James Lane, 37 

Superintendent, Goochland County Public Schools

click to enlarge feat42_james_lane.jpg

Scott Elmquist

While the Goochland County Public Schools may be a relatively small district on the outskirts of the Richmond area, superintendent James Lane says it wants to be in the center of the conversation about improving education in the metro region.

"We tend to have more of a family atmosphere in the schools," Lane says. "And because of the size of our leadership team, implementing changes can happen a lot more quickly."

Lane, who started as a music teacher, became the youngest superintendent in the state in 2011 when he took the position in Middlesex County. He says Goochland's 2011 elections, which saw most of the incumbents beat by challengers brought a sense of renewal that he wanted to take part in — what he calls "a wave of enthusiasm to make Goochland the best place possible."

Lane has led the district's 2,400 students across the digital divide. He's secured major revamps for the county's technical school — including a $2 million renovation — that have brought improvements in programs for everything from heavy equipment operation to architecture. He's also started an initiative to give all of the county's students iPads.

The mix of technology and pedagogy have translated into progress with the state's Standard of Learning tests, which rank among the top three school districts in the Richmond region in the core academic areas. The county's 2014 writing results were the highest-ranked regionally for the second year in a row. It also was among 22 school districts in Virginia to have all of its schools earn 100 percent accreditation.

Lane also has pushed for an analytics-driven environment that encourages improvements, which he says avoids the trap of relying too heavily on technology or the limited structure of state curriculums.

"It's not the tool, it's the pedagogy." Lane says. "We focus on engagement and critical thinking skills."

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