Terrorist attack cancels India trip

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Instead of touring India this week, Grayson County Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Thomas can be found at her desk in Independence — far from the turmoil and violence that erupted in that country last week.

Thomas was one of 13 Virginia superintendents who had planned to be in India right now. The superintendents were to join Virginia Secretary of Education Thomas Morris for the trip to learn about globalization.

The group was scheduled to leave Nov. 28, but plans were quickly halted after a terrorist attack two days earlier. In fact, the group had reservations at one of the Mumbai hotels where an estimated 172 people were killed and 239 wounded in an attack by what authorities believe were Pakistani militants.

As a result of the attacks, the trip was cancelled and Thomas returned to work.

“We had reservations at the Taj Mahal Heritage Hotel, which the news media has referred to as the Taj Hotel,” Thomas told The Gazette. “We were to stay at the Taj Hotel and have meals in the hotel restaurant from Nov. 29 through Dec. 2.”

Plans were for the group to travel to Delhi, Jaipur and Agra for the remainder of the trip.

“After learning of the terrorist attack on Nov. 26, several superintendents in our group participated in a conference call with the VASS director of the program and decided to postpone the trip until stability is established in Mumbai.”

Travelers hoped to learn how India’s economy is tied to Virginia’s and what they can do as education leaders to help the state’s students become more globally competitive. The trip was funded by 40 companies with offices in Virginia and organized by the University of Virginia and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents.

Thomas and Dr. Al Armentrout, superintendent of Wythe County Public Schools, were selected from the local region.

“I was shocked and horrified when I learned about the terrorist attack in Mumbai,” she said. “I was deeply saddened to learn of the massacre of innocent people during the siege of the Taj Hotel and at the targets in the city. It has certainly been thought-provoking to have such a close call with terrorism and to realize how vulnerable people and countries are to extremist violence.”

Two people from Virginia, a father and daughter, were among those killed.

One thing is certain about the trip — it will not be canceled.

“I view terrorism as attempts by extremist groups to strike fear in our hearts and to disrupt our democratic society,” Thomas continued. “We can’t let the terrorists win. Therefore, when the ‘India as a Global Partner’ trip is re-scheduled, I will continue to participate in the program.”

In the meantime, Thomas plans to work with Grayson teachers on how they can help students have a greater understanding of international issues and global competition.

All 13 superintendents were selected based on their commitment to attending 16 hours of classes at UVa prior to travel.

Each made a presentation in their school and community on what they learned and how they planned to develop an international partnership with the schools they visit in India.

With the U.S. financial crisis, classes at UVa have been timely in their focus on interdependence of international economies and skills that students will need to be competitive in the global market.

Each education leader listened to presentations by business and education professors, Indian entrepreneurs who own technology businesses in Virginia, the president of the U.S. India Business Alliance and the Washington bureau chief of the London Financial Times and author of “In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India.”

When the trip is rescheduled, the group will have the opportunity to visit and speak with faculty and students at the India Institute of Technology in Mumbai, one of several universities that are the Indian equivalent of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

They will tour several elementary and secondary schools to learn about education in India and how Indian students are being prepared for success in the global economy.

“Over the past few decades, there have been fundamental changes in our nation’s economy, jobs and businesses, which has led to conditions of global competition in our workforce,” Thomas said last month. “It is crucial that our educational system prepare the youth of Grayson County with the skills they need to compete with a global economy.”

No date has been set for the rescheduled trip.