By Steve Walts
Congratulations to the nearly 6,000 new graduates of Prince William County Public Schools. We’ve watched you learn and grow into amazing young adults. You have reason to be proud. And our community can take pride in the School Division that gave you the promising start to bright futures.
New grads who began their education in PWCS had the benefit of full-day kindergarten. The early exposure to reading, writing, and literacy sparked the unmistakable glimmer of discovery on the faces of thousands of kindergartners.
Surprisingly, even some better-funded Virginia School Divisions don’t offer universal full-day kindergarten. But in PWCS, that investment lit the flame of lifetime learning that now burns in our graduates. Take pride in that, as well as in our commitment to expanding educational opportunities for preschoolers.
Whatever our grads’ future directions, their PWCS journey introduced them to science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics. Our commitment to STEAM supports robotics programs at every school. So many new grads were on teams that won regional and even international acclaim, building valuable knowledge and skills along the way.
Thanks to exposure to biotechnology, engineering, IT, or other STEAM areas, some grads are likely to become tomorrow’s tech entrepreneurs, or to study for careers in medicine, engineering, and cyber technology.
Other new grads will be future educators, military leaders, linguists, diplomats, public servants, visual and performing artists, or pursue great careers not yet envisioned.
Through PWCS Career and Technical Education, many graduates built valuable skills in areas as varied as welding, culinary arts, cabinet making, and cyber security. Whether heading directly to the workforce or to further education, these grads are future-ready. Be proud.
Want more points of pride? Consider this: In 2008, just 83.3% of PWCS students graduated high school on-time. We’ve increased that every year since. Our 2017 on-time graduation rate was 91.8%, far above national levels, and even that of well-funded Fairfax County Schools. Had the rate remained at 2008 levels, about 500 fewer students would have earned diplomas this year.
Our increased numbers of grads are also reaching higher. This year, PWCS earned national honors for helping all students—especially those from previously underrepresented groups—take and succeed in rigorous AP, Cambridge, or International Baccalaureate classes. Nationally, 20% of grads pass these advanced courses. All PWCS high schools beat that, with their grads achieving between 20.2% and 50.7% advanced program success. Many PWCS grads got a further boost by earning college credits in high school. Reason for pride? You bet.
Thinking “our schools could still do better.” You’re right.
As in districts nationwide, performance of PWCS students from some demographic groups lags behind overall populations on certain measures. We’re committed to changing that, and have made progress.
On SAT scores, our Hispanic students beat national averages by 77 points. Black PWCS students beat the nation by 84 points, and Virginia by 57. Meanwhile, on-time graduation among black PWCS students is better than the overall student rate.
English learners have made big leaps too. The need for better programs to meet their needs once prompted a federal lawsuit. PWCS implemented improvements that now make us a model for other districts. With more than 120 languages spoken in our schools, both our latest grads and continuing students reaped real rewards.
So, congratulations to the class of 2018, and to the thousands of teachers, administrators, and support staff who helped make their commencement the start of something great. We’re proud of all of you.
We’ll be working even harder to make the education of future students truly World-Class. There will be plenty of reasons for pride at graduations to come.
Steve Walts is the Superintendent of Schools for the Prince William County Public Schools.