Governor's school evolves

December 20, 2010

Editor’s note: This is the first of three stories about the Piedmont Governor’s School for Mathematics, Science & Technology. The next will look at a day in the life of a governor’s school student.

In 11 years, the Piedmont Governor’s School for Mathematics, Science & Technology has grown from an idea to a community of learners.

The school serves 132 high school juniors and seniors from the Henry County, Patrick County, Martinsville, Danville and Pittsylvania County schools. The courses focus on foundational concepts and theories, hands-on activities, project-based learning, cooperative group work, and interdisciplinary experiences in math, science and technology.

The planning for the school began 11 years ago when Danville City and Pittsylvania County Schools were part of the Governor’s School for Global Economics and Technology. Henry County Schools later became interested in the model.

Not having access to such a program, Henry County joined the two school systems to get a grant to study the feasibility of either joining the current program or creating an academic-year governor’s school in the area, according to Brian Pace, director of the school.

Two years later, with Martinsville and Patrick County schools invited to participate, the Piedmont Governor’s School for Mathematics, Science & Technology (PGSMST) was born. It welcomed its first group of students in school year 2002-2003 with a curriculum focused on math, science and research.

The school, designed for gifted, highly motivated and high-achieving 11th- and 12th-graders, hosts students from five school divisions. This year, 33 of them are from Henry County, 25 are from Martinsville, 48 are from Pittsylvania County, 21 are from Danville and five are from Patrick County.

Pace said Patrick County has chosen not to participate after this year, so it only returned those seniors who attended last year.

Patrick County Schools Superintendent Roger Morris said there has been a decrease in participation, in part because of the long distances students have to travel to attend the school.

Also, Patrick County High School has “beefed up programs at the high school,” said Morris. Now students can earn an associate degree through courses offered there, which is more convenient, he said.

Pace said each school system pays $3,356 per student in the governor’s school.

Those from Henry County, Patrick County and Martinsville attend the Martinsville site, housed in the New College Institute classrooms in the Jefferson Plaza. Those from Danville and Pittsylvania County attend the Danville site at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville.

Potential governor’s school students are identified by their respective school systems after the students complete an application packet, which includes GPA, standardized test scores and teacher recommendations, and successfully complete prerequisite courses at their base schools.

Typically, 150 students apply each year for 65 available spots, according to Pace.

All the governor’s school courses carry dual enrollment credit through Patrick Henry and Danville community colleges. Students may pursue associate degrees through either community college.

Junior courses include precalculus, advanced mathematical analysis, introduction to statistics, chemistry, research 11 and introduction to computer concepts. Senior courses include calculus, statistics, linear algebra, analytical geometry, physics, biology, anatomy, microbiology and research 12.

On an alternating block system, students attend two classes two times a week, after which they return to their base schools and continue academic instruction there. This allows students to be part of a regional community of learners while also participating in the classes, experiences and extra-curricular activities at their base schools.

The small number of students allows for effective class sizes, one-on-one opportunities for discussion and innovative project ideas, according to Pace.

The school has eight faculty members full-time and one part-time, all of whom hold at least a master’s degree. Pace and an administrative assistant oversee the day-to-day operation of the school.

The school’s governing board, which is comprised of one school board member from each of the five participating divisions, is advised by an executive committee, which consists of all five divisions’ superintendents.

The school’s vision includes a team approach to learning, one where students become immersed in the areas of math, science, research and technology; where they share ideas and understand the application of what they’re learning; and where they meet and work with a diverse group of peers and educators.

Also, by providing academic challenges and continuous support, the school hopes to ease students’ transition from high school to college, Pace said.


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