Wednesday, September 13, 2017

MCPS partners with Go VA for economic development

Go Virginia (GoVA) is an initiative led by business leaders in Virginia that has identified specific barriers to economic development, region by region. Mecklenburg County is a part of region 3, along with the other southern VA rural counties that have suffered significant economic downturn for several decades. One example of our economic challenges is that average household income in our region is less than $35,000. per year while the average annual household income for Virginia is near $55,000. GoVA's goal for Region 3 is to identify the specific issues that create this problem and work together as business and education leaders with state government to overcome the barriers. 
An editorial was published in the Roanoke Times that gives a very good introduction to GoVA. It can be found at  You will notice that Southside (Region 3) issues are prominently identified as examples. It is worth the time to read. 
Mecklenburg County Public Schools actively partners with GoVA in identifying the problems related to education and is making changes in our system to give students the foundation for success. This education reform focuses appropriately on career literacy, skill and credential development, advanced academics, and community interaction; the four pillars of "portrait of a graduate." 
An education in computer coding / computer science is one example of the type of change required in K12 schools identified in the GoVA initiative. MCPS was very fortunate to have Senator Warner introduce the partnership we have secured with CodeVA, Microsoft, and the Tobacco Commission to support this initiative. See Senator Warner's address at Clarksville Elementary School on the YouTube video below. Many thanks to the businesses, civic groups, churches, and local government officials that are partnering with MCPS to make this effort a success for our children
The video is available at

Friday, July 21, 2017

Special Program for University-Bound Students

Mecklenburg County Public Schools (MCPS) will be holding a special meeting for students that are considering careers that require a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctorate Degree to be considered for employment. The meeting will be held at Park View High School on Tuesday, July 25th at 7:00 PM in the gym. This meeting is open to all Mecklenburg County students and parents considering career goals of this type, inclusive of private school and homeschool students.

Does the first sentence of that last paragraph sound strange? Why does it not simply state “college-bound students” rather than “students considering careers that require a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctorate Degree?” The reason is simple. Completing a degree, or advanced degrees, does not guarantee opportunities for employment. In fact, an estimated 70% of the jobs currently in high demand in our economy do not require a Bachelor’s Degree or higher. When one considers the very high cost associated with higher education it becomes critical that students and their parents consider the return on investment (ROI) for their time and money.

When careful career planning indicates that a student will need to complete university degree(s) to fulfill their goals, then there are many components of college preparation to consider. This includes:
·      What are the most rigorous academic classes that I should take to prepare for the demands of college classes?
·      What is the importance of Grade Point Average (GPA)?
·      How important are PSAT and SAT tests? When and where are they given? How do I prepare for these?
·      What does college cost and how do I plan for the long term expense?
·      How do I consider public vs. private college opportunities?
·      What else do I need consider to be well prepared?

Mecklenburg County Public Schools will have experts available to talk to students and parents about these issues at this meeting. These experts represent College Board, Community College, Private and Public Universities, and financial advisors. We will also discuss the college preparatory opportunities and expectations for students that attend our schools.

If you are a high school student with visions of a career requiring a university degree, or parent of that student, then please feel free to join us for this presentation.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Almost Time to Begin the 2017-18 School Year

The 2017-18 school year will begin in just a month. It’s hard to believe that the students in Mecklenburg County Public Schools (MCPS) have been out since before Memorial Day in May. Many comment on how early school starts, and it is true, but keep in mind that students still attend only 180 days a year so the time off is the same. We begin early because it is important for the fall semester to be as long as the spring, and that it be done by Christmas break so exams won’t come after a holiday.

As we prepare for the new school year to begin there are a few thoughts to keep in mind. MCPS is committed to serve each of our students with educational opportunities that will prepare them for success with their future. Success is no longer defined only by passing an SOL test. Today we know that a student must have a thorough understanding of what career opportunities are available, must be prepared with a strong academic foundation, must have an understanding of the importance of achieving specific skill credentials, and must have opportunities to appropriately engage in job and community activities. There are millions of high-paying jobs available for students who are well prepared in these four areas.

When I talk to business representatives about the preparation of students they all express a common concern that far too many of our youth do not demonstrate the “soft skills” necessary for success. Soft skills are defined as “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.” From the employer’s perspective this includes:
·         * An understanding that the employee represents the business and not just their own self interest
·         * Respect for management
·         * An ability to work well with fellow employees
·         * An ability to engage the public well
·         * Arriving to work on time every day unless there is a medical situation or family emergency
·         * Arriving to work dressed appropriately for the job to be done
·         * An understanding of appropriate behavior and language for the work environment
·         * An understanding of appropriate use of personal technology and social media on the job

In order to be prepared for these expectations in their future careers, the students must have opportunities to learn and demonstrate these responsibilities in school. Our School Board has adopted a discipline policy that outlines expectations of cooperation, discipline, respect, appropriate dress, and behavior in school. Teachers and administration will reinforce these policies because they directly reflect the expectations for future career success. Grades are not given for discipline, dress, tardiness, or absenteeism but data is kept for future employers to review and consider for job shadowing or real employment opportunity. Awards can be earned for positive and respectful behavior. There will be fair and appropriate consequences for lack of attention to the expectations outlined in the discipline code.

Copies of this year’s discipline policy are now available online at A copy of the dress code only, that can be printed for shopping purposes, is available at Hard copies will be distributed and reviewed when students return to school. We want to make parents aware now as they shop for new clothes and begin talking with their children about expectations in the school year. Please review this information on expectations for student conduct and attendance. Together we can provide an excellent learning opportunity for every student in our school.

Finally, there will be a special meeting on Tuesday, July 25th for high school parents and students who have selected a career pathway that requires university degree(s) for employment. Representatives from College Board, the SVCC dual enrollment program, and local universities will present important information about preparing for success in college. The meeting will be held at Park View High School beginning at 7:00 PM in the gym. We can only get the representatives to one meeting. Next year Bluestone High School will host the program.

Please note that this meeting is planned for all college-bound high school students and their parents. Homeschool students are invited as we will discuss college preparatory testing programs and opportunities that are available through our public school system.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Historic Moment for MCPS: BE BOLD!

Mecklenburg County is on the verge of a wonderful opportunity that will have an incredible and historic impact on the future of all its citizens; we are about to build new 21st Century middle and high schools. The Board of Supervisors and School Board held a joint meeting last Thursday, July 21st, to receive the final report on this project from Crabtree Rohrbaugh Associates & Architects (CRA&A.) The report outlined recommendations of the Steering Committee toward this goal. This study was very community focused; having two public hearings to gather information, two separate online surveys to gather public perception, and four information sessions throughout the county to seek public input and report on findings. The local press has done an outstanding job of following and reporting the process. After hearing the report, and entertaining questions and discussion about the results, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion to allow the School Board to determine the best course of action to take to move forward with new construction. The School Board’s final recommendation, determined by a vote at a special session on Tuesday, July 26th, will have to go back to the Board of Supervisors for approval.

The original charge of the Board of Supervisors to the Steering Committee was three fold: (this list is a summary of the actual language)
  • ·      To determine if current middle and high schools are adequate to support the educational programs needed to prepare students for 21st Century jobs and careers.
  • ·      To determine what changes are necessary to create this environment.
  • ·      To determine what option will most adequately meet the goals while being fiscally responsible to the needs of the larger community.

It took very little time to determine that the current facilities are anything but adequate for this charge. The schools were built in the 1950’s with the goal of providing an education that prepares students for jobs of the Industrial Age rather than the Information Age and the global economy. Facility engineers determined that to update the current facilities to meet current state and federal building code would cost more than the price of new buildings, and cost even more to accomodate new educational expectations.

The Virginia Department of Education and the state Legislature have identified the educational programs needed to prepare students for the 21st Century as they push schools to engage students with the goals of “Portrait of a Graduate” and “High School Redesign”. I have written extensively about these goals in former newspaper articles and online blogs.  Just last week at the Virginia School Board Associations education conference Governor McAuliffe charged trustees from around the state to “Be bold with your action to create the schools that will prepare students for this new economy.” He spoke of tens of thousands of high-tech jobs in cyber-security, advanced manufacturing, healthcare and STEM fields that are unfilled in Virginia because our students are not fully prepared when we focus only on passing SOL tests. The Mecklenburg County School’s plan; developing career centers within our secondary schools, focusing on career literacy from Pre-K throughout high school, and developing critical partnerships with local business for real-world experiences, is considered one of the most comprehensive plans to achieve this in Virginia. Understand that this is a completely different vision for schools. Students in this education process engage constructively and constantly in the learning process rather than sit passively while teachers lecture and do most of the work. It is an incredible opportunity to be able to build appropriate structures for this new education process.

The question that has captured the attention of the steering committee and the community is whether this goal is achieved best with one comprehensive middle and high school complex or two. There are advantages and disadvantages to both and these have been thoroughly examined. Emotions run high on both sides. For some the greatest priority is to build two so that the facilities will be close to the individual communities that they serve. For others the emphasis should be on the availability of all programs to all students equally. We must keep in mind that we have an opportunity for unity and synergy for our students and county when we work together for the good of all. We can now be one strong county rather than a people divided by strife and competition.  

It has historically been very difficult to create new programs in both schools because of limited funding and limited number of students to begin programs. Currently, students who are interested in participating in some career programs, advanced technology classes, and JROTC must make the choice to travel to the other school to do so. The six career centers planned as a central component of our 21st Century education plan were designed to function in one or be split between the two with three at one end and three at the other. Students who plan careers that fall within a career center located at the other school would need to be transported.

Fiscal responsibility to the county was the third focus of the steering committee. CRA&A worked closely with County Administrator Wayne Carter to estimate the cost of each building concept. Final figures are calculated to add $.07 in local taxes for a comprehensive center that is expected to cost around $100 million. Two facilities are estimated to cost between $140 million and $155 million, depending on whether we reuse portions of the current Park View HS facilities for the Middle School or if the middle school is rebuilt completely. This option will add to local taxes between $.12 and $.15. This cost estimate is for the building only. It does not include the cost of the land or water and sewer connections. Long term cost of maintenance, heating, cooling, and transportation were also estimated and presented showing expected operational savings for the county for one center.

All of these options give Mecklenburg County and students the opportunity to become one of the leading school divisions in the state and perhaps the nation. National business leaders have looked at our comprehensive plan for 21st Century Schools and the option to build comprehensive new buildings as the perfect synergy for a rural community, stating “This is the best return on investment (ROI) possible. You prepare students for the careers of the future and create programs that any professional parent would be proud for their child to attend.”  

There is a reality yet to be considered; a reality that I as a Superintendent have focused on since conversation first began about new schools this year. The facilities constructed will be only as good as the teachers and programs that we have inside. This issue has been reflected in all of the public hearings as well. We must raise teacher and staff salaries from where they currently exist as the lowest in the region.  I will propose to the School Board that we submit a plan to raise our teacher salaries by an average $2,000.00 so that they are at least average in southern Virginia. Instructional Aides, cafeteria workers, maintenance workers, school nurses, and bus drivers will also see an increase. We project that we can do this for an additional $.03 increase in taxes.

The steering committee came to a consensus that a consolidated school was the best option to meet the three criteria given for new schools. This is the recommendation that will be taken to the School Board on Tuesday evening, July 26th, at their special Board session. The nine members of the Board will vote to determine which building option to submit to the Board of Supervisors for final approval to move forward. There is no doubt that the Board vote will reflect some division about what final option will serve the community best. We need to keep in mind that either option is a win-win for us all so that we can move forward with final plans and building. It is possible that new facilities will be in place for students in August/September of 2019. This will be the most important investment for the citizens and students of Mecklenburg County for the next century.  It’s time to BE BOLD and make the most of this opportunity by working together after the final decision is made on Tuesday night.