at 6 p.m. at VHHS. “This is an opportunity for students to find a place of belonging here and get the edge on some of the most highly-demanded college degrees,” Goodwine said.

The new career and technical offerings join with the Arts Department, which recently received approval of a dozen new courses in visual and performing arts.

VHHS arts teachers led design and creation of the new classes, some of which carry unique titles like “The Perfect Portrait” and “Let’s Get Crafty.” The idea, according to Arts Department Chair Faith Lenhart, is to teach art concepts in a more practical setting.

“We think these classes will appeal to a lot of kids,” Lenhart said. “They’ll make projects like you see on Pinterest and teach art fundamentals and creative problem solving at the same time.”

Lenhart, who works directly with performing arts students, said elective classes like the new ones being offered this fall provide students with incentive to attend school every day.

“Attendance in my classes is almost always 100 percent,” she said. “These courses give them something to hold onto and be a part of. It gives them a sense of ownership and pride in what they do.”