Governor's school could expand, as local interest contracts

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Carroll educators hope to rekindle interest in regional program in Pulaski

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — While Southwest Virginia Governor’s School officials contemplate an expansion of their program, Carroll educators wonder if they can reignite their students’ interest in the special math and science curriculum in Pulaski.
Sherry Pugh, assistant director and math teacher, represented the governor’s school before the Carroll County School Board at its Nov. 12 meeting while sharing the expansion proposal.
“Last year, some folks in the General Assembly decided that they would like to see more full day governor’s schools,” she explained. “At the current time, there are only three in the state of Virginia and they are all in the eastern part of the state, so they wanted to offer students in other parts of the state some of the same opportunities.”
The governor’s school in Pulaski serves 140 students from several localities in Southwestern Virginia, including Carroll, with about three hours of classes each morning.
Students earn dual credits from the math and science focused courses, mostly through New River Community College, Pugh said.
(School Board Chairman Brian Spencer noted during the discussion that only one Carroll student now attends the program, out of eight seats funded by the county.)
Governor’s school teachers emphasize learning math without calculators and independent research, which helps students understand the scientific method and the interdisciplinary nature of research.
After the General Assembly last year offered governor’s schools around the state a grant of $100,000 to look into expansion, only the Southwest Governor’s School indicated an interest, Pugh said.
Wanting to continue to meet the needs of students and partnering school systems, governor’s school officials considered expanding their offerings to things like chemistry and government classes, and English with an emphasis on math terms and reading scientific studies.
Still, educators don’t want to take the students completely away from their local schools.
“We know that our students want to remain a part of their home school,” Pugh said. “We feel they should remain a part of their home school. A lot of our students participate in sports and other extracurricular activities and we want them to be able to do that.”
Educators also wanted their students to have some unstructured time at the governor’s school in order to work with teachers one-on-one or to work on their projects.
Knowing they wouldn’t have the funds to hire extra faculty, governor’s school officials identified Northwestern University as a potential partner to create gifted learning classes, potentially offered online.
Partnering with Northwestern could also have the advantage of being able to start enrollment in August 2014.
The end result could turn into a unique program that could become a model for similar schools around the country, Pugh said.
When Pugh opened the floor for feedback, Spencer noted that when he was first elected to the school board, Carroll schools had 16 slots for students at the governor’s school.
Budget concerns led to that being cut to eight, and only one student from Carroll is in attendance at the Pulaski program now.
Spencer said many students already earn dual credits from classes taught at CCHS, and the school system has not done a good job of marketing the governor’s school.
“We’re not selling the governor’s school that we have now to our student body to get them to go,” he theorized.
Also, Spencer felt that more hours at the governor’s school might make it more difficult for students to participate at their home school.
“We need to do something to energize our student base,” he said.
It’s possible that the governor’s school students could work on the online courses at their home school, Pugh said.
Has the governor’s school considered expanding the program beyond the 11th and 12th grades? Superintendent Strader Blankenship asked.
Yes, Pugh answered. Wythe County has expressed an interest in adding the 10th grade to the Pulaski program.
Carroll County High now has a counselor dedicated to explaining the option of going to the governor’s school to students, Blankenship noted.
But the amount of time needed to transport the students to Pulaski and the extra time students need for their homework can be a “double edged sword” for the youth, though they definitely need programs like the governor’s school if they want to get into an Ivy League college, Blankenship said.
The key is helping students answer the question “And this is good for me how?” as school board member Joey Haynes put it.