Committee focuses on schooling

July 4, 2005

Bulletin Staff Writer

Editor's note: This is the first article in a four-part series on strategies proposed to improve the area's education and work force development.

The days when students could leave high school and go straight into life-long jobs in local factories are gone, and the residents of Henry County and Martinsville must accept and adapt to that reality.

That message was presented recently to members of the Strategic Advisory Committee (SAC), a group formed more than a year ago as part of a study aimed at improving economic vitality and quality of life in Henry County and Martinsville.

According to a plan completed by the Education and Workforce Development Action Committee, a subcommittee of the SAC, more than 30 percent of county and city residents do not have diplomas or GEDs. Those statistics must be improved if the area is to excel in the 21st century, subcommittee members said recently.

"We want to get people to realize that you need education and work force training to be effective," said member Hesta Anderson, work force services supervisor with the Virginia Employment Commission. "In the future, you'll need more than just a high school education."

Anderson and other members of the subcommittee have worked since August 2004 on their plan for improving education and work force development in the area. The plan is designed to counteract what it calls the "historical bias against education and lack of parental involvement" in Martinsville and Henry County.

That bias was identified by the Market Street Report, a Harvest Foundation-funded study completed March 15, 2004.

The report presented recently addressed work force and education. After hearing the subcommittee's 11 recommendations, the SAC accepted the plan, said SAC Chairman Kimble Reynolds Jr.

"We have worked very, very hard on this," said Linda Dorr, director of career and technical education for Henry County Schools. "We really do have a passion for it."

The plan identifies three strategies for improving education and work force development.

The first focuses on emphasizing the value, both monetary and intrinsic, in education, said Rhonda Hodges, subcommittee chairman. Plans include launching a city/countywide awareness campaign this fall, reaching out to the area's growing Hispanic community and creating "learning communities."

Learning communities are peer groups designed to help students successfully navigate kindergarten through college, said Hodges, manager of existing industry with the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

The second strategy is to identify and establish work force education and training. Its goals include creating a comprehensive K-16 (kindergarten through senior year of college) career development program and increasing the percentage of the local population with GEDs or high school diplomas.

Dorr and Sandra Forrest, director of career technical education for Martinsville City Schools, highlighted existing work force education and training programs they would like to expand as part of this strategy.

The Early Scholars program, in which high school students earn college credit through advanced placement or dual enrollment courses, served 661 city and county students this year, the report states.

The Path to Industry Certification program, in which students earn industry certificates or state licensures while still in high school, served more than 100 students, the plan said. Students who complete the industry classes graduate with marketable skills in areas such as cosmetology, Microsoft Office and certified nursing assistant, Dorr said.

Both programs could be expanded to better serve the community, she added.

The third strategy calls for creating quality work force education and training. Its key points include establishing a four-year university in Henry County or Martinsville, "optimizing" the contributions of Patrick Henry Community College and creating a community forum to support coordination between area organizations working in the field.

With their plan approved, subcommittee members will meet next month to begin planning the implementation phase, Hodges said. They will prioritize projects, begin to plan those that can be launched with little or no cost and consider funding options for more costly projects.

The following individuals and organizations belong to the subcommittee: All Trust NM, Carlisle School, GEMS Program, Henry County Schools, Pastor Doug Ingram, Martinsville City Schools, Martinsville DuPont Credit Union, Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., MZM Inc., National College of Business and Technology, New College of Virginia, Old Dominion University Teletechnet, Patrick Henry Community College, Piedmont Tech Prep Consortium, Southwestern Virginia Gas Co., Stanley Furniture Co., StarTek Inc., The Harvest Foundation, Virginia Employment Commission, and the West Piedmont Workforce Investment Board.


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