A Rebound Towards Excellence — and Smiles — in Newport News Public Schools

NNPS McIntosh Elementary School Odyssey of the Mind team – courtesy NNPS

by James C. Sherlock

The national and international headlines were awful.

The shooting of Abby Zwerner at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News was horrible.

The investigative reports were chilling.

Newport News Public Schools (NNPS) has chosen the right path forward — positivity, community consultation and openness centered on the children.

There are signs that they are getting it right in practice.

Less than three weeks after Ms. Zwerner’s shooting, NNPS relieved Superintendent George Parker of his duties. The search for a new superintendent has sought inputs from the community as it proceeds.

Spending. Start with the Division’s Federal Pandemic Relief Spending Plan. There was of course a federal roadmap and checklist. There probably needed to be.

A survey of community inputs in Newport News was opened in September of 2022 and remains open. Others were closed much more quickly, including Virginia Beach that shut down inputs on Dec. 2, 2022.

By doing so, Newport News has gotten responses from 65% of parents/families.

The top vote getters on steps forward were heart rending. They voiced cries for help for the children’s mental health ravaged by COVID shutdowns and, later, the shooting.

The top choices, both endorsed by more than 70% of parents, were:

  • individualized services for students, such as counseling and mental health care; and
  • addressing the social emotional needs of students.

Mitigation of learning loss came in behind those priorities at 60% support.

School Safety. The system has implemented sweeping changes to school safety. Take a look.

Community Engagement. Six weeks after the shooting, NNPS implemented and sought advisory committee members to improve family engagement, school safety and student rights and responsibilities.

Attendance. Beginning November 2, 2022:

When a student accumulates more than six (6) unexcused absences in an academic year the attendance officer/superintendent’s designee will enforce the provisions of the Code §22.1- 258 by either or both of the following: (1) filing a complaint with the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court alleging the pupil is a child in need of supervision or (2) instituting proceedings against the parent for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Demonstrably serious about a problem that needed fixing.

Youth development. The 2023 Middle and High School STAR Awards indicate a healthy youth development program. Watch the combination of smiles and stage fright at the delightfully amateur award show.

Newport News is actively promoting parental applications to VDOE’s K-12 Learning Acceleration Grants program.

From VDOE and Graduation Alliance comes well-thought-of ENGAGE Virginia that offers free coaching support for graduation. Newport News is actively participating.

Science. Seventy-five NNPS students participated in the All-City Science, Engineering and Technology Fair held on January 28 at Woodside High School and dozens advanced to participate in the Tidewater Science and Engineering Fair on March 11 at Old Dominion University.

Menchville High’s Triple Helix robotics team at Menchville High School advanced to the World Championship in Houston.

Creative Thinking. Three NNPS Odyssey of the Mind teams earned top honors in the 2023 Tidewater Regional Odyssey of the Mind Tournament. Look at the smiles on the faces of the winning teams.

Sports, like everything else in education, are expensive. But sports matter to kids. They motivate.

NNPS just announced spending $1.3 million to expand middle school sports to offer wrestling, football and cheer squads starting next year. School communities are appropriately excited.

Financial literacy. Seven NNPS Career and Technical Education teachers were named Working In Support of Education (W!SE) Gold Star Teachers for their students’ successful performance on the W!SE Financial Literacy Certification Test.

Bottom line. The School Board, the Acting Superintendent, school principals, their staffs, teachers, parents and the kids of Newport News Public Schools are accomplishing change the right way: openly, thoughtfully, and with not a few smiles.


It’s the comeback of the year.