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Education secretary draws on family history to inspire others

South Boston News
Trent / August 09, 2017

Virginia Secretary of Education Dr. Dietra Trent visited South Hill Elementary on Thursday to lead the annual MCPS convocation for teachers and staff.

Trent, a native of neighboring Halifax County, shared her optimism about the future of education. She told the story of her grandmother, an educator whose influence, guidance and resolve is “almost single-handedly responsible for me being here today” as Virginia Secretary of Education, Trent said.

As her grandmother once did, Trent encouraged teachers to look past their struggles: “As you enter the next school year there will be challenges, but this is not unique to Mecklenburg County. All of our schools, from the best to the worst, have challenges. All may not be struggling with accreditation, all may not be struggling with achievement gaps, nor high poverty, but all are struggling with something, and as is the case each and every year, you will succeed.”

Trent joined the administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe in January 2014 and will leave office when he departs at the end of his term on Jan. 13. Under her direction, the McAuliffe education department has “taken a different approach than other administrations” by trying to be a “better partner with localities, to avoid the same old top-down approach.”

Among the accomplishments she touted was the reduction in the number of SOL tests (Standards of Learning) administered to students. This statement drew a round of applause from the teachers and administrators.

Additionally, Trent said the McAuliffe administration has invested $1 billion in new money in education, given greater flexibility to school superintendents to meet the educational needs of their school divisions, made adjustments to the accreditation system by lessening the focus on SOL pass rates, and adopted policies that reform the processing of those SOL tests left in place.

Together, these changes “will provide a more comprehensive picture of school quality, while also driving continuous improvement,” Trent said. “I just want you to know that the McAuliffe administration has heard you, and that we have done the very best to meet your needs.”

As convocations are a time of reflection and celebration, according to Trent, she used her time in South Hill to celebrate her favorite and most influential educator — her first grade teacher and grandmother, sharing the story of Faustina Mae Trent, who taught in Halifax County Public Schools for more than 40 years.

Trent credited her grandmother with helping her “grow more confident and become aware of [my] individuality [by making] the world seem a lot less scary.” She praised her teaching skills: “She literally poured her heart and soul into all her students. She saw the genius in every child and dared them to find it in themselves.”

It was not Faustina’s role in the classroom that impressed Trent the most. It was what she did outside the classroom that Trent said shaped her and became the barometer by which she still measures the value of her life.

“After school and on weekends, she [Faustina Mae] spent her time starting extra-curricular activities for poor children in our community. Activities like the Girls Scouts, marching band and a softball team. She volunteered with Save the Children Federation, an organization that paired poor children with affluent sponsors from across the globe. She was eager to expose her students to experiences and opportunities that they otherwise would not have had.”

Trent learned from her grandmother that no child should be “defined by their circumstances.” Education is transformational in that it allows a child to overcome the struggles associated with entrenched inter-generational poverty.

Teaching was not just a career for her grandmother, Trent said. “She never considered herself employed, rather, she was deployed. Daily, she was deployed to plant seeds of hope and inspiration in the minds of young people. To encourage them to see beyond their boundaries to a place they had only dreamed. When we were with her, we lived in the possible, and she gave us courage to birth our dreams.”

Trent said her grandmother “never taught beyond elementary school, her name never ended up in the paper, she never received commendations from the mayor, governor or president, nor was she ever voted teacher or rookie of the year. But when she died at the age of 97, the church was overflowing with former students who came from across the country to share the story of how she impacted their lives.”

Educators are special, Trent explained, in that they are hand-picked by God and because “there is no job that literally touches the lives of every American and shapes the way we view the world more than an educator.” She thanked the teachers and administrators for their hard work and dedication and “for the long nights spent planning lessons and grading papers, and for the long days serving as an educator, counselor, comforter, advocate, and nurse and confidant … [and] for believing in [the] students and their ability to achieve great things.”

Trent was appointed Secretary of Education by McAuliffe in January 2014. She previously had served as Deputy Secretary of Education under Gov. Tim Kaine.

Prior to joining the McAuliffe administration, she served as deputy state director for Sen. Mark Warner, and also served in the administration of Gov. Warner.

Trent earned a Bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminal justice from Hampton University, and earned both her Master’s and PhD in public administration policy from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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If she cared about education, she would do away with SOL's. Anyone have any idea how much the state pays the testing companies?!

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