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HILLSVILLE — The Blue Ridge Crossroads Governor’s Academy for Technical Education will be more than just a place of learning, after Twin County educators launch the program, the Carroll School Board heard at its Aug. 9 meeting.
The STEM academy, spread out among local high schools and the Crossroads Institute, will provide enhanced career specialization and higher education opportunities, said Mark Burnette, who spearheaded getting Virginia Department of Education approval for the effort.
STEM stands for the areas that the program will focus on, including science, technology, engineering and math.
Opportunities that the academy will offer include a pre-engineering program added to an existing electronics class and several information technology classes; architecture, construction and drafting; food and animal production and processing and natural resources.
Several of these career pathways are already being offered to students, Burnette told the school board.
“What we plan on doing, basically, is raising the bar, bringing these classes to dual credit status and working with the colleges to develop programs, so our students can transfer to Wytheville Community College or can leave community college with a specialization,” he explained.
Educators continue working hard with Virginia Tech to develop a curriculum for bio-technology courses, as well, he said.
“This isn’t replacing any of our programs that we have — we’re still offering the same programs,” Burnette said. “The only new program really there is the engineering program, and we’re working with Wytheville Community College... to provide the lab.”
Working with Grayson and Galax schools systems, educators will share classes to benefit students across the Twin Counties. Burnette gave an example of possibly sharing Carroll’s drafting classes with the other two high schools through Internet distance learning.
In terms of academics, Carroll has already offered new dual credit courses in probability and statistics and chemistry, he said.
All the participating school systems will share funding responsibilities? School Board Member Phillip Berrier asked.
That’s correct, Burnette answered. The state designation did not bring with it any startup funding from the state.
STEM funding may become available at some point in the future, however.
Carroll Schools Superintendent Greg Smith expects the academy designation will create greater opportunities to get a variety of grants.
“This won’t supplant the governor’s school in Pulaski?” Berrier asked. “Is there duplication there?”
There is duplication between the governor’s school and the STEM academy, Burnette answered.
“Once this comes to fruition, we’re going to have to have that conversation,” Smith said. “We’ll probably facilitate that within a year, about how these programs have evolved, how they compare, how they correlate.”
The immediate goal is to enroll 100 students in the academy, Burnette said. Probably about two-thirds of those students will come from Carroll.
Eventually, they hope to enroll between 300 and 400.
“I guess the good part of it is, you know, the kids don’t have to go 45 miles down the road to attend the governor’s school,” Burnette said.
Educators only expect to move classes around if space demands it \ teachers are happy where they are, Burnette said. Carroll already provides teachers for computer systems classes at Crossroads, but space is at a premium there, too.
The Wytheville Community College classes takes up much of the space at Crossroads in the evenings, Smith said. There’s more flexibility on the classrooms during the day.
Community college officials are amenable to working with the STEM academy, the superintendent said.
Local schools will be able to pool their efforts by sharing classes and assisting each other, Smith said.
“What I explained to the state board, it’s really more of a concept than it is a location,” Burnette said.
While it involves many places, educators tried to think outside of the box about how the academy would provide services to students.
He expects the academy will provide a boost to the Twin Counties. “It’ll bring a lot of recognitions to some already really good programs and highlight those programs,” Burnette said.
Its graduates will have a good jump start as they head off to college or a career, Smith added.
“Governor’s schools are regarded as the most prominent transcript item that that child can certainly have,” the superintendent said. “It pushes them up on the scale when considered as a potential candidate.”