Monday, September 17, 2018

MCPS Can Now Celebrate and Move Forward

It’s official. The Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors voted to purchase the site for the new Mecklenburg County Middle and High School today at a special meeting. Additionally, they agreed to fund a budget for the new school at $120,000,000.00; the figure that Ballou, Justice, and Upton, our architects, have determined will meet our building needs. This includes the classrooms, space for the six career centers, appropriate gyms and athletic fields, and an auditorium for 1,200. This is a major move forward for Mecklenburg County, in so many ways. 

The obvious winners from this action are the students and staff members in the schools. Most of our readers are aware that the current middle and high schools were all built in the 1950’s. They have served well but are very outdated. Matters related to safety, discipline, appropriate heating and cooling, and typical classroom activities have all changed dramatically, particularly in the past decade. The new facility is designed to take advantage of all the new concepts. 

Students and staff are not the only winners though. This is the most important investment for future economic development that the county could take. Mecklenburg County has several unique features that make it very attractive for business. We have major highways running north and south, east and west. We are very close, and almost exactly halfway between major cities; Richmond and Raleigh/Durham, Washington DC and Charlotte NC, New York and Atlanta. Thanks to the Tobacco Commission and Mid-Atlantic Broadband we have major fiber-optic cables infrastructure connecting us by Internet to the whole world. We are the gateway to the two largest lakes in Virginia and North Carolina. This is good for business as well as tourism. The one thing that has held business back has been the perception that we have a very poor K12 education system.  New buildings and the new career preparation focus of our system will take care of that issue. 

The community as a whole will also benefit greatly. Mecklenburg has been a county divided east and west. There is a very old and wise statement, “United we stand, divided we fall!” Focusing our resources to serve and support our students in this facility will build the strongest foundation to unite our county to its greatest potential. 

Now that the site has been determined and the budget established we can really begin to move forward. There has been much work done toward this goal, and much work yet to do. We set a goal, when we began this process, to move into the new building in August of 2021. We are on schedule for this thanks to the fact that the Architects worked with school staff and community leaders to complete preliminary design stages before we finalized decisions about the site and the budget. There are some months of design details yet to complete before we are ready to bid the project for builders and break ground. During this time, we will begin the process of marketing the new building and programs. This includes engaging students, staff, and the community in the process of selecting new school mascot and team colors. These efforts will take time and effort but will definitely be very exciting for everyone. 

Yes, this is a time for celebration in Mecklenburg! The process of preparing for new middle and high schools has been long and emotional; a major topic of discussion in the community for over two decades. There are many persons to thank for their hard work and patience to bring us to this place. This includes, but is not limited to, the members of the School Board and Board of Supervisors (particularly the Joint Education Committee), county leaders that served on the 2016 School Facilities Study committee, business and civic leaders that contributed advice at architectural planning meetings, and of course, our Mecklenburg county educators who serve on the front line with our students. Thanks to all of you we are going to have new secondary facilities and this will propel our students and community into the 21stCentury very well. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Planning for Education Beyond High School

Mecklenburg County Public Schools will host our 2ndannual College Night program at Bluestone High School on Thursday, September 6th, at 7:00 PM. This is a program for parents and students who are planning for careers that require a degree or certification beyond the high school diploma for a job. The program is available to private and home school students and parents as well as to parents of students attending MCPS. 

Planning for an education beyond the completion of high school is very much more complex than it was at one time. Not that long ago it was a common assumption that any person who completed a Bachelor’s degree would be able to get a good job paying at least middle-class wages. Therefore, one of the primary goals of public education was to prepare as many students as possible for success in getting accepted to college. The number of colleges in the USA increased to take advantage of the demand, and the cost of college increased dramatically to cover the expense of extra services that would make the school more attractive to students. 

Today we find that a variety of technologies have had a significant impact on the jobs available in the workforce, and that technical skills are a greater determining factor in the hiring process than advanced degrees. This doesn’t negate the long-term intrinsic advantage of additional education, but it does force the student and their parents to ask more significant questions about why they pursue further education. Each student should know; why are they going to college, what is the Return on Investment (ROI) for their education funds and effort, when is the best time to pursue further education, and where will they get the best education to fulfill their career goals? 

Dr. Barry Simmons, a former Dean at Virginia Tech will be joining us at Bluestone High School to give some insight to parents about the issues related to seeking higher education. Additional speakers that evening will be:
·     Representative from College Board to discuss the PSAT, SAT, and Advanced Placement course options
·     Representatives from GReat Aspirations Scholarship Program (GRASP) who will discuss financial aid support that will be available to students this year
·     SVCC Career Coaches
·     Representatives from Southside Youth Development Corporation
·     Representatives from local institutions of higher education and programs that support students in their decision making process. 


Today’s students need to focus considerable attention on planning for the career that will fulfill their emotional and financial goals. Parents should be a part of the process along with school counselors and teachers, mentors and role models, and community support representatives. This type of planning should begin as early as possible, no later than 9thgrade. Can you answer the questions posed above? Don’t miss this opportunity to come and engage with experts that will be available to help you create a bright future. 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

MCPS Off To A Good Start for 2018-19

MCPS Off To A Good Start for 2018-19

The 2018-19 school year at MCPS had a very good beginning as the students returned to schools last Monday morning. I had the opportunity to begin the day with the staff to welcome the students at South Hill Elementary School while each of the other administrators from Central Office went out to the other schools. All of the reports on opening day and throughout the week have been very positive. Teachers were well prepared and the students seem to be very pleased to get back into their routine. 

I have attended opening day at South Hill Elementary for several years because this is where we have had the greatest challenge to get the busses and the parent drivers flowing safely in and out of the school’s drop-off zones. Highway 1 and the Old Plank road nearly intersect right in front of the school, thus causing vehicles to get backed up onto both highways easily. We have worked with local police and transportation experts to seek a solution to this issue. This past year we decided to build an extra loop for the parent-drivers. It looks almost like a go-cart track in front of the building, but it works! Many thanks to all the parent drivers that paid attention to the new directions and lanes. I also want to give a big shout of thanks to Chief Bowen and his staff at the South Hill Police Department for their support to make this new plan a successful one.  

So the year with all the academics, athletics, skill development, and opportunities for students to engage the community and learn real-life lessons and skills has begun. It is important at the start to acknowledge the wonderful support given to our schools through the efforts of volunteers, civic organizations and clubs, and parent groups. Our elementary schools have wonderful PTA organizations, lunch buddies, and book buddies. Local grocery stores, vendors and civic groups donate support for meals, clothes, and school supplies for needy students. Booster clubs attend to the needs of our bands and athletic organizations. Retirees in the area volunteer their time to provide tutoring services and technical support for programs like our robotics competition. A number of local organizations create wonderful scholarships to support the continuing education needs of students. There are too many programs to mention, lest we leave some out. Please know that all of this effort is most needed and greatly appreciated. 

Please note that there will be an important meeting for all high school (9 – 12thgrade) students who are planning careers that require a college degree or higher held in the gym at Bluestone High School on Thursday, September 6th, at 7:00 PM. At this meeting participants will hear about college planning activities like the new Advanced Placement classes, SAT test preparation options, programs to support financial aid, and distance education programs. MCPS is very pleased to welcome and introduce our new partners from GRASP (GReat Aspirations Scholarship Program) who will be giving support to seniors in the financial aid process. This program will be available to home school and private school students as well as our own MCPS students. This is an annual event that shifts from year to year between Park View High School and Bluestone High School. We will be sending out more notification in the upcoming weeks and look forward to meeting with everyone there. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Goal Setting for the New School Year

There is great news to share as we begin the 2018-19 school year at Mecklenburg County Public Schools. Just this past week we received official word from the Virginia Department of Education that all 8 of our schools are fully accredited. For several years now we have had as many as three schools partially accredited. Last year, due to the hard work of our teachers and students, all of our schools hit the mark for full accreditation. 

This is not the only point of success that we celebrate from last year as we begin this new school year. Other goals accomplished last year include but are not limited to: 
·     An 11% increase in the number of students that are moving from elementary school to middle school reading on or above grade level.
·     A 74% increase in the number of industry credentials that our high school students have earned by successfully completing skill development programs and passing industry tests. 
·     Both high schools are adding Advanced Placement classes to our curriculum this year. AP classes are being taught in English, social studies, math, and sciences. 
·     All of our career and technical classes have now become a part of one of the six career centers that will direct students to their future career of choice.
·     Each of the career centers have created critical partnerships with local business and industry that will give guidance to student career preparation.
·     All rising 9thgrade students have created a five-year career pathway that sets the course of their academic and skill development through high school. This pathway can, of course, be modified as they continue to evolve with their career goals.

These steps were accomplished in no small degree due to the fact that they were set as primary goals for the school year. Setting concrete goals is one of the most important steps toward success that any person or organization can take. How else will one know if you are being successful? 

Goals for our students over most of the past two decades has been focused on student success in passing the Standard of Learning (SOL) tests. This is no longer the case. You will notice that the above list of success for our schools includes goals in skill development, career planning, and student interaction with local business. These goals constitute the four focus areas of Virginia’s Profile of a Graduate educational expectations. This was discussed in last week’s blog. This year each school will have to set goals for their students that will show a growth measurement in each of the four areas: content knowledge, workplace skills, community engagement, and career exploration. (See attached chart.) 



School accreditation will now be based on the school’s success in attaining these goals. Each year every school, and the division, will have to set new goals. 


MCPS is very proud of the success attained in the 2017-18 school year by our students and the schools. We are looking forward to another successful year in 2018-19, particularly with the ongoing support of our community!  



Saturday, July 28, 2018

The 2018-19 MCPS School Year Begins

The 2018-2019 school year for Mecklenburg County Public Schools begins this week. It’s hard to believe that the summer vacation is over but we must remember that our summer began on May 18th, before Memorial Day! The school year for students in 180 days no matter what month we begin or end. On Wednesday of this week, August 1st, new teachers will join us to begin their special introduction and preparation. All the rest of our staff will join us next Monday, August 6th, for our opening Convocation ceremony, and then get down to business with professional development and work days throughout the week. Students begin on Monday, August 13th.

There is much to be excited about this school year as we move our education program more and more toward our new focus on preparing students to be more well-rounded and ready for careers of the 21stCentury. Yes, we still have some SOL tests that will continue to drive much of the content that is taught, but there is a much stronger emphasis on engaging each student with a focus on how the information they are learning will be used in the real world rather than just preparing to pass a test. This comes through significant introduction to real jobs at the elementary level, exploration of careers at the middle school, and engagement with career or college preparation activities in high school. And in addition to academic content, students will now have a stronger focus on the development of work preparation skills, including soft skills such as learning why it is important to dress appropriately for the workplace, get to work on time, and positively present oneself to the public. This is all a part of the emphasis on the “5 C’s” of success for graduation: Critical thinking, Creative thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Citizenship. In fact, this year’s 9thgrade class, and those who follow, will be working on a different set of expectations to earn a High School Diploma than the 10th, 11th, and 12thgrade students. The new requirements include requirements that show mastery of each of the 5 C’s. 

We are also very excited that the planning and development of the new middle and high schools is beginning to gain traction and move forward. There were many critical decisions that had to be worked through and agreed upon by members of both the School Board and the Board of Supervisors during the 2017-18 school year. We have now identified a site, secured funding, hired an Architectural firm, and have first renderings of the building that teachers, business leaders, and representatives of the community are studying. During this school year we look forward to breaking ground on the site and are very hopeful to move into the new building at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year. 

There is much work yet to be done to prepare for the new school year. Many thanks to all the school staff and to so many persons in the community that give so much effort to get our schools ready and who support our students in so many ways. The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” has never been more true. We look forward to a great year working toward this goal with each of our wonderful communities in Mecklenburg county this year. 

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 http://www.roanoke.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-frank-assessments/article_0f915eed-e971-5155-bb50-7ef6d91a0284.html  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 https://youtu.be/dHJFcAiJrMs

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.