Real-world experiences the key to student success says VBCPS leader

Donald Robertson hopes to establish a connected ecosystem of learning. (Courtesy of Virginia Beach Public Schools)
Donald Robertson hopes to establish better real-world experiences for Virginia Beach students. (Courtesy of Virginia Beach Public Schools)

Less than half of Virginia Beach students have access to real-world experiences during their education. Donald Robertson of Virginia Beach City Public Schools seeks to change that. 

Last week, Robertson, VBCPS’ chief strategy and innovation officer, presented his goal of implementing a city-wide student learning ecosystem to the Virginia Beach 2040 Vision to Action Committee.

The 16-member committee, which was put in place in January 2013, works to help the city reach its full potential in areas like lifestyle, economy, and education, by the year 2040.

Robertson presented his thought project to the Virginia Beach 2040 Vision to Action Committee Friday. (Mariah Pohl)
Robertson presented his thought project to the Virginia Beach 2040 Vision to Action Committee Friday. (Mariah Pohl)

Robertson said he envisions multiple pathways to student success through vibrant hands-on classrooms, co-op opportunities, technology-focused environments, and real-world work experiences.

“Every student in every school, no matter where they live or what their deficits are, deserves a world-class education,” Robertson said. “We want students who are ready to hit the ground running when they graduate, whether they want to join the military, go to college, or join the workforce.”

About one-third of current VBCPS students take part in such programs, but Robertson believes the school district could initiate additional opportunities for real-world growth by establishing new and better connections with local business owners.

In November, Robertson created a committee to consider the needs and game-plan for a connected learning platform.

Robertson’s committee consists of a diverse group of people from a variety of backgrounds, including school officials, economic development employees, tourism experts, and 2040 members.

“We imagined what an ecosystem of connected learning could look like. There are a lot of connection points between cities, school, military, and industries that are mutually-beneficial,” he said. “This is about how we can pair future employees with businesses, and keep them in Virginia Beach after they graduate.”

According to Robertson, the city loses roughly two-thirds of high school graduates each year to other cities.

Cindy Arocho, a member of the 2040 Vision to Action Committee, said she attended Robertson’s first meeting last month and was excited about what she saw.

“We broke into groups and talked about what a typical school would look like. We talked about not having bookbags or desks in the classroom, being mobile, and having interactive experiences outside the classroom,” she said. “We are thinking about thriving communities, being connected, and getting students much more integrated in our city so that when they go to college they want to come back.”

The committee has a long way to go before laying the groundwork for a connected learning platform, but it’s not a race, said Robertson

“We are not quite as far along in the process as I would have hoped, but I want to do this right,” he said. “It’s going to take some serious thought power to develop something that is actionable and achievable.”

Robertson’s committee plans to meet again Tuesday at Tidewater Community College.

Pohl may be reached at 


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