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Schools focus on student readiness
Heath says city will help students choose best path to career
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
No matter what future accountability standards are imposed, Martinsville schools will strive to prepare students for whatever they want to do after they graduate, according to Superintendent Pam Heath.
“Not everyone needs a four-year college degree,” she told the Martinsville School Board on Monday. She said she based that comment on comments she has heard from local economic development officials and business leaders.
“I say that with hesitancy,” she said, because in the past, some students have been told they were not college material.
“That’s unacceptable,” Heath said, adding that students must be nurtured so they know they have an opportunity to succeed at their higher education and/or career goals.
Her remarks were in response to Virginia recently receiving a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind laws and uncertainty over what accountability standards for student achievement schools may face in the future.
Heath said federal officials cannot come to agreement on standards.
“We’re going to teach the kids and let the politics work out the way it will,” she said. She indicated that if achievement test scores decline in the future, the schools will have to worry about it then — not now.
Heath said the schools are working on various collaborative efforts “to build a pipeline for a seamless transition for students” from high school to either a career or higher education.
That includes dual enrollment agreements with Patrick Henry Community College and Virginia State University via the New College Institute (NCI).
“There are some careers where students can start early,” before they earn four-year degrees, if they even need such a degree, Heath said.
An example is industrial engineering. NCI recently launched an Academy for Engineering and Technology, which is developing a curriculum that can help high schoolers earn certificates that can help them get jobs with high-tech companies after they graduate. Later, they could earn other certificates or degrees that could help them get better jobs, officials have said.
“Everyone who finishes high school is not going to go to college,” maybe as a result of their own choosing, said board member J.C. Richardson Jr.
Schools need trade programs, such as plumbing, to help such students find ways to earn a living, Richardson said.
Heath and board member Carolyn McCraw agreed.
“We want to prepare them to do what they want to do and give them the tools” (skills) they need to do it, Heath said.
She said the city schools also are helping students prepare for jobs of the future by focusing on project-based learning that includes problem-solving.
Project-based learning is being taught at all levels, including the elementary grades, Heath said. A project that younger students might participate in, she noted, is creating a fish tank. Students figure out what type of fish to put in the tank as well as food and water additives the fish need to be healthy.
McCraw, a former high school teacher, said students must understand the relevance of what they learn in school.
Heath said students must start preparing for careers in middle school or sooner because employers are looking at them as potential workers earlier.
For instance, she said, when pupils visit businesses on field trips, executives are noticing which ones pay close attention to what they are being told. That is because they want to know which ones will make good interns, she added.
Also Monday, the school board heard from the Rev. Tyler Millner of Axton and Naomi Hodge-Muse, president of the Martinsville-Henry County NAACP, who voiced concerns over school system employment matters.
Among various issues he commented on, Millner asked if the predominantly black system has an “affirmative action” plan and why no new teachers hired for the current school year are black.
Zeb Talley, formerly co-principal of Martinsville Middle School, recently was transferred to Patrick Henry Elementary School, where he is now principal. Although she did not mention Talley — who is black — by name, Hodge-Muse said that to transfer a principal from a middle school to an elementary school amounts to a demotion.
Hodge-Muse said the system’s efforts to put more minorities in the central office are not being publicized.
After the meeting, Heath said she has spoken with Millner and Hodge-Muse privately but declined to discuss the hiring issues further.
Heath said, however, that “all actions we have taken (in regard to recent hiring decisions) have been totally legal, ethical and appropriate.”