District Spotlight: Caroline County Public Schools
An inspiring discussion on the incredible influence of educators.
May 25, 2021
The Change Agent
Dr. Herbert Monroe
Assistant Superintendent of Caroline County Public Schools
An inspiring discussion on the incredible influence of educators.
Guest Dr. Herbert Monroe, Assistant Superintendent of Caroline County Public Schools, shares his enthusiasm for education and inspiring personal experiences in an engaging dialogue on generating lasting change for the betterment of both students and educators.
Host Bio: Dr. Chris Balow is the Chief Academic Officer at SchoolMint. Dr. Balow has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and served for 33 years as an educator in various roles with focuses on literacy, mental health, and the behavioral and emotional growth of students. He has worked the last 6 years in the educational technology field to promote student success on a larger scale.
ChangeAgents in K-12 motivating transformation in education is presented by Schoolmint, featuring in-depth conversations with top educational leaders, we are committed to the advancement of education through research exchange, idea sharing, and enlightening discussions. Are you prepared to be a change agent?
Welcome to the podcast ChangeAgents in K-12 Dr. Chris Balow with you here again today, and it's my distinct pleasure to welcome Dr. Herbert T Monroe the third. He is currently the assistant superintendent of Caroline County public schools, and I had a chance to meet Dr. Monroe. He and I were on a webinar together, and I was just so impressed with him on so many different levels. And I wanted to share him with all the listeners of change agents in K-12 and Dr. Monroe is completing his 29th year in public education and his second full year as the assistant supe in Caroline County under his collaborative leadership, Caroline County has increased the percentages of accredited schools from 40% to a hundred percent. Dr. Monroe's motto of teamwork makes the dream work ignited and engaged the district stakeholders in developing their five-year strategic plan called pathways 2020, Dr. Monroe also serves on the Virginia DOE culturally relevant and inclusive education practices, advisory committee that reports directly to governor Ralph Northam. Also recently he was named impact leader of the year by the Virginia supervision curriculum and development organization. He's had many other roles in education, and I want to welcome Dr. Herbert Monroe to the podcast.
Awesome. Thanks. Uh, Dr. Monroe, um, well, let's start off. Why don't you tell us a little bit about your district, some of the characteristics, the size, the school, uh, interesting factoids, if you will.
Well, you know, Carolina County public schools is, uh, right there on the 95 corridor, if you will, uh, between Richmond and Washington DC. Um, we have about 4,000 students, uh, we're very diverse. We're about 38, 39%. African-American um, about 10% Hispanic and other. And also with that, um, believe it or not, we're a little bit more than 50% of our students on free and reduced lunch. Um, I will tell you, it's been somewhat challenging recently as we return to learn and Caroline, we like to call it return to better, but we're excited that as of March one, um, all of the students that intended to come back to school have returned. So right now we have about 49% of our students that are in our classrooms learning face to face and 51% that have remained virtual.
Well, what we have is we have something called a division leadership team, and that's made up of the superintendent, the assistant superintendent, and then on the, what I call the operation side, we have the chief operating officer of operations and finance. And then in that department, we have our director of custodial services and buildings and grounds and maintenance. We have transportation, we have a department of food service and nutrition on that side of the house, as well, as well as a supervisor of safety and compliance. And then more so on what I call my side of the house, the instructional side, we have a director of secondary, a director of elementary. We have a director of federal programs, which is really significant right now with all of the different, um, federal dollars and care's monies that are coming, um, to educational institutions, as well as, um, a director of innovation and technology, which is a new position that we actually acquired this year based on all of the virtual learning and technology that has, uh, come to be based on our COVID-19, um, what I would say, um, maneuvering, if you will.
Okay, awesome. So tell the listeners what made education, your career choice, what, and part of that too, is my interactions with you as I I've been struck by your passion to make a difference. So where did that come from?
Well, you know what, uh, Chris is kind of funny. Both of my parents were educators. My dad was an elementary principal and my mom actually was a middle school principal in the division where my sister and I attended school. And you know what my parents told me, they said, Herbie, whatever you do do not go into education. Right. But like all great kids, you know, we listened to our parents, but I will tell you I was, um, an African-American male, of course. And, um, I had an IEP. And even though I came from a very strong family with two highly educated folks, I struggled in school and school was not the easiest thing for me, but because I had amazing teachers and amazing people who in me while holding me accountable, um, I was able to succeed, you know, in school and in life. And I went on and did pretty well once I kind of figured things out in high school and went on to college at a place called Lockhaven university where I actually wrestled. And, um, you know, it was my college wrestling coach that said, Herbie, you have a gift of connecting with all people and, you know, you should stay an extra year and get your teacher certification because I know that you would make an amazing teacher. And Chris I'll tell you, my whole philosophy is I want to always make the underdog, the top dog and just create an educational environment for kids like me, because there's a lot of kids out here who have gifts, but I think, you know, if the teachers and educators just look deeper and peel the layers of the onion back to find the gift in each child, then each child can, uh, find their passion and succeed and really make a difference in the world. So that's really what I'm charged to do.
Awesome. And I love the, the statement. You said that believe in me and hold me accountable. That's what really, really made the difference. And as you talked, it, it seems to me that relationships, and you said getting to know the student and their passion, that that's just so critical.
Oh, Chris. It is. And, um, you know, it's kind of interesting because the one thing that the most meaningful educators did for me that created a sense of what I call belonging in school, especially as a severe stutterer and someone who struggled a bit in school was like five key things I remember. And it's funny because those five key themes have become kind of a, what I've read in the literature through a lot of my research and one students have to feel not only physically safe, but socially and emotionally safe. And I will tell you all of the teachers that have meant the most to me have always created a learning environment where I felt not only physically, but socially and emotionally safe, you know, the other, the other part of that too, is you have to create a sense of value. You know, where students are seen, students are heard and students, you know, have value. And I think that is so important as well. And then the next thing is, um, students have, uh, power and I call it in an appropriate level of student power where they're empowered and they're a part of their educational process and system where they're able to make choices and able to contribute to their learning. And, um, I would say the fourth thing is all students really want to learn, you know, in kindergarten we used to call it a sense of wonderment. You know, how we call it when the lights come on, or when students eyes just light up, it's kind of that aha moment. And all kids really want to learn. And I know that if teachers believe all kids can learn, then they will teach us such. And the last one is, students need to be able to make mistakes without losing their dignity. And we need to build kids up and we need to kind of meet them where they are. And that's how we're going to help kids to be innovative and be risk takers is when they know that they're safe, even when they may not have the right answer.
Wow. You know, all my listeners really take a note of all the things that, that Herb just outlined and herb, you know, I'm a psychologist by training and everything you just outlined is grounded deeply in 50 to a hundred years of psychological research. It's just fantastic. Um, you know, in terms of students need to have a sense of belonging, um, and that's relationships and you, you mentioned value and they need to have a sense of competence that, that, that they can be successful that self-efficacy, and you talked about power in, in the psychological research, that's called autonomy. We all need autonomy over our lives to really be engaged and you just provided other things. And that is the recipe for motivation and engagement. So, uh, folks re really take, take note of that. That's just so, so amazing her, well, tell me, do you recall a time when you had an aha moment of learning for yourself?
Well, um, yes. Yes. To be honest with you. Um, I think my aha moment, um, I don't know. There's really, there's really several. Um, my aha moment though, Chris probably was when, um, I was reading, uh, Lord of the flies. I forget whether it was seventh or eighth, eighth grade. And, um, it was about survival and, and, and, you know, I was one of those kids where I really was not a rule follower. Could you imagine that? Right? I was really not a rule follower, but, um, in reading that book, I think I realized that that you have to have rules or some kind of structure in society, or you're going to have chaos. And, um, the way that, that book meant a lot to me was it helped me to focus on why teachers and parents and people, uh, require you to do the things that you may not want to do. Because I was one where I always asked why, and there's nothing wrong with asking why, but also I had to begin to understand that those folks that are charging me with doing things that I may not have wanted to do really had my best interests in their mind and in their heart. And, um, you know, I think back to those Lord of the fly days when I was reading, and again, I didn't want to read, I was a severe stutterer. I hated reading, but also what I realized in that book is we have to have some guard rails on our journey to success, and you just can't be all over the place. And so that was an aha moment. But let me tell you, Chris, if I have a moment where it came full circle. Yes, indeed. When I finally became an elementary school principal, my speech language pathology teacher asked me, she said, Herbie, may I have my convocation meeting in your auditorium at Lakeside elementary school? Because I am so proud of the man that you have become, and our teachers need to see the success story in you because you know, a lot of teachers and educators don't see how the seeds they plant and how they nurture those seeds grow up to be a success. And she said, you're, you're a model of that. And I said, no, Ms. Moss, you're a model of the nurture and the love that you gave me because I would not be standing here today without you. So what was so cool about the experience was I was able to bring the opening message to all of the speech, language pathology teachers in Henrico County, public schools, which is a very large school division with over 70,000 students. And I was able to speak to all the speech, language pathology teachers to let them know that because of what they do, people like me are able to stand and bring greetings and a motivational message to all of them. So, man, that was powerful.
Oh my gosh, I have goosebumps herb hearing your story. And, you know, it's so inspirational. And, and I want to mention to the listeners that, uh, Dr. Monroe does a great deal of public speaking work. And it's so fascinating that here's a young boy, severe stutterer, difficulty reading, and you speak impeccably and you do public speaking and you've achieved all of this. And so, um, what, what is your website where people can, can connect with you? Because I think your message would just be so motivational to people.
Well, Chris is actually called a word from doc and it's just simply the letter a W O R D F R O M D O C awordfromdoc.com. And, uh, you know, it has, um, a picture of my dad and some motivational videos on there about my dad's story. And I can share a little bit of that if you would allow in a moment. And, um, also I actually play Afro percussion. Um, so if you go to the little hamburger, you can see a beat from doc and I, I do mentoring where I use African drumming and we play Clavis, bongo, congas, uh, the shaker. And I use that to motivate, educate, and inspire kids and engage young boys when I'm trying to, uh, you know, help them to understand the importance of education. But it's something about the drum where it connects us to our ancestors that really holds the boys' attention and keeps them engaged as I throw those educational messages and little reading passages at them as well.
Awesome. Well, again, everybody go to, uh, a word from doc.com and, um, educational leaders would be well-served to, to bring doc in to talk to folks. Um, so yeah. Tell us your story about your father.
Well, if you go to the website, you know, you can scroll down and you can shoot me an email, or you can go down to all of the links at the bottom where it's all of the must social media, whether it's Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, so forth and so on. But Chris what's really interesting is my father grew up in Florence, South Carolina. Uh, he's an African-American male. And at age 17, he had diarrhea and his stomach was upset after baseball practice. And he ran into a restaurant for white people only. And when he came out of the restroom, he was arrested and spent three days in South Carolina state prison. And, um, you know, I tell the story about, well, what do you think my dad did when he got out of prison? And you know, when I'm speaking to students and even adults, you know, people say, well, he went back down there and they did a riot, or they burnt the store down. Some kids said he threw bricks through the window, but Chris what's so powerful is my dad decided when he got out to become a school teacher, because my dad said, if he can educate students and if he could teach students to love one another, and if he could, you know, teach students to basically like Dr. King to a, you know, judge a person by their character and what's in their heart instead of their color, he said that hopefully my children won't have to suffer and go through what I went through in the Jim Crow, South of South Carolina. And Chris, I'm gonna tell you, it is a powerful story because my dad went on to become an elementary teacher. And like I said earlier, he was a very, uh, distinguished and well-known elementary principal in Henrico County, Virginia at both Ratcliffe elementary and Laburnum elementary. And I can't go anywhere to this day without people telling me about the love that my dad had in his heart for all of his students.
Wow. That another amazing story from doc and, uh, you know, th thank you so much for sharing that about your father and, and thankfully things have have improved. And that story speaks to today. I would say, yes,
Yes. It's very relevant right now. You know, as we look at our health pandemic and some of our social justice pandemics, and, um, there's a lot going on, and I hope folks are willing to have the courageous conversations around race and diversity and equity and inclusion, because again, all of that impacts our students. And I will tell you, Chris, you know, it wasn't because black people love my dad that he got out of prison. Just like when you look at the Selma March, or you look at Dr. King and even my father's situation, it's when white people and black people got together. There were white people in the Florence community that worked with black leaders to get my dad out of prison. And, um, that's the way that, you know, if you look in these marches, you don't just see one single gender. You don't see one single race, you see a diversity of folks that are out marching and, you know, uh, peacefully protesting in most cases, uh, for justice and peace and, uh, you know, anything we do in life. I don't think we can do it by ourselves. So, you know, we always say teamwork makes the dream work and we have to turn to each other, Chris and not on each other.
What a message. Thanks. Uh, Dr. Monroe for sharing that let's change gears here a little bit. Um, what do you think is the greatest opportunity for education at this moment, given that we're we're to a certain extent coming out of, um, COVID restrictions and the pandemic and kids back in the classroom, what do you think is the greatest opportunity we have right now?
Well, I think the greatest opportunity right now is to not have any kind of box on our thinking. I mean, COVID-19 has forced us to become what I call digital natives and have forced teachers to be experts in what we call concurrent and or blended learning. And what we are finding is that we have found innovative ways to educate students, to meet various needs that we always knew existed. For example, in Caroline, we are now going to have a virtual Academy next year, because there are families and certain students that really excelled, um, on the virtual platform. And that's something that would not have come to be if it wasn't, you know, the March 13th shut down in Virginia, where all students, uh, were forced to stay home. You know, also what we've seen is, um, teachers have catapulted their, um, pedagogy in reference to, uh, digital learning and being able to use, um, platforms and tools and devices and headsets and wide, um, lens cameras, or angle cameras. And man, we have some teachers that are teaching on it from an iPad and two screens on their desk, walking around, having the most engaging lessons we've ever seen. And also we are now seeing more as we call it student driven conferences, because when a teacher is teaching a virtual student, they're actually teaching a student looking into their homes. So it's nothing, especially for an elementary parent to kind of look on the screen and say hi to the teacher. And just connecting with families at such a deeper level right now has just really been, um, amazing,
You know, and I, I think herb that my, a fear I have, and I'd like you to comment is that we go back to the same old way of doing things, which is human nature. We just kind of go back to what we're comfortable with. And, um, my guess is that in your district, you're going to push people to be innovative.
Well, you know, what's great, Chris. Um, we have created those five themes amongst the adults that I mentioned earlier about the, uh, physical, social and emotional safety and valued and learning and power men, and being able to make mistakes without, you know, losing your dignity. And some of the ideas that our teachers have come up with have been amazing in, you know, being in a smaller division. What a lot of people say that they like is that they have a relationship where they can call the superintendent or assistant superintendent. And, you know, we're always in classrooms visiting and they say, Hey, doc, look at what, um, I discovered, you know, that we could do this or we could do that. And I'm like, Oh, that's great. And they're like, well, you know what? I really would like to implement it amongst the grade level or here at this school, what would it take? And a lot of times we can, uh, implement new innovations within like weeks where, you know, if you're in a larger school division, sometimes it takes so much red tape and jumping through so many hoops, you know, by the time it's ready to implement the excitement has gone. So Chris you're exactly right. Um, I am going to push those and I expect those folks who were in the trenches to push me as well so that we can all move forward as a team.
Yeah. I mean, really you can have, um, dozens of, of different test sites, testing, innovative, uh, approaches and crowdsourcing, essentially getting folks to crowdsource ideas. It's it's fantastic. Yeah. So one of the things you got me thinking about is, you know, you you've created this virtual Academy. So do you see in Virginia where education has become somewhat of a marketplace where families are deciding to go to certain places or enroll in certain institutions because of the innovations or special programs they offer?
Well, Chris, I'm gonna tell you right now, um, we're excited because believe it or not, we actually have about 379 students that are homeschooled. And, uh, you know, I oversee homeschooling and Caroline County. And what we have discovered is the numerous homeschool platforms and virtual options and whatnot that families are using. We feel as though our virtual Academy will offer something that is, um, at better or, um, exemplary to what our families are currently using. So what we're excited about is we are going to in the next two weeks, have some virtual meetings and send out a mailing to all of our homeschool families and let them know what we're going to be offering in Caroline and invite those students to take advantage of our platform. And the benefits of that is those homeschool students will then be able to take advantage of, uh, all of the extracurricular activities, sports and other events that homeschool students have been missing out on. So, Chris, you're exactly right. We are really excited about the new opportunities.
Yeah. And, you know, I did a little quick math here at 377 kids at the nation national average per pupil funding. That's $4.7 million per year to the school district. Imagine what you could do in terms of meeting the needs of all the kids. And, and if you, if you take that, those homeschool kids and, and calculate that out over multiple years, that's a lot of funding to create programs, to help kids.
Yeah. Chris, you hit the nail on the head because at the end of the day, a lot of things come down to dollars and cents. And, um, you know, we are really looking at all of the benefits of, um, recapturing and kind of bringing those students back home again to Caroline County public schools. And as you said, from an ADM standpoint as well, we could do so much for our community because I'll be honest with you, you know, right now there are like the schools have become the pillars of the community. I mean, it seems like all of our teachers and leaders, we wear all of the hats anymore, whether it's social and emotional learning, whether it's, uh, mentoring, whether it's, you know, uh, being a coach, whether it's being a therapist, whether it's, um, you know, being a doctor, a nurse and, you know, in some cases parenting, even because we have, um, right now we have about 72 families that are homeless. So, you know, we're providing food, we're providing care where we're providing resources. So Chris you're exactly right. You know, um, the school really will drive the entire community and can be a center of, um, wraparound services to again, ensure all of our students are successful citizens globally.
All right. Herb let's let's, uh, um, let's change gears a little bit again, um, been reading a lot about, you know, the, the stress on teachers they've experienced this last year in several months. And in fact, one study reported that like 40% of teachers are considering leaving the field. And so what are your thoughts about providing the support to teachers like with, with coaches and mentors and, and any, anything else that might come to mind?
Well, I'm gonna tell you, Chris, uh, that is a central, I mean, um, you're a researcher. You probably know the research, I think PE is maybe four or five or six as far as importance to acquiring and, or retaining a high quality teacher. Um, a lot of what, you know, we're trying to do is we're trying to do things where there are areas of growth through coaching and through actually linking our educators with innovative programs through our local colleges and universities here in Virginia. We, uh, partner with, uh, William and Mary through a program called CERN. We actually have K-12 advisory with the university of Virginia. We do a lot of equity, diversity and inclusion work, and a teacher mentoring training through Virginia Commonwealth university VCU. And we also partner with local community colleges, such as Rappahannock area, community college and different, uh, universities throughout, you know, the 95 corridor. So like Germana for example. So yes, Chris you're exactly right. It is key right now to not only provide the mentoring and coaching for teachers, but we also have wellness for teachers now where we do a lot of wellness type activities where we, um, helps teachers with diet, exercise, mindfulness practices, um, as well, uh, where we take mental breaks and we have celebrations and we do other things, because again, right now the, the teachers need just as much of the social and emotional wellness and training as our students do. So, um, you're exactly right.
Well, what we do is we have a, uh, new teacher's Academy, uh, Chris, where, um, our leaders work with our teachers. Uh, we also, again, um, partner with William and Mary and they provide a lot of training, uh, for our educators as well. I will tell you, um, one of the things that we have called ACI, or it's called an administrative is where all of our central office leaders that have been get, have had principal experience such as myself, the superintendent, the director of federal programs, secondary health and compliance, safety, and compliance, as well as the director of elementary and our director of students with disabilities. We actually provide training for our assistant principals, because one thing that we want to do here in Caroline is we want to grow from within, and we want to build those assistant principals so that when our principals do go on to get promotions, that we can kind of, uh, reload, um, and just, uh, you know, call on a strong bench. So we don't lose any, uh, progress in reference to educational leadership, but that's something that's innovative to Caroline, Chris, I believe, cause I don't know a lot of divisions where former principals who are in senior level leadership work with their system principals monthly through something called in assistant principal round table. So that's some of the training that we have, not only for our teachers, but some of our training for our emerging leaders.
Awesome. Awesome. Dr. Monroe, switching gears again, you know, are a lot of, has been written about, you know, students that, you know, a lot of trauma, a lot of stress that they've, uh, been facing through the pandemic and you mentioned social, emotional learning. And um, so tell us a little bit about what you're doing in your district to meet those, uh, really, uh, massive needs.
I'll tell you what we actually have, uh, started. Well, we didn't start, it started about three years ago, but what I can say is we've enhanced what we call our social emotional learning pedagogy and training for our teachers, which is founded and a castle principles. And actually we're looking at five competencies that we've trained our teachers on. We have a very robust website as well as ongoing daily activities for students as well as families and Chris are for our five core principles that we focus on are self-awareness self-management social awareness, relationship skills and decision-making. And from those five core competencies, we actually look at mindfulness practices. We have lessons daily lessons in conversations with students and staff on growth mindset. We also, um, have all of our schools certified as trauma informed schools. We also understand the difference between social and emotional learning and mental health and we, our social workers and our psychologists trained and have access to community resources in reference to mental health. And we have ongoing, um, human resources for students, for staff, as well as for our families within our social and emotional learning platform and program. So, um, this is something that has become a focus, um, for Caroline prior to, um, the health pandemic, but something that we realized we really needed to amp up and keep at the forefront, being that our students were not physically with us. So I appreciate you asking about,
Yeah, right. Well, you're checking all the boxes from what I can tell. And so it's just fantastic for it, for the, the teachers and the students in, in Caroline. Um, we're getting close to the end of our time here today, Dr. Monroe as an educational leader, what lessons have you learned over the years about effectively leading a district that maybe some of our aspiring district leaders could learn from?
Well, the first lesson I learned is that you have to realize that there are situations where you don't know what you don't know, and, and you really have to embrace what a lot of educators say, which is being a lifelong learner. I think we all have to be in a mindset of listening and learning because, um, you know, education is ever changing and it is our information and our understanding of each other and of our situations that can help us to bring greater understanding and the effectiveness and how we operate. So, you know, my first advice is to always be in a mindset of, of growth and learning, because that is our duty in order to, um, be able to help our students and those that we serve, grow and learn. The second thing I would say as well is that we have to make sure that we check ourselves before we record ourselves, Chris. And that's an old song, an old rap song from the eighties or nineties. So we have to check ourselves. And what I mean by that, Chris is we really have to make sure that we're physically healthy and that we're emotionally well, because we cannot pour goodness. And we cannot help teachers and leaders and students to be well, if we're not well ourselves. So I would encourage all educators to make sure that you set time aside and put on your Google calendar, how you're going to make sure that you eat better. How are you going to make sure that you exercise, how you're going to make sure that, you know, you meditate or pray or whatever you need to do to get your spirit right? So that you're right for those that you lead and serve, because I'll tell you, Chris, my dad died of a heart attack at age 56, because my mom said that he carried the burden and the stress of his students, families and staff, you know, on his back. And I'm, you know, I'm not gonna make that same mistake at age 53. So I work out, I play in two bands, like I said, and I, you know, I find balance between work and family, which helps me to be better with my family and better at work. So I would encourage all educators to do that. And the last thing, Chris, I want to encourage everyone to leave with love. Um, you know, there's a lot going on in the world right now, but if we truly love humanity and if we can first seek to understand before being understood, then I think, you know, it'll be easier to, uh, do the first two things I mentioned, you know, cause right now, man, you know, there's a little love is all I think this world needs right now. So we need to, uh, we need to lead with love Chris and, uh, you know, with passion.
Wow. I just, I can't, I'm speechless. It's just amazing, great advice. Um, and we're, we're blessed to have you share that with us. Um, got Dr. Monroe, our time is up. And so we always finish with our little game of this or that. And so I'm going to say two things and you have to tell us which one you prefer and if you like, you can give us a rationale. Are you ready, sir?
Okay. Good for you. All right. So again, um, I want to thank Dr. Herbert Monroe the third for just providing us an amazing interview with just so many great inspirational, uh, thoughts and ideas. And so again, her thank you for being on ChangeAgents in K-12.
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