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Former local classroom teacher to lead state initiative

South Boston News
Jennifer Stevens / February 14, 2019

A former classroom teacher in Halifax County will serve as the new president of Virginia Advanced Study Strategies (VASS), a statewide initiative to raise student achievement in schools across the Commonwealth.

Jennifer Stevens of South Boston was announced as VASS’s next president and chief executive officer by the board of directors on Wednesday.

“As chairperson of the search committee, I am pleased to announce the appointment of Jennifer Stevens as the president and CEO of VASS,” said Dorothea Shannon, retired public school superintendent and founding board member of the organization. “Mrs. Stevens brings continuity and renewed excitement to our organization. The board looks forward to working with her to continue the important work of serving the schools and students of the Commonwealth.”

Stevens takes over leadership of VASS after holding the positions of vice president, chief operating officer, and chief financial officer. She was also an integral member of the team who won the $13.2 million grant from the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) to establish the nonprofit in 2007.

She began her career in education in 1995 as a classroom teacher in Halifax County Public Schools, a job she held for eight years. She left the classroom to manage grant-funded projects for Longwood University, Virginia Tech in partnership with NASA Langley Research Center, and the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center.

Stevens and a team of educators and community leaders headed by former delegate and SVHEC president W.W. “Ted” Bennett secured grant funding to form VASS. Its original mission was to promote the spread of the Advanced Placement curriculum in rural, urban and low-income Virginia schools. Since that time, VASS has branched out to promote student learning strategies and teacher professional development for the purpose of better preparing students to join the workforce of a STEM skills-driven economy.

VASS is currently working with Halifax County Public Schools to create internship and job shadowing programs for students, and teachers at the middle school and high school take part in the Rural Math Innovation Network (RMIN), a research and development initiative funded by a 2017 federal grant and administered by VASS.

According to Stevens, the program is designed to enhance students’ growth mindset and self-efficacy in mathematics — approaches to learning that recognize students may be hamstrung by the perception that they aren’t good at math, and never will be.

The Rural Math Innovation Network is “about helping them understand that brain science tells us math is not something you’re born with — you get better with effort,” she said.

Classroom strategies, carried out by teachers who undergo RMIN training, can help students gain confidence in their problem-solving abilities and “grow the mindset where you believe that effort counts,” she said.

Halifax is one of 17 school divisions in the state that take part in the program.

Since its inception, VASS has garnered over $33 million in public and private funding to increase student access and achievement in advanced courses, to provide quality professional development to teachers and administrators, and to conduct educational research for the purpose of improving education in rural communities.

In a statement announcing her promotion as VASS president, Stevens said, “I am honored to know that the board and staff have confidence in my ability to lead us forward, and it is truly a privilege to be a part of an organization with such a critical mission.

“Perhaps more than any time in our state’s history, schools need business and community support to adequately prepare students for the workforce of tomorrow. In its 11-year history, VASS has provided valuable training and resources to well over half of the school divisions in Virginia, and hundreds of thousands of students have had better opportunities as a result. With the tremendous team we have in place, and the great partners who make this work possible, we will accomplish even more in the years to come.”

She and her family live in South Boston. Stevens is a member of Dan River Baptist Church and serves on the board of directors of the local YMCA and YMCA of South Hampton Roads.

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