Why success is a ‘team effort’ for Virginia’s Superintendent of the Year

#TeamLCPS: It’s not just a hashtag, but a mindset, a culture Virginia’s 2024 Superintendent of the Year has worked into the foundation across each of his schools since taking the job in 2016. Every student, staff and administrator takes care of one another and success is a shared responsibility. Meet Doug Straley, superintendent of Louisa County Public Schools.

Superintendent Doug Straley and mascot. (Photo provided by Louisa County Public Schools).

A leader in his hometown

Last month, Straley was recognized by the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS) as the state’s Superintendent of the Year for his innovative leadership and genuine connection with his school community. His “relentless advocacy” for students’ needs leaves a long-lasting impression on those around him, argued VASS President and Brunswick County Superintendent Kristy Somerville-Midgette in a public statement.

Straley grew up in Louisa County and was a 1990 graduate of Louisa County High School, an experience he says makes him a proud leader.

“I’m in my 29th year as an employee here, but I always say I’m in my 43rd year total having gone through kindergarten through 12th grade here,” he says. “It’s certainly a privilege to give back and serve the community that essentially raised me.”

Reflecting on a great school year

Providing students with future-ready knowledge and skills was a top priority for Straley this year. They teach what’s known as the five C’s: communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and citizenship.

“Those are five things we’ve really drawn attention to and honed in on over the last several years,” he explains. “In 2016, we said ‘This needs to be a priority.'”

It’s been said that 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 don’t exist today, he adds. So how can leaders ensure that their students are ready to take on those careers?

“We truly believe it’s through the five C’s and being able to help students obtain those skills,” he says.

Take citizenship, for instance. Louisa County Public Schools started a “kindness movement,” which seeks to bring the community together in different ways to promote team-building and togetherness.

Superintendent Doug Straley and student. (Photo provided by Louisa County Public Schools).

“We had a division-wide kindness pep rally,” Straley notes. “We brought all 5,000 students and 1,000 staff members to our stadium and celebrated together the idea of being one and taking care of each other. It’s a huge priority here and I think it’s the basis for what we do as we move forward to make sure every student is challenged to reach their maximum potential. A big piece of that is always making sure we’re taking care of each other.”

Another key player impacting students’ future is artificial intelligence. He believes AI will play a big role in shaping the workforce of the future.

“I think AI is quickly moving in that direction,” he says. “We’re going to have to continue to stay on top of it. How is it going to enhance what we’re doing in the classroom? How is it going to enhance preparing our students to be successful as they move out into the world? It’s a little scary but incredibly exciting.”

Building upon success

Innovation is another key piece of Straley’s leadership. “How can we do things differently and make them better?” he asks. This school year, LCPS received the Innovative Practice Award for its Little Lions program from the Virginia Department of Education. It’s an early learning and care program operated by the district’s career and technical education office which aims to:

  • Retain and attract high-quality teachers
  • Provide support to families through onsite childcare
  • Inspire students to become future educators
  • Provide high-quality care and developmentally appropriate education

“It’s all about building a teacher pipeline,” Straley explains. “Our instructional assistants, we work with them to help them take classes to become a teacher.”

High school students who are part of the Teachers for Tomorrow program can also leverage their experience with Little Lions to understand what it takes to be an educator and fall in love with the profession.

Even better, the preschoolers who are enrolled in the program belong to school staff, which is a great benefit for those working at LCPS who no longer have to worry about child care during the work day.

That’s just one of many accolades the district earned this year. Others include:

  • Being the only educational institution in Virginia’s commonwealth to receive the Virginia Governor’s Volunteerism and Community Service Award
  • Receiving the Creating Excellence Award for their career and technical education
  • Receiving the Highest Achievement Exemplar Award from the Virginia Board of Education

Looking ahead

As this school year comes to a close, Straley says there are several goals in store, many of which expand upon the previously mentioned achievements. Most of all, he wants to maintain and build upon creating a culture that’s team-oriented.

“We’ve built a foundation here,” he says. “The most important part of success is building a culture of success. I think culture is what defines who we are here at Louisa County Public Schools. It’s a mindset of making sure that our students are able to be afforded the opportunities anyone else might be afforded and even more.”

He adds that this mindset is shared across the school division. It’s not simply a pillar of his leadership philosophy.

Superintendent Doug Straley and student. (Photo provided by Louisa County Public Schools).

Since 2016, this has been the foundation that stems from the six “non-negotiables” Straley outlined for the district: support, high expectations, accountability, consistency, positivity and grit. Every Friday, Straley visits his schools and recognizes a classified staff member, a certified staff member, a student and a community member who have been nominated for living out these standards.

“#TeamLCPS includes our staff, our students, our parents and our entire 41,000 members of our Louisa community,” he says. “It’s so important that we’re all working together to build the best school division and opportunities possible.”

“That team mindset, that culture and belief that we have to continue to get better every day is why I’m so blessed because I work with the best people in the world,” he says.