Tuesday, August 7, 2018


Welcome back to a great year of learning!

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher wrote: Nothing endures but change.  Nowhere is this truer than in the field of education and here at Woodbrook as we get ready to begin the 2018-19 academic year!

I hope your summer vacation has been relaxing and filled with laughter and learning while providing you with memories for years to come. Research shows that allowing ourselves to take a break increases our productivity and creativity because it refreshes the mind and replenishes our mental resources allowing us to become more relaxed, recharged and ready to start something new. It is with great excitement and anticipation that we begin our new school year with you. I am so delighted that you are part of our amazing learning community and welcome and value your positive energy and dedication to excellence in your child’s education. We are very much looking forward to working with you and your children in our newly designed learning spaces, using a multi-age pedagogical instructional approach that meets the individual needs of all learners.

The start of a new school year is always a moment of great anticipation, excitement, and at times fear.  Whether your family is new to Albemarle County Public schools, new to Woodbrook, or you are simply returning to your school after a fun-filled summer, this is going to be a very special moment for all. For everyone: students, families, and staff, there is that wonderful sense of a new beginning and a fresh start and this will only be further enhanced when we walk through the front doors of a whole new school on that first day!  It is natural for students to have a bit of anxiety and maybe even a few questions – who will my teacher be, what will my teacher be like, who will be in my class, etc. Nevertheless, the focus should always be on the new upcoming adventure of learning and growing. There is never a more exciting time to be in education or to attend school than when a child is in elementary school. A key responsibility of ours as parents is to help our children embrace this moment and prepare them to get the most out of this experience.

There are a number of things that you can do as parents to make this educational experience as positive, productive, and worthwhile as possible. As a parent, you can help create a climate of positive anticipation.  If possible, take time before school begins to visit us. We will be excited to share our new school with everyone starting on Tuesday-August 15th. Feel free to walk the grounds and take in the beautiful changes. We invite you to walk the hallways, explore all of the new learning spaces, and begin to make everything feel familiar for your child. This will be “their” school and we all want them to feel a sense of pride and passion in being there.  For your child, encourage that sense of “can’t wait to get to school” and together build joy and excitement for their learning.

Prepare for an adventure...This educational adventure is real and all about change, growth, and development.  There is so much that is happening in our schools today. The designing of learning spaces that are both collaborative and flexible, the creative use of technology and a focus on the development of “21st century learning” through Maker Infused and Project-based Learning. Collectively we are providing our students with a variety of pathways to learn in new and exciting ways.  Your child will learn to collaborate, communicate, think creatively and critically, and they will develop a strong sense of character. All of these traits come from our commitment to our values, beliefs and mission and can only occur when school and home are working closely together. School today looks and feels differently than it did when you and I went to school. This is that tremendous sense of momentum that is evident in good schools today as we prepare our children for a world that is also changing rapidly.  The skills that your child’s education will produce will have an impact on how they learn and will ultimately be the key to their future success.

Each school year brings new faces and ideas. We recognize and honor the many contributions made by those who have recently completed their service at Woodbrook, while welcoming the arrival of new staff who are sure to affect growth in our learners.  I cannot wait for you to meet and greet new and returning staff. When you visit, I hope that you will make a point to drop in the main office and introduce yourself to our new and amazing Assistant Principal, Ms. Jennifer Underwood. She is so excited to meet the students and their families. While in the office, you will also notice a couple of other new and important individuals. We welcome Ms. Yolanda Gonzalez and Ms. Lourdes Graves to our front office staff. Yolanda and Lourdes will be joining Ms. Anita Taylor. Our enthusiastic office team is registering new families, ordering needed materials, updating student files, finalizing class rosters and so many other things. Together these individuals will do all that they can to ensure that you and your child’s needs are met in ways that make coming to Woodbrook each day a positive experience. They are sure to be very busy as we work diligently to open our new office space to be prepared for our first day of school! Our hard working and conscientious custodians under the leadership of Mr. Joe Gains are working tirelessly to clean and move things as we unpack our school and prepare our new classrooms for our students.

Our amazingly talented and appreciated PTO is gearing up to welcome families, provide volunteer opportunities, and offer other exciting events and programs. We are indeed a joyous and caring community with the common goals of nurturing responsible, caring students and promoting high-level learning.  Under the incredible leadership of our co-presidents, Jen Smith and Dana Griffin, we ask that you become an active member of this important school organization. It will strengthen your understanding of your child’s school while providing you with a network of friends and supporters for years to come.
Our skilled and devoted staff has been planning and preparing for your child throughout the summer, while making sure that they too make time to relax and recharge.  Woodbrook teachers are committed to making a difference. They want to have a positive impact on your child and above all, they want to provide them with an engaging and joyful learning experience that supports them in becoming independent learners. To make this happen our teachers have been busy engaging in a variety of activities that enhance the work that they will do with your child throughout the school year. In June, we had nine of our returning teachers join nine of our new teachers in attending our school division’s Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction Institute to deepen their understanding of instructional strategies that lead to powerful learning experiences for our students. These teachers will serve as teacher leaders in this work so that all classrooms exhibit best practice when it comes to teaching and learning. We also had a team of 10 teachers; four of them new to our staff facilitate our 4-week summer school program. This opportunity engaged teachers in a co-teaching model and helped them to begin to build relationships with some of our newest redistricted students. Almost all of our new teachers engaged in a week-long Responsive Classroom professional development workshop that placed a focus on the importance of building relationships inside our classrooms and across our school. In July almost all of the staff joined me as we kicked off a yearlong learning journey around co-teaching. It’s not at all surprising that throughout the summer, every Woodbrook teacher opted into one or more professional development opportunities that aligned with their interest and our school division’s goals. This kind of commitment speaks to the high caliber of teachers we have at our school. They model life-long learning for our students and never settle for giving anything less than their best! Make time this year getting to know them and allow them to get to know you better. Appreciate the fact that they want to partner with you in helping to nurture and support your child.  Our teachers will be your child's biggest champion! Great schools always come back to the relationship between the child and the teacher.

Be sure and find ways to engage yourself in school life – your child will notice and respond. I want to say “thank you” to our incredible staff for their amazing professionalism and incredible energy as they prepare for the start of the school year. Their commitment to ensuring that Woodbrook remains a celebrated and successful school is awe-inspiring!

As the principal of this amazing school, I feel honored and privileged to have the opportunity to work with such outstanding students, staff, families and community members.  It is a gift to be able to share my passion for public education with such a dedicated, supportive and hardworking group. I am confident that we will have a productive and enriching year as we continue our mission of developing compassionate, innovative, collaborative learners prepared to access and contribute to the ever-changing world. Make the educational experience at Woodbrook “a way of life,” not just the place where you “send” your children.  Make it something special that you all share and benefit from together. Trust our staff and value all that they will be doing for your child and when you see something that needs attention drop by and talk with me. I am here to serve you and your children. Above all else, cherish these years with your child. Never lose sight of the fact that time moves quickly and the growth that you see on a daily basis will seem to flash by you in no time. Appreciate the fact that never in their lives has your child had so many adults looking out for their best interests.  Home and school together make a tremendous partnership and the beneficiary of all of that love and care, challenge and support, nurturing and mentoring, is ultimately your child. Helping our children get a strong and vibrant education is a gift – a priceless gift that will last a lifetime.

Thank you for allowing us to give this gift each day to your child!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Importance of Reading

As educators, one of the core beliefs we have is that ALL students can learn.  Beyond just learning, it is imperative that all students learn to learn in a way that best fits their needs.

Reading plays a pivotal part in this journey.  We hope to instill a love for reading in every student that walks through the doors at Woodbrook Elementary School.  This passion for reading must be modeled by peers, teachers, and administrators alike.

Having said that, reading can be challenging.  In addition to being a challenge, many of our students have difficulty finding books that engage their minds.  Books that move them to laughter, tears, joy, sadness, and eagerness.  This, sadly, is especially true of boys.

Our passion to build lifelong readers is not built around an end-of-the-year Standards of Learning test.  We do this to not meet the quarterly and yearly literacy benchmarks.  We do this because reading is an essential life skill for all students.  Reading opens doors and windows to new worlds and adventures.  It teaches you about history, science, love, hurt, compassion, empathy, etc.

The more kids see other kids reading, the more it becomes embedded in their day-to-day lives.  Likewise, the more kids see adults in the building reading, the more they see reading as a lifelong enjoyment more than a certain part of school.  In short, we don't want reading to be a homework assignment or a chore.  We want reading to be a choice, a hobby, a passion.

Recently, Piper Gary, our music teacher, sent out an email with great information about teaching reading to kindergarten through third grade students.  You can view the site she shared below.

Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade

She also shared an infographic that has been making its way through the Internet for years.  It is a great reminder of how important reading is.

While we are aiming to promote reading as an important lifelong skill and passion, we also realize many students don't see it as such.  For those students, we must figure out a way to help them see the value in reading. The illustration above shows them the academic value in reading every night but often that is not enough.  We need to help them see the authentic value and importance of reading.  It is our job to help bridge that gap between school and the real world. 

The picture/tweet above shows a first grader who was authentically engaged in reading.  He was reading a book of his choice and loving it.  His excitement to read for an audience was amazing.  We need to be able to capture this moments more often in the classroom.  If and when students are more engaged in the reading process, they will do it more often without being prompted.  Amazingly, the author of the book being read by the first grader responded to the tweet.  When the first grader saw Steve Antony's response, he smiled from ear-to-ear and was totally enthused that he cared about him. 

This was a powerful learning moment for the student and many staff members as well.  As we move forward, we will continue to learn new strategies and methods to engage authentic reading inside and outside the classroom.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Happy New Year

“Looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely build the future.”  Paulo Freire

As one year comes to a close and another begins, it is imperative that we, as educators, reflect upon the year that was.  There are accomplishments to celebrate from 2017 and also many things to look forward to in 2018. Even so, with all the positive changes happening at Woodbrook, we are also keenly aware of the challenges that we have faced over the last year and will continue to face moving into 2018.  But it is in each of these challenges that we look more deeply at our current practices to help us make well informed decisions that will ensure a high quality learning environment for every student.

As a staff, we are collectively working together to better understand our strengths and identify those areas that continue to require us to learn and grow so that we can better serve the Woodbrook students and school community.  Currently, each member of the Woodbrook staff is evaluating their personal values and beliefs as educators.  This process of self-reflection will eventually lead us on a journey to developing a new Woodbrook vision and mission statement.  This is an exciting way to welcome a new year and a new Woodbrook.  

As winter break begins, we hope that you have an amazing holiday celebrating with family and friends.  Woodbrook is an incredible school filled with many different cultures and traditions.  It is those different cultures and traditions that make each and every student at Woodbrook unique.  As a staff, we value the differences amongst the students and understand that the more we appreciate and comprehend those differences, the better educators we will become.  We also value the important relationship that must be built between our Woodbrook families and our staff.  Consistent communication and collaboration between the two sides is vitally important, and we will continue to improve our school to home communication procedures.  

Our students were first taught by their families and that education carries on.  Now, it is our job to work together to help every student move forward in their academics and character education.  Each week, we have new words of the week to help foster a community of learners who value each other.  The last word before the new year is generosity.  Generosity doesn’t have to solely relate to money or wealth.  It can also represent time, effort, love, kindness, and understanding.  These are all attributes that we want every student at Woodbrook have before moving on to middle school.  

The coming year will bring many exciting changes to Woodbrook.  Some of those changes will take hold before the 2017-2018 school year comes to a close.  For example, it is likely that the new gymnasium and open-space classroom in the back will be ready in the spring.  This will enable our staff to utilize those spaces as a training ground for the upcoming school year.  Over the past 6 months, many Woodbrook teachers have traveled to see similar classrooms across the country.  Recently, we took a team of 10 Woodbrook teachers and travelled to the Northeast to see multiage schools and to learn from educators who are teaching in multi-age classrooms.  Those trips will continue in 2018 so that more staff has an opportunity to see these spaces at work.  In addition, Michael Thornton will be leading professional development sessions on co-teaching and multiage education.  We know that many of our families want to learn more about the multi-age and open space instructional approach. We hope that once everyone returns from break, you will consider dropping in to visit our classrooms so that you can see first hand what teaching and learning looks like in this kind of environment. If this sounds like something that you are interested in doing, please feel to reach out to the administrative team to arrange for a visit. We know we have a long way to go but we believe in this work and will continue learn and grow in order to make our school a success.  John Dewey said, “Education, therefore, is the process of living and not a preparation for future living.”  We are looking into the future to prepare for what will be but we are also looking in the mirror to see what is.  Happy Holidays to all and we will see in you 2018.  Happy New Year!!

Principal                Assistant Principal
Lisa Molinaro         Michael Thornton

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Kindergarten students "Making" and critically thinking about how to get an apple from a tree without climbing

Connecting with the School Community and Beyond

Over the last few weeks, Woodbrook and the Woodbrook PTO has hosted numerous events to bring the community into our school.  Whether is was a PTO Family Dinner Night, Book Fair, a school-wide morning meeting open to the community, a grade-level learning event, or a field trip, we, as school leaders, know the importance of having a school with open doors.  We want parents and local community members to feel at home at Woodbrook. Even a local news TV station, CBS 19, did a story on our school community raising money for a high school in Houston,  Their school was horribly damaged from a recent hurricane. The first night of a parent-teacher conferences went very well.  It is great to have parents come in and talk with the teachers and their children about their journey at Woodbrook.  There will be more on Student Led Conferences in a future blog post.

Also, we were fortunate to have Virginia Delegate David Toscano visited our 1/2 multiage classroom to learn more about the YouVille project they are completing.  The second grade and 1/2 multiage project concluded with a student success night on Monday, October 30th.  Parents came and learned about all the cool projects the students had put together.

At our first school-wide morning meeting, we had community members celebrating with us.  We Skyped with a high school in Houston, Texas that had been hurt by the hurricane.  Our school community raised money to help them.

Skyping with high school in Houston

PTO Family Dinner Night

4/5 multiage trip to Monticello. Parents attended the trip and learned along with the students.
Global Maker Day

Global Maker Day was on October 24.  It was a lot of fun.  For us, it was a pleasure to walk the school and see all the creative learning opportunities happening throughout the school.  When students are given a chance to be think critically while being creative, magic can happen.  The pictures below and the video are great examples of this.

Video of student in second grade making a homemade fidget spinner.  
Build a Rectangular Prism: Starbucks on wheels...yes please.  Critical thinking!!! 

4/5 students were asked to make a rectangular prism.

Learning with Mr. Thornton on how to use Audacity in the classroom.  Trying to make music. 

Making a mix-matched animal

1st grade students are working on building their community: Charlottesville

This week in the classroom...


After returning from our field trip to the apple orchard the students learned that they should not climb or shake the tree to get the apples. We proposed this problem: Show us with these various materials how you can get the reddest apples of the top of the tree without climbing or shaking the tree.
The students work in teams for over to an hour with very little help from any adult creating ladders, trampolines, trained birds and butterflies to retrieve the apples.  They cooperated, shared, communicated, created, problem solved and most of all had fun.  I love when I can be the observer of problem solving and creating.  All students were engaged, happy and so very proud of what they created.  This was one of my favorite days last week.

1st Grade

During Global Maker Day our students had the challenge of creating a mini-marble run. We watched a few short video clips of pinball machines, shared a teacher created run, and they were off making. The children were incredibly invested in their own projects and in sharing them with their classmates. It was a joyful moment of careful creativity!

While working on ST Math this week, many students came across some challenging concepts. While there is teacher support at this time, there are at times more students in need of help than adults available to help! When RM became frustrated with a particular puzzle, EM exclaimed, “I can help with that!” It was a beautiful moment of empathy, of kindness, and most important of student as teacher and leader!

1/2 Multiage and Second Grade

In second grade our students have been putting the finishing touches on their YouVille products for the maker market on Monday night.  They also completed their final copies of their YouVille stories, which they will also be sharing with the community at the market. Each student has created their own business and a good or service to present at the market to earn money to go on a field trip later this winter.    

3rd grade

It has been an exciting couple of weeks in our 3rd grade community! We celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month, attended a classical concert, and participated in Global Maker Day. During Hispanic Heritage Month we used technology to travel to various Hispanic countries and learn about their food, sports, music, and art. The culminating activity was a fiesta with crafts, food, and a piƱata. We also attended classical music concert at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Performing Art Center where student listened to a pianist and violinist. Students had an opportunity to hear from performers about their instruments and their style of music. Finally, we participated in Global Maker Day. Students cooperated in teams to solve a marshmallow tower challenge and a mystery challenge. During our reflection time student engineers discussed what worked, challenges they faced, and how they would revise their designs. It has truly been an amazing couple of weeks with building community, stretching our minds, and working together in 3rdgrade!

4/5 Multiage

This week, 4/5 loved getting to face off in rap battles, Powhatan vs. Colonists. Students were assigned in groups to be rapping from either the colonist or Powhatan perspective. Students then collaborated to write and choreograph raps that emphasized the strengths of their assigned group, while shedding light on the weaknesses of the other. The activity helped us explore and experience the hot and cold relationship between these important groups of early Jamestown.

New Teacher Interview
Taryn Clark

Where were you born?  
I was born in Williamsburg, Virginia.

How long have you been teaching?
This is my 5th year teaching but the first year that I am privileged enough to teach Spanish. 

Why did you want to learn to speak Spanish?
When I first was introduced to Spanish in middle school I became fascinated with not only the language but also the Hispanic culture. It quickly became my favorite subject in high school and I knew I wanted to continue studying it in college. It was fun to switch from learning Spanish to learning in Spanish. Spanish has been a very useful language that I have been able to use in both travel and everyday life.

Have you ever traveled to a Hispanic country? 
I have been to three! I studied abroad in Spain, have been to Nicaragua three times, and traveled to Mexico. I am very eager to make it somewhere in South America next.

What is something about you that you want all your students to know? 
Language is a very powerful tool! Not only is learning another language important but it is also important to think about how you use words every day to communicate with others, share your learning and ideas, and express your feelings in a respectful way. Your language is a part of what makes you who you are.

Are there any other neat facts about yourself that you would like to share? 
Another thing I love about language is song lyrics! I have a strange ability to remember song lyrics, even ones from my childhood. So all those songs from boy bands in the 1990s...I still know them.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Lifelong Learning

School administrators have many hats to wear.  Each day brings new and exciting challenges that allow us to connect with students and staff on many different levels.  It is these connections that enable us to grow as educators and leaders.

This is especially true with the new instructional methods being established at Woodbrook along with the new construction.  Even though our days are filled with many different responsibilities, it is imperative that we, as school leaders, step back, stop, listen, and learn.

This last week, an instructional change happened within our 4/5 multiage classrooms.  After receiving feedback from students, teachers, staff, and the community, we decided to decrease class size by creating a new 4/5 multiage classroom.  This means that we currently have two open-space multiage 4/5 classrooms and two 4/5 classrooms in single classroom learning spaces.  Our goal is to serve every student.  Part of that service is giving them the best opportunity to learn in a classroom that best suits their needs.

Mr. Thornton has been spending mostly all day in the 4/5 multiage classrooms.  He is working directly with the teachers planning lessons and activities.  Mr. Thornton is also teaching lessons in each of the classes. He is working with the students teaching whole group and small group lessons.

We stress to the students and the staff that lifelong learning is an essential part of everyday life.  Understanding the value of lifelong learning should be modeled to our learners so that they begin to embrace learning as part of life not just part of "school".  This week was a perfect example of lifelong learning.

The changes we have made have helped develop a new start for the students and the teachers alike  Over the last week, students have been making, creating, and learning while using collaboration and critical thinking to share their work with the school community.  Below are a few examples of the work being done over the last week.

Photo Gallery: 4/5 Multiage
Students started to use Google Voice in the classroom.  This has increased engagement in writing.
Google Voice is offering an alternative which is helping them produce more. One student said, "Writing is a whole lot more fun when I don't have to use a pencil." #Winning 
Comfort matters.  When students feel comfortable in their learning environment, they will perform better overall.

Students are utilizing space to put themselves in the best place to learn.

Student rebuilt a ipod by soldering batteries to the ipod. He shared this with his classmates. 

It is also imperative that students have an opportunity to express themselves.  A passion for learning is helped by giving them an avenue to share their gifts. 
These students are learning about the importance of Jamestown by playing a game that lets them play John Smith.
Students are learning about 2 digit times 2 digit multiplication. These students are using arrays as a strategy to find a product.

Students are starting to learn about slavery at Jamestown.
In VA Studies, the students are reviewing the regions of Virginia.  This student is making a map of Virginia on a white board table. 
Students are using the ClearTouch boards to engage their learning and share their creativity.  
Students and teachers working together to learn how to use Audacity.
Students are moving more while also playing a game they love. 

Students are writing film scripts and making props before they film their video. 
Together as a school community, we will continue to learn.  We will continue to grow and develop new ideas that enhance student learning.  We will foster creativity and challenge students to be critical thinkers.  We will collaborate together so that all voices are heard and every student feels safe and comfortable in their learning community.

WHAT CAN WE BUILD TOGETHER? Welcome back to a great year of learning! Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher wrote: Nothing endures but c...