Heath set to make case before state

March 27, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville City Public Schools Superintendent Pam Heath said she has been advised by state officials, in effect, not to get her hopes up when she appears at the Virginia Board of Education meeting today to seek a waiver to open schools before Labor Day. 

Heath will be making her case for why the city school division should get a waiver on the basis of having an innovative program — the Martinsville-Henry County STEM Pipeline Initiative. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

Heath said she took part in a conference call, and state officials said none of the last five requests for waivers due to innovative programs has been approved. 

“They wanted to let us know (that in accordance with the law) the bar is set very high,” she said. “It’s a nice way to say, ‘Don’t get your hopes up.’”

“We still believe in it, and we are going to make our case,” she said. 

MCPS’ application for a waiver gives a battery of statistics about high poverty, high unemployment, comparatively low wages/salaries, comparatively low percentages of people earning degrees and losses of thousands of jobs since the 1990s, among other socio-economic data.

The application talks about the city schools’ collaborative efforts to turn around the economy through education, working with the county schools, the Harvest Foundation, Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., Patrick Henry Community College, New College Institute, the Governor’s School, Virginia State University and James Madison University. 

To meet the goals of the STEM Pipeline Initiative program, MCPS has taken a three-pronged approach: continue programming that has been in place (such as dual enrollment and the National Science, Engineering, Math and Aerospace Academy, or SEMAA); expansion of STEM-H programming (dual enrollment, career and technical education and SEMAA); and development of innovative programming (the Academy of Engineering and Technology, or AET; FIRST Robotics; internships), the application says.

According to the application and Heath, if the school division did not qualify for a waiver to open before Labor Day, students would miss out on opportunities available through partnering colleges. 

Both the city and county school divisions had been concerned that they might not qualify for waivers to continue opening before Labor Day because of milder winters in recent years and other reasons.

However, Henry County Public Schools has qualified for pre-Labor Day opening for the next three years due to inclement weather this year, and Martinsville City Public Schools also will qualify because it is surrounded by Henry County, according to HCPS Superintendent Jared Cotton and Heath. 

However, officials have said it would be better not to rely on inclement weather in hopes of qualifying for a waiver to open before Labor Day, and that a waiver granted on the basis of an innovative program could be renewed.

Cotton said in an email he has decided to go before the state Board of Education at a later time, in light of, among other things, the previous waivers for innovative programs that have not been approved. 

“This will also give me time to implement components of the program and further develop our proposal for consideration,” he stated.


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