Meet Peter Gretz, new school superintendent

By Ruthann Carr

The Fluvanna County School Board didn’t let a little bad weather stall their announcement Tuesday (May 4) of Peter Gretz as the new superintendent.

As an emergency generator powered the administration building, Chair Perrie Johnson (Fork Union) and Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) waited for fellow board members to arrive. Andrew Pullen (Columbia) got there after cutting trees blocking roads in Kents Store. James Kelley (Palmyra) and Shirley Stewart (Rivanna) were stuck in the Lake Monticello area and finally decided to go back home and attend remotely.

Gretz has a long history in Virginia education as a teacher, principal and superintendent. Most recently he headed up the Middlesex County Public Schools. His first day on the job in Fluvanna is July 1. The Fluvanna Review sent Gretz a list of questions. Here are his answers:

FR: Tell me about your family.

My wife, Sara, and I have been married 15 years and have four wonderful children. Jonathan, 13; Turner, 11; Maddie, 9 and Elsie, 3. We love the mountains, spending time hiking, camping and kayaking and canoeing on the river.

FR: What interested you about the Fluvanna position?

My family has deep connections throughout central Virginia, and we are drawn to the mountains and river. Fluvanna’s schools are thriving and poised to continue to embrace the innovations embedded in Virginia’s newly-imagined Profile of a Virginia Graduate and that work excites and inspires me. The Fluvanna community is engaged and cares deeply about the schools, which provides an ideal opportunity for a superintendent to have a positive impact.

FR: Perrie Johnson mentioned being excited about your vision/plan. Please share the nuts and bolts of the plan.

Generally, I want to get settled and just listen and learn – and then strategically build upon the shared beliefs and values of the school community and stakeholders to further move past the standardized, compliance-driven instruction and assessment that has been so ingrained throughout the state over the past couple of decades and maximize our ability to focus on student engagement, balance the assessment profile of the division, and champion student-centered learning where the “5 C’s” – creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, citizenship – are emphasized.

FR: What do you think are the top three strengths of Fluvanna schools?

The Fluvanna community is invested and supportive of the schools. Similarly, the staff are deeply committed to both the schools and to each other. There is a wrap-around, “family” atmosphere that creates an ideal environment for the schools to thrive. Student academic outcomes demonstrate that teaching and learning throughout the division is excellent and teachers have tremendous capacity to use assessment data to drive sound instructional decisions.

FR: What elements of Fluvanna education do you hope to improve and how?

I will need to spend time learning the schools, community and stakeholders before I can answer this specifically, but I believe all of us in Virginia are facing (and currently) fighting the same battle to recover education from the shackles of standardization and compliance with minimal, low-level learning standards. There’s nothing essentially wrong with Virginia’s SOL tests. There’s something dramatically wrong with our 20-year-old disposition toward how important they are and what they tell us about students, teachers and schools. I don’t know of any divisions that have completely recovered, and to the extent that Fluvanna is on that same road and process I would hope to lead the support, resources and strategic planning to continue that progress.

FR: Like school systems across the country, Fluvanna faces issues of Black and Brown students being disproportionately overrepresented in suspensions, and other disciplinary actions. Conversely, they are under-represented in upper-level courses. What are a few ways you feel you can help change that?

One of the most pragmatic ways to address these disparities is to identify and evaluate barriers that inadvertently screen out students who potentially could thrive in these programs. I would also revisit my previously described perspective on an instructional model that’s driven by compliance with SOL testing requirements. We’ve seen all across Virginia that as education became less focused on transformative relationships and engaging instruction and more devoted to rote learning and minimal SOL test compliance, disciplinary problems increased dramatically. More and more students were marginalized by that cookie-cutter approach to something that’s truly complex, and they’ve become disinterested and disengaged.

The way to address discipline is first and foremost to ensure school is engaging, that students’ passions and interests are a part of their learning, and that the first goal at work in any given classroom is to establish impactful relationships where students are known and delighted in.

FR: Speaking of change, would you share with me an experience or a gradual realization that has changed you or your outlook over the past 10 years or so?

Several years ago I was exposed to some profound research linking the physical, built learning space to learning. I invested a couple of years learning in that area, and it shifted my paradigm. I was able to recognize just how powerfully physical changes in classroom design, choice of furniture, and use of physical space could impact student learning. I now approach my leadership of schools with three questions: what kind of teaching and learning do we want to see? (instruction), what tools will we need to accomplish that instruction? (technology, curriculum), and what kind of space will we need in which to do that work? (classroom design). I think too many educational leaders today think that third dimension is just an added “nice to have”, when in fact the design of the physical classroom is essential to learning.

FR: And just for fun, what make and model was your first car? What was the first job you ever had?

Because my first job was cleaning stalls at a horse farm in Goochland, Va., my parents bought me a $200 1965 Pontiac Tempest with which to get from my home in the West End of Richmond to work during the summer before my senior year in high school. The gas gauge was broken so I jumped out periodically to bang on the bottom of the car to determine how empty the tank was – and I started it with a flat-head screwdriver.

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