I love when I get the chance to visit schools. It takes me back to my days as a teacher and principal, and gives me a look beyond the headlines to the progress we’re making.

This week, I had the opportunity to visit several schools around the city, including Lavizzo Elementary. Lavizzo is a Level 1 school in the heart of Roseland, and the minute you walk in, you can feel the positive energy and sense of purpose. You can sense that here, students and teachers have high expectations for themselves and for each other.

Lavizzo has embraced the use of technology wholeheartedly, with students in grades 2-8 having their own devices. They are a great example of how technology should be used in classrooms Districtwide, as it gives teachers broader resources with which to expand their curriculum and encourages personalized learning.

Besides making them tech-savvy, which helps them in school and beyond, the daily integration of technology shows students that learning is never out of reach.  These students see an iPad or an app on their parents’ cell phone as a place to learn, not just to play.

Yet even with all this technology, the students and staff at Lavizzo still know how to unplug. The entire school participates in “Turn off Tuesday’s”, a weekly commitment to swapping out TV and electronics for time spent with a good book.

As I toured the school, I was amazed at the rigor of the Lavizzo classrooms. I saw students engrossed in Math Talks and novel analyses, and even observed a group of 6th-graders in deep discussion over “Because I Could Not Stop Death”, a poem by literary giant Emily Dickinson.

From the students I met – like Travvon, who’s pictured with me above – it’s clear they have a lot of pride in their work and their school.

So what is the secret to Lavizzo’s success? According to Principal Tracey Stelly, who has been leading this school for 7 years, it is a combination of camaraderie, high expectations and community support.

Lavizzo is one big family. On any given day, you’ll see parents working with children in the school’s Parent Engagement Center, and groups of teachers sitting down with each other to collaborate and learn. The retention rate for Lavizzo teachers is 90 percent, which is at the heart of the school’s success. It shows that educators here feel respected, valued and supported in their school and that they are invested in the long-term success of their students.

I want to thank Lavizzo, and all of the school communities that opened their doors to me this week. In the meetings I have at Central Office, I talk a lot about the amazing progress that is being made in our schools. It was truly an honor to see that progress happening first hand.

Dr. Janice K. Jackson
Chief Education Officer