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High school curriculum gets career makeover / April 11, 2019

The Halifax County School Board got a first look Monday night at a new program of studies for the high school that in terms of ambition might match the board’s call to build a new, $100 million HCHS facility.

The still-under-development curriculum aims to prepare students for careers in fields ranging from health and medical sciences to computer coding and business marketing. It would rebrand HCHS as a “School for Career Development and County Revitalization.”

“We’re reimagining our high school. This is something we’ve been working on for a long time,” said HCHS Principal Michael Lewis, who together with Superintendent Mark Lineburg and Career and Technical Education (CTE) Coordinator Debra Woltz presented the initiative to trustees.

“We want to be the best high school in Virginia, be the most innovative ... A lot of this stuff is conceptual right now, but we want to bring it into the future,” said Lewis.

HCHS is ready to go with implementation of the first of its new career-track programs — the School of Health & Medical Science. Set to debut next school year, the program would be open to freshmen and sophomores who could earn standard or advanced diplomas. The typical four-year course of study would expose students to job fields such as EMT responder, pharmacy tech, sports medicine and others.

Woltz said the idea behind rolling out only the one program next year is to “start small,” but in time HCHS would add other schools-within-the school:

» Law, Public Safety and Administration

» Human Services, Hospitality and Education

» Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)

» Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources

» Business, Finance and Marketing

» Manufacturing, Trade and Industry

Many of the subject areas already are taught at the high school, but Lineburg said the goal is to develop an “integrated curriculum” that would move away from traditional teaching methods and classroom conventions in favor of an emphasis on project-based, real-world learning.

“We’re still using an [educational] industry model from 1859,” said Lineburg.

The proposed overhaul of the curriculum connects indirectly to the plan for a new high school — one of the program’s pillars is “redesigned learning spaces that accommodate flexible, student-centered grouping and learning tasks” — but trustees expressed support for the plan on educational terms alone.

“We talk a lot about facilities [but] it’s this kind of innovation that can make Halifax County exciting to people on the outside,” said ED-2 trustee Roy Keith Lloyd.

Added Board Chair Joe Gasperini: “This is all about getting students more engaged in things they’re interested in. When they’re engaged, they learn better.”

In presenting the plan, Lineburg brought up the findings of a 2016 Gallup survey that show only about a third of students are engaged in school by the 11th grade. In the same poll, as few as 17 percent said they had learned anything in the past seven days.

“By the time you get to high school there’s a tremendous dropoff” in student interest in a program of studies that’s “an inch deep and 10 miles wide,” said Lineburg. The new approach would continue to require mastery in basics such as English, but instead of teaching Shakespeare, students might be assigned readings that tie into their chosen field of career study.

School trustees raised several concerns: Vice Chair Sandra Garner-Coleman said she doesn’t want to see any student excluded from what she worried would be a “glorified magnet school,” ED-1 trustee Orey Hill questioned whether “we’re putting a whole lot of emphasis on kids in the eighth grade to say what they want to do with their lives,” and several members questioned the cost of the program and the capability of the high school to effectively teach such diverse classroom material.

In the health and medical sciences school alone, students could study everything from medical billing to massage therapy.

Lewis and Woltz sought to allay their concerns. Addressing the budget implications, Lewis said “hopefully we don’t have to ask for any additional [funding]” or place “any burden on taxpayers or the School Board.” He also said administrators and teachers have been working on the new curriculum for nearly two years, giving considerable thought to the demands it will place on the faculty.

Woltz added that teachers have joined “robust discussions over the past year” on how to carry out the proposed changes.

“Certainly there are going to be some bumps in the road with staff development, but staff has been a huge part of this process from the beginning,” said Lewis.

Woltz also noted that, in response to Coleman’s concerns about the program’s inclusiveness, “there will be a pathway for everybody.” Educators realize high school students may not have any idea what they want to do after graduation, but the new curriculum will attempt to engage their interest in academics rather than see their interest in school drop off altogether. As far asking students to commit to a certain program, Woltz said, “they can change anytime they want.”

Lineburg talked about an existing model for the new program of studies: Teach for Tomorrow, which has an enrollment of some 20 students, eight of whom have completed the program and are ready to go to work in internship roles in the classroom.

The school division is further helping the students continue their education studies, and in return they will go to work for Halifax County Public Schools after they come out of college. “We’re trying to model [Teach for Tomorrow] for our partners in the business community,” said Lineburg.

The changes align with the Virginia Department of Education’s Portrait of a Graduate initiative, in which standardized testing is downgraded in importance and schools are encouraged to focus more on marketable skills outside the classroom.

“The model with high schools is isolation of subject matter. What we want to do is break that,” said Lineburg.

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Sounds like it could be useful to educate the kids on job skills but the only downside is most would leave this area to get higher paying jobs. A shame we cannot get some industry in here so we could keep our young people. A $100,000,000 building wont help either.


This is just smoke an mirrors. Business and Finance classes have been in the high school since I was a student their in the 70s Personal finance is a graduation requirement and has been for years. CTE has declined since Woltz took over. Look at the programs that they did aways with. Traditional auto mechanics for race car building!?!?! Metal working, electrical trades, building trades. This article truly shows that the people have no clue what is going on in education. How many know that Atif Qarni the state secretary of education was endorsed by muslim groups that support ISIS and the Muslim brotherhood? Yet people vote for these idiots that put people in power that want to destroy us.


It's finally good to see the administration looking at the curriculum and bring it into the 21st century. The "rebranding" of HCHS doesn't require a new building however. The building surely needs attention and maintenance but the education that is being provided inside is what matters the most. It's a shame for current seniors graduating that the administration is just now getting around to modernizing the course offerings in an obvious ploy to get voters to go along with a $100 million new facility.


Dear Educate, this is just smoke an mirrors. These courses have been offered off and on forever. Since the SOL;s came out all they have done is teach to the test while they lie and say they don't. Until the voters have the guts to question this stuff and put people on the school board that will buck the career people nothing will change. Whenever we do get a person that does the career people say oh you know nothing about education and the cycle continues. They think that the electorate will swallow anything and sadly most believe what the government tells them SMDH it is so sad.

VERY INTERESTING, COINCIDENCE—NOT HARDLY. Hey they got a Nitt Witt too. It appears they have a playbook. Courthouse first then school construction then demoloshion of the county finances and raise taxes. Somebody is filling up their pockets. Can loose a lot of money out of one hundred million?????$$$$$$$$$$$


Daniel Witt was the final recommendation by the Berkeley Group who assisted Charlotte County in reviewing and screening applicants. Prior to working as County Admin for Charlotte he was employed as the Assistant Town Manager of Altavista, VA. Witt has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Master's Degree in Public Administration from Va Tech in 2002. On paper he looks great, but coming from a small town where nothing much has changed in the last 20 years and is really only known for one really good restaurant, it seems he ill equipped to manage Charlotte County. Keep in mind the Berkeley Group has been hired to find the next director of the Halifax IDA, my guess is they will find someone with a good pedigree but likely yield lackluster results when handcuffed by the Halifax BOS.

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