State okays governor's school plan

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Local school systems and other partners will develop technical and career-based courses, with the blessing of the state board of education.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Local educators have permission to create the 10th Virginia Governor’s STEM Academy in Twin County schools and at the Crossroads Institute, after a decision by the state Board of Education last Thursday.
This was the fourth and final permission that Carroll County Public Schools and its partners needed to proceed with planning for the Blue Ridge Crossroads Governor’s Academy for Technical Education.
STEM stands for the educational elements that students will need to be well-versed in to obtain a job in the expanding number of technical careers — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
As proposed, the STEM academy will provide a rigorous program of study at local high schools and the Crossroads Institute in Galax, to expand educational options for students.
Educators would add training for future engineers, according to Mark Burnette, Carroll’s director of secondary education. Agriculture studies at local high schools could be augmented with the addition of bio-tech classes.
The building trades program would expand to include career awareness and training for the “green” construction sector.
“Virginia's Governor's STEM Academies are programs designed to expand options for the general student population to acquire STEM literacy and other critical skills, knowledge and credentials that will prepare them for high-demand, high-wage and high-skill careers. Partnerships establishing academies must include at least one public school division, business and industry, and post-secondary education,” as educators put in their proposal to the state.
The July 28 approval followed reviews of Carroll’s proposal by the state Department  of Career and Technical Education and the State Council of Higher Education, because dual credit courses will be offered.
“We had to come up with a plan to promote STEM education,” Burnette said. “It had to incorporate workforce development and continuing education plans.”
While no funding comes along with the state approval, Burnette said the effort has the cooperation of several partners.
Besides the Carroll, Galax and Grayson school systems, educators continue to work with Crossroads Institute, Virginia Tech, Wytheville Community College, Virginia Cooperative Extension, the New River/Mount Rogers Workforce Investment Board, Chestnut Creek School of the Arts, Red Hill General Store, The Turman Group and Lowe’s Home Improvement.
Radford University, Med-Fit Systems, Professional Networks, Guardian Industries and MOOG are also expected to participate.
The academy will target engineering and technology, construction and food production systems and various career opportunities in each.
Burnette hopes, for example, to have a pre-engineering course up and running by the beginning of school next year.
“It’s got a lot of potential and it’s going to require a lot of hashing out,” he said about the academy in general. “We’re going to forge ahead and we hope to see good things out of it.”
Schools will begin recruiting students who want to enroll, while educators get down to planning the specific details about the program.
That includes classes and course work, scheduling, finding facilities and whether distance learning might be used to offer classes at multiple sites.
Educators would love to have 100 students participating in the first year.
“There’s a lot of organization to go on behind the scenes,” Burnette said. “Now, the work’s just starting.”
Carroll Superintendent Greg Smith said representatives from the three local school districts will meet Thursday to begin the process of nailing down the logistics on the coursework.
"We're moving with all due haste and speed to make sure we have this set up for the 2012-2013 school year," he said. "We think it's going to be an enhancement of our entire program of studies."
Not only with this benefit Twin Counties students in terms of their education, but it will have an economic and workforce development impact on these communities, as well, he expects.
"We're very proud and please this has been approved," Smith said.