William “Chuck” Bishop steps into the role of Superintendent for Jefferson County Schools on July 1. The Board of Education voted on May 24 to hire Dr. Bishop from a pool of 17 applicants to replace the outgoing superintendent, Bondy Gibson-Learn, who resigned on short notice earlier this year. Bishop earned a Bachelor of Science in Education from Virginia Tech and his Master’s and Doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Virginia and has thirty years of experience in K-12 education.
The Observer spoke with Dr. Bishop as he was preparing to start his new role and posed the questions below for his responses:
Observer: What inspired you to pursue a career in K-12 education?
Dr. Bishop: Initially, I wanted to pursue engineering out of high school, but as I considered my options I was drawn to education. During my educational career, I had so many teachers and coaches who had such a profound impact on me that I chose education. I never really considered administration and it wasn’t until I was serving at Robert E. Lee High School in Staunton, Virginia that I was encouraged to pursue administration by my principal at the time, Jim Peak. Mr. Peak became my mentor as I continued to grow in this profession and as a result, I have had a 32-year career that I have thoroughly enjoyed.
Observer: You grew up in Augusta County and have spent your entire career so far working for Virginia public schools, correct? How has K-12 education changed over that time — looking both at the time you were a student yourself to the present?
Dr. Bishop: Yes, I have spent my entire career as a student and educator in Virginia. As a student, I was focused on my academic program and athletic participation. Like most students, even today, I didn’t focus on how the education system worked. I have worked with a lot of students over the years and I really don’t think kids have changed that much overall. Students are exposed to much more than I was primarily due to social media and the internet, but there are still a lot of similarities between today’s students and those from the past.
The biggest changes to education as a professional that I’ve seen are our accountability systems and the impact of politics in our schools. Early in my career, the Commonwealth of Virginia used the Literacy Passport Test as a gateway to graduation, and since the mid-1990s we have had SOL assessments. Every state in the country has some form of assessment system in place to measure student achievement. These test scores are viewed as a measure of the success of our local school systems, but they are often one test on a given day and do not reflect a broad representation of what our students have learned.
Just in the past few years, political viewpoints have really impacted the conversation around public schools. Discussions related to the rights of transgender students, the appropriateness of instructional and library materials, and the appropriateness of returning to school during the pandemic have been topics at the forefront in many communities. Citizens with varying viewpoints on these topics, and many others, have become more involved in local Board of Education meetings.
Observer: What would you say were most proud of about your tenure as the superintendent of the Clarke County Public Schools (CCPS)? What were some of the significant challenges facing CCPS during your tenure and how did you deal with them?
Dr. Bishop: During my nine-year tenure in Clarke, we have supplemented our wonderful academic program with a variety of new career and technical education (CTE) opportunities for our students. Many times people view students as either college-bound or going to work upon completion of high school. We have worked hard to blur that line. It is not one or the other. Our message has been that all of our students are going to be employed in the future so a great academic program should be coupled with outstanding CTE opportunities.
In 2014 when I came to Clarke, our starting teacher pay with a Bachelor’s degree was right around $38,000. This year, the starting pay will be $51,000. With the support of the school board and our Board of Supervisors, we have made a commitment to increasing the compensation for all classifications of employees.
In addition, we have also worked hard to develop a culture where our employees can thrive. Several years ago, Clarke was losing 5 or 6 people per year to other higher-paying divisions. Now, we are seeing new staff migrate to Clarke from those districts because of the culture that we’ve collectively created.
The biggest challenge that I faced when coming to Clarke was a fractured relationship between the School Board and the Board of Supervisors. Through transparency and open, honest communication, both Boards work extremely well together at this point.
Observer: You’ve worked in a city school system, a medium-sized county system, a small county system. What have you experienced in each of these environments that you see as most relevant to your role with Jefferson County Schools?
Dr. Bishop: Small school divisions offer an opportunity for the superintendent to have a great understanding of all areas of operation. In both Radford and Clarke, I have been involved daily in conversations related to instruction, special education, personnel, transportation, building security, and the list goes on.
The responsibility that I had in Augusta with 21 schools and 3 regional centers is more similar to Jefferson County. It is harder to be involved in every day-to-day discussion, but you receive briefings from senior staff. Because of my experiences, I have a great understanding of the different facets of the school environment and the ability to manage those through collaboration with staff.
Observer: Is the role of superintendent in West Virginia different from the role in Virginia? What would you say to someone who is concerned that you’ve not previously worked in a WV school system?
Dr. Bishop: The day-to-day work of teaching and learning is similar across state lines. The curriculum that has been adopted by the state might be a bit different, but not drastically. Federal laws that govern school division operations are no different in Virginia than they are in West Virginia. The biggest things that I’ll have to learn quickly are local policies, state laws, and the school funding process. The school funding piece will be specific to local and state revenues. The Federal grants that are received are the same as those that are received in Virginia.
Observer: You mentioned that you like a new challenge in a recent interview with The Winchester Star. What do you see as the most significant challenges you’ll be facing as you take the helm of Jefferson County Schools?
Dr. Bishop: As I move to Jefferson County, we will be faced with the continued challenge of recovering from the pandemic. Students lost so much during that time and it continues to be an uphill climb to get them back to where they should be. The student achievement data that I’ve reviewed indicates that there is room for growth. We have a great staff in Jefferson and I know that they are committed to helping our students grow academically, socially, and emotionally.
We have to keep our eye on growth in the community. As you drive around the county, the new housing starts will mean more students in our schools. I will need to work with our staff, community leaders, and the Board of Education to make sure that we are prepared for new students as they arrive.
Observer: Looking at the broader civic landscape across the country, the question of trust — or lack thereof — seems to be a concern at all levels of government, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic. How can you, as a new superintendent, help increase the community’s trust in the public schools?
Dr. Bishop: Communication and transparency are two key elements in increasing the community’s trust in our public schools. Using the pandemic as an example, [in Clarke] we understood that some in our community felt that schools should not be open at all while others believed that we should return with few restrictions. As a school division, we communicated via email, video, letters, and phone calls to ensure that parents and our community had accurate information. We also provided a dashboard that outlined the number of confirmed Covid cases and the number of quarantined individuals by school. That dashboard was updated daily to provide the most accurate data.
Observer: What’s the “elevator pitch” you would make to someone who asks you about the value of public education?
Dr. Bishop: Public education is one of the greatest institutions in our country. We are certainly not perfect, but we are the one system of education that welcomes every student regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or disability. The education of our community’s children is one of our most important responsibilities.
Observer: Do you have specific objectives you hope to accomplish in the next few months before the first day of school?
Dr. Bishop: I really look forward to rolling up my sleeves and learning more about the operation of the school system and getting into our schools and meeting the staff and students. Fostering positive relationships with our parents and the larger community is also an extremely important part of this process. I want to make sure that I listen to what’s working well and what might need to be examined more closely.
Observer: Whenever you retire from JCS, what would you hope that people in the community – students, teachers, parents – remember about you?
Dr. Bishop: First and foremost, I would like to be remembered as someone who always made decisions in the best interests of our students while also building a culture where Jefferson County Schools is an employer of choice. I also hope that people will remember me as a good steward of our resources. I hope that people would remember me as serving Jefferson County with honesty and integrity and that I unified a community around the public schools.By Staff Contributor