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Profile                                                                Page 51

 

A Commitment to Roanoke

County  

 

BY MARIAN KISCH 

Lorraine Lange
Lorraine Lange

Lorraine Lange never has had to apply for an administrative job in her admirable career. While working as an elementary teacher, her principal asked, “Would you like to be my assistant?”

Thirty years later, at a press conference announcing the buyout of the former superintendent, the school board chair declared that Lange, then deputy superintendent, would fill the void temporarily. And about seven weeks later, when Lange was walking into a board meeting, the president casually revealed, “We’re going to appoint you superintendent tonight.” No national searches, no interviews.

The superintendent of Roanoke County Public Schools since 2006, Lange has spent almost her full career in the 14,000-student district in southwestern Virginia. For her stellar work, she recently was named one of four finalists for the 2012 National Superintendent of the Year award.

In nominating her, Al Butler, executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, wrote: “If there ever was a person who had ‘been there and done that’ … it is Lorraine Lange.” He went on to say Lange rallied the schools soon after her appointment, converting what looked like “a slippery slope to educational failure [into] a stairway to educational success.”

She has done so around a motto she coined — “Learning for All, Whatever It Takes” — by raising the expectations for everyone.

That includes herself. Lange doesn’t shy away from expressing her opinions directly, with what some have referred to as a “Jersey edge.” (She grew up in Midland Park, N.J.) “That’s what they pay me for, but I always do it in a respectful way.”

She has been known to inject humor into difficult situations. Several years ago, one of Lange’s schools encountered instances of both a resilient staph infection and asbestos. At the next administrative retreat, she showed up in an asbestos suit, carrying an enormous bottle of hand sanitizer, which she used to gently squirt each staff member. That bottle remains prominent in her office.

One of Lange’s priorities is technology, which she has introduced, nurtured and expanded. She has added interactive whiteboards to every core classroom “to open a new way of teaching.” After a teacher put a chess board on the whiteboard to demonstrate higher-order thinking skills with her preschoolers, the youngsters paired off to play on actual chess boards.

When Lange was assistant superintendent, the district began purchasing laptops. And she ensured this continued, despite restrained budgets. High school students take the laptops home, helping to level the playing field by providing access to all, regardless of income level.

Lange has developed programs for advanced learners, a school in the arts and mass communications and a STEM academy. She is also expanding a virtual high school.

Additionally, Lange has created a partnership with Virginia Western Community College, spawning advanced dual enrollment classes and an opportunity for students to graduate simultaneously with a diploma and an associate’s degree.

All of these initiatives have paid off. Roanoke’s on-time graduation rate has steadily increased — up two percent from 2008 to 91.8 percent in 2011. And over the past five years, the district has closed the gap between all students and those disadvantaged in English by 4 percent and in math by 6.6 percent.

“All children can learn,” Lange says, “but at different rates and with different tools.”

Marian Kisch is a freelance writer in Chevy Chase, Md. E-mail: mariankisch@verizon.net

BIO STATS: LORRAINE LANGE

Currently: superintendent, Roanoke County, Va.

Previously: deputy superintendent, Roanoke County, Va.

Age: 64

Greatest influence on career: As a young teacher, Deanna Gordon, my assistant principal. She went on to become superintendent for Roanoke County and continues to mentor me.

Best professional day: A year after one of our middle schools did not make adequate yearly progress, I was part of a team that identified students for remediation and what topics to re-teach. My best day was learning this school had met AYP.

Books at bedside: Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen; and That Used to Be Us by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum

Biggest blooper: The National Weather Service called for a major snowstorm to hit Roanoke early in the morning. We decided to close the night before. The next morning, I awoke to a wonderful blanket of green.

Why I’m an AASA member: So I can learn from and help others who have similar challenges and successes. 

 

 

 

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