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Halifax County School Board shelves Governor’s School

SoVaNow.com / January 16, 2014
Participation in the Regional Governor’s School at Southside Virginia Community College is out for Halifax County students in the 2014-15 school year. On Monday school trustees once again voted to table discussion indefinitely on the issue which has been before the board several times recently.

By tabling the matter it can be brought back any time that trustees ask that two –thirds of the board approve its reconsideration.

However, after Monday’s long discussion Superintendent of Schools Dr. Merle Herndon advised trustees that she will notify Del. James Edmunds to pull Halifax County’s name from the pool seeking appropriations for state funds for Governor’s School. Herndon said she would also call officials at Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC) to thank them for their offer of providing a van to transport students from the high school to the college, noting that Halifax will not be participating in Governor’s School during the coming year.

The move to table the matter followed a nearly hour long discussion after trustees on a 7-1 vote moved to once again address the issue. Only ED-8 trustee Walter Potts opposed opening the discussion.

Prior to their discussion one citizen, Chris Parker, told trustees that he had asked to speak to them to advocate for Governor’s School. Parker, a local graduate who attended Governor’s School while at HCHS, is now a vice president of Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville..

“Governor’s School,” Parker said, “is worth its weight in gold. It’s a positive influence; something special where you meet people from other areas and make lifelong friends. I can’t say enough good about it.”

Herndon advised trustees that she had been in contact with Kent Dickey of the state department of education about possible funds for those schools participating in Governor’s School. She said she was unsure exactly how the funds would be directed — whether they came to the school system or went to the college where the school is located.

Herndon also reviewed the offer by SVCC to lease a seven passenger van to the school for $1 per year, as well as paying for the gas, maintenance and repairs. “All we had to do was pay the driver (estimated at $10,000 to $12,000 plus pay insurance of $300 to $400).

Herndon pointed out that sending five students, one of which is already enrolled in the local health academy and would not go to SVCC until the final year. That would leave four slots and if filled by STEM participants, the cost to the school would be about $8,000, plus the cost of the driver and the insurance ($16,000). (The tuition for STEM students at Governor’s School is $1,839 while the cost for students in the humanities is $4,651.)

Herndon pointed out that she felt Halifax had to start small with only five students participating in the special school, but which would increase to nine in the second year.

“This program gives us another opportunity to offer a comprehensive program for our top students so why wouldn’t we do it?” she asked.

Potts responded that he was unsure of the state funding for Governor’s School participants. “I keep hearing many ifs, assuming we’re going to get something – but it sounds like a pig in a poke to me.”

Furthermore Potts said he had a problem assuming that all the students would choose the STEM studies over the humanities which he considered to be totally unfair.

Addressing the Superintendent Potts said, “I resent your putting members of this board in the position of not wanting to participate in Governor’s School when we simply cannot afford it.”

ED-5 trustee Roger Long made a different point. “Every time a student leaves a Halifax County school we lose some $9,000 (based on average daily membership funds). We need a more comprehensive program,” Long said.

ED-1 trustee Phyllis Smith questioned Secondary Education Supervisor Frosty Owen about how the school system had managed to pay for the program, sending 20 to 22 students annually, before it was discontinued four years ago.

Owen reminded Smith of the cuts of both federal and state funds the locality has suffered over the past several years.

Board Chairman Kim Farson said she remembers well the comments made by the top graduates a few years back who said Governor’s School had been a wonderful experience for them. “I feel it is a disservice not to offer this opportunity to our students,” Farson said.

But Terry responded that spending the money to send four or five students to Governor’s School would be a greater disservice to those students who didn’t get to go and have other needs. “We have some real needs such as help with the SOL tests and having enough paper for teachers to make lesson copies for their students.”

Finally Potts reminded his fellow board members that just last week during a budget work session it showed that the schools would need an additional $3 million in local funds over those included in this year’s budget. “We’re already $3 million down.” Potts said.

In other business Herndon said she is working with Halifax County Administrator Jim Halasz to get started on work to renovate a back section of the STEM Center in Halifax where the school’s alternative education program will be housed. No cost figures are available yet, she said, but she added, “I’ve already told Mr. Halasz that we don’t have any money.”

Responding to a request from Maintenance Director Larry Roller, trustees approved plans for letting bids to replace the roof over the C wing and vocational wing at the High School and upgrading the HVAC system there, as well as the removal of asbestos in floor tiles at Sinai and Sydnor Jennings elementary schools.

Estimates show the cost of the work coming in around $753,000. Roller said the school system has $954,355 in capital improvement funds available to pay for the work. He advised that he feels that by getting early bids on the work for the summer, he will get better prices.

Herndon also advised that SVCC in partnership with Region 8 schools and the local Workforce Investment Board and Virginia State University will apply for a Youth Career Connect grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The program which will serve 40 to 50 students starts in the summer of a student’s sophomore year with education and training focusing on occupational and industry needs. The program continues to follow the same students through their junior and senior high school years and then through their first year of college or employment.

Herndon explained that since local students would go to the Southern Virginia Higher Ed Center for their training there would be little added expense in participating since the only transportation would involve one week of summer training there. The grant would cover the cost of tuition, books and supplies.

Trustees also approved the guidelines for awarding credit for previous experience to new hires in critical areas as sought by assistant superintendent Valdivia Marshall.

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Comments

Good, waste of money, so is dual enrollement classes. People need to stop falling in the trap of feel good programs and save money.

Comments

Not so much a waste of money. Not having governor's school or the dual enrollment program (or a viable vo-tech program) puts HC kids at an automatic disadvantage compared to surrounding counties that participate.

The auto tech instructors at DCC have told me that it often takes them half the year to get HC kids up to speed compared to a Pittsylvania or Caswell County NC kid who has already had the basics in the high school vo-tech programs. But what do these HPS admin pinheads do every time money gets tight? Vocational ed is the first thing to feel the ax- when, realistically, exorbitant admin salaries should be cut way before any educational program is cut.

I still say HCPS is not getting its money's worth compared to what superintendents in surrounding counties are paid.

Comments

I agree on admin pay, but if an instructor can't get kids up to speed that does not mean that a dual enrollment class is going to help. Pittsylvania, has admin that cares about the kids, they have a CTE Director that has a real CTE program (new term for Vo-tech) they have a building on 29 that is devoted to that purpose. Here in halifax they cut auto shop an put in race car junk! Cut weilding and ag classes, small engine repair. It is crazy, and ever time an election comes around the people vote the same ones in that don't do a thing

Comments

Amen to a "viable vo-tech program". I think about the statistics of how many college graduates need jobs and then I think about how many times I've hired a licensed handyman/plumber/electrician/hvac technician and had to pay for crappy work. It sure would be nice to have some more people to choose from that know the basics like attention to detail and taking pride in the work they sign their name to. Instead we're getting a bunch of college educated idiots that think a ballcock is slang for human anatomical terminology.

Comments

Even in the 1970s when I was at HCSHS, vocational and career education was low priority for them. Ag and industrial arts for boys, and home ec for girls were it. If you weren't headed to a big-name four year school the guidance department was simply not interested in you, and that mindset started at the top. It got even worse when they had a student accepted at Harvard.

HCPS has seemingly never understood the importance of educating tradespeople- the people who keep modern life running for Harvard graduates who cannot change a light switch or repair a faucet in their own home.


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