Profiles in Leadership: Dr.Amy Cashwell, Henrico County Public Schools Superintendent

Q: What have been some of the biggest challenges for you during this time, and what has been your perspective as you approached those challenges?

A: The biggest challenge has been ensuring that despite the circumstances created by the pandemic, we continue to serve our core purpose and mission to provide a quality educational experience, and the supports needed, for each and every student to be successful.  In order to continue our essential work, with this core purpose at the forefront, we’ve had to rethink, reimagine and redesign almost every aspect of our operations.  While this has been daunting, keeping focused on our goal to serve our students, which hasn’t changed as a result of the pandemic; we’ve been able to remain steadfast in our efforts (though they have been exhaustive) and to adapt and be nimble during what has been a fluid and ever-changingsituation.  

Q: We know that in challenges, we find opportunity. What are some of the opportunities you and your team have seen and embraced? What positive elements have come from that?

A: The manner in which we were able to work as a team to overcome so many challenges, such as food distribution and a shift to remote learning in very short order, reminded us that when we remain focused on a shared collective goal and bring innovative thinking to the table, together we can accomplish fantastic things.  We’ve also discovered that there is value in some of the practices and procedures we’ve developed to be responsive to the current situation, that will likely continue to hold value into the future and change the way we serve our students and families for the better. For example, our family and community engagement team took their family learning series  “virtual” and found that attendance at their sessions was vastly higher than many of the in-person events.  I’d bet that virtual sessions will remain a  viable and effective strategy going forward in our effort to reach all families.  And, then, I hate to mention it, but “snow days” or inclement weather days may never be seen in quite the same way.  Virtual learning from home when snow or ice keeps students away from our classrooms for prolonged periods may assist us in ensuring valuable instructional time is not lost.

Q: In what ways are you most proud of your team as they navigate an already challenging field of education during a global pandemic?

A: I truly couldn’t be prouder of the HCPS team.  They are simply the best.  Their dedication to serving our students and community hasn’t wavered.  From the hundreds of thousands of meals lovingly prepared and served; to the thousands of devices and hot spots distributed in record time; to the amazing innovative ways our teachers are delivering quality virtual instruction, I remain humbled to be a part of such a dynamic team.  In addition, the many efforts of our administrators and central support teams both on the front lines and behind the scenes have been heroic.  And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how proud I am of our students and their families for the role they have played in meeting the challenges of virtual learning.  

Q: How have community partnerships been beneficial during this time?

A: Our community partners have been essential in helping us bridge a number of gaps that were created during this pandemic.  They are providing nutrition (beyond our school meal program) to families in need, providing financial support for us to get internet service to those in need, and assisting in providing quality supervised childcare programs to students during the virtual learning school day.  We simply couldn’t accomplish our goal of providing students the support they need to be successful without them.  Our reach is expanded and our efforts are more robust thanks to our generous and highly engaged community partners. 

Q: What are you most looking forward to?

A: I’m most looking forward to a time when we can have more of our students in-person. There is no way to measure how much we miss seeing them on a regular basis at our schools.