Details shared about proposed academies

March 26, 2015

A program that will move fifth-graders to a school-within-a-school at Martinsville Middle and another that would provide a site for certain high school students who are trying to catch up are part of the city schools’ effort to help all students graduate college-and-career ready. 

That is according to the school board’s proposed budget for 2015-16 and school division officials.

Martinsville PREP Academy (PREP standing for Programming & Resources to Enhance Potential) is designed to provide fifth-graders a jump-start for success at the secondary level. 

And Central Academy, which would require city council approval, would provide a site for a number of programs, including HOPE (Harnessing Opportunity through Personalized Education), an individualized education program for certain high school students trying to catch up.

Fifth grade will be moved from the division’s two elementary schools to Martinsville Middle School for Martinsville PREP Academy, which will be a school within a school at MMS. It will be housed in a separate wing of MMS. Fifth-graders will continue to ride elementary buses; there will be separate arrival and dismissal times from grades 6-8. The elementary scheduling model will be maintained, and current fifth-grade teachers will move to MMS with the students. 

The academy will offer fifth-graders: AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), a structured college preparedness and success system; introduction to foreign language; Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy (NASA SEMAA Lab); robotics; dedicated science labs; introduction to computer applications; and a full array of music and arts programming.

The NASA SEMAA Lab at MMS is one of only 12 in the United States, and most of them are at universities, MCPS Superintendent Pam Heath has said. She added NASA recently selected it as a best practices site. SEMAA stands for Science, Engineering, Math and Aerospace Academy. 

MMS and school division officials have said that robotics helps students with problem solving, working together in teams, and links STEM to the real world.

MMS Principal Cynthia Tarpley said she is excited about the academy. “We’re going to focus on 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, communication — real-world-type skills for careers and real life.” 

The academy will give fifth-graders a jump-start on exploring different areas such as the NASA SEMAA Lab, foreign language, and others, Tarpley said. She added it will begin to prepare fifth-graders for higher-level math so they possibly will be able to move into advanced programs when they get to high school.

MCPS Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Angilee Downing said the academy will offer students opportunities for advanced learning, such as foreign language, technical education, classes pertaining to keyboarding and software programs. It will have dedicated science labs, which is not the case in elementary schools, as well as the NASA SEMAA lab. 

One of the recommendations of Standards of Accreditation is to offer foreign language in elementary schools, and MCPS tried to do that several years ago, but it’s hard to staff in elementary schools, Downing said.

The academy will help with college and career readiness, she added. 

MCPS researched other school divisions in Virginia that have middle schools with grades 5-8, and they are working well in terms of student academic performance, Downing said.

By redirecting some funding, Martinsville PREP Academy will be funded through current resources, according to the proposed budget and Heath. 

The Martinsville School Board is proposing to city council that MCPS operate the Central Academy site at the original Central Academy school — a former police training academy, expected-to-be vacated city housing office, and current voting precinct. (The proposal calls for preserving the current voting precinct there.)

HOPE would provide a site dedicated to individualized instruction for high school students who are behind their class in progressing toward graduation. An accelerated program would be individualized to help students catch up to their peers. It would include all courses required for graduation, including an industry certification. Credit recovery instruction (to help students who previously had been unsuccessful in mastering content/skills required to receive course credit) would be offered to help students keep moving forward. Career counseling and additional supports would be available on site. 

Students would be able to move between Central Academy and the Martinsville High School campus. Students would ride regular buses, and school meals would be delivered to the site. Students would be able to participate in activities at the MHS campus.

The proposal also calls for city council to allow MCPS to use the site not only for HOPE but for an adult education program and the Individual Student Alternative Education Plan program or ISAEP (a program geared toward students at risk of dropping out of high school). It also would be a community resource for access to computers or educational opportunities. 

Central Academy would be funded through current resources with the addition of $6,000 in utility costs being requested in the proposed budget.

City council has made no commitment on the Central Academy proposal, Downing said. She added that Martinsville PREP Academy does not require council approval. 

Downing said there will be informational sessions for parents and students about Martinsville PREP Academy and opportunities for parents and students to visit the school. She said the idea is to begin Martinsville PREP Academy in the fall, but planning is underway. 


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