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Martinsville High School receives $4K grant
To start aquaponics program
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Gianna Clark (right), Dominion Foundation vice president of customer service operations, presents a ceremonial $4,000 grant to Martinsville School Board Chairman Robert Williams (center) and Superintendent Pam Heath on Monday during the city school board meeting. (Contributed photo)
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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville High School (MHS) on Monday received a $4,000 grant from the Dominion Foundation for an aquaponics program.

The award, which was presented by Dominion’s vice president of customer service operations, Gianna Clark, will be used to purchase a 400-gallon tank where ecology classes will raise tilapia. The students will use the wastewater to grow hydroponic plants (plants that are grown in water without soil).

The tank will be housed in the school’s greenhouse, which will be assembled in the fall. Blue Ridge Aquaculture has agreed to donate tilapia fingerlings and offer technical assistance to get the project started.

The aquaponics project is meant to teach students about environmentally sustainable growing methods through project-based learning, according to a city schools release. By selling what they raise, the students also will be able to learn about agribusiness and marketing.

Clark presented the award during Monday night’s school board meeting at the city council chambers.

Also during the meeting, the board made changes to a policy regarding the administering of non-prescription medicine for high school students. Under the proposed plan, students in grades 9-12 would not need to have doctor’s orders to be given a non-prescription medicine. However, their parents would have to sign a permission slip authorizing that the students be given the non-prescription medicine if they went to the school office and requested it.

Additionally, all non-prescription medicine would need to be brought to the school by the parents to be kept in the office for their children. Students would be authorized only to take the medicine that is held at the office under their names.

School board member Dr. Craig Dietrich raised concerns that the policy might be unnecessarily convoluted for the school office staff, as they potentially could be responsible for roughly 400 individual bottles of the same over-the-counter medicine.

Schools Superintendent Pam Heath said the office staff is willing to try the new policy, and the board voted to pass the policy with the understanding that it will be reviewed in December to see if it has worked effectively.

The school board also passed a resolution supporting a lawsuit brought by the Virginia School Boards Association and the Norfolk City School Board against the Opportunity Educational Institution (OEI).

Earlier this year, the General Assembly enacted legislation, which was approved by Gov. Bob McDonnell, to create the OEI, which has the authority to take over the supervision and operation of public schools that have been denied accreditation.

The lawsuit argues that the OEI is unconstitutional, as it usurps the role of school boards in supervising and managing public schools.

Also at the meeting, the board:

• Heard presentations from a number of Martinsville students about the school-related projects that they did over summer break. The student presenters discussed their summer reading; SEMAA (Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy) camp; NASA STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) camp; and robotics camp.

• Heard from Martinsville/Henry County NAACP leader Naomi Hodge-Muse, who told the board she would like to see a greater level of transparency between the school board and the public.

• Held a preliminary discussion of changes to the Virginia Retirement System disability plans.

• Held a closed session to discuss employee matters and pupil personnel matters.

According to board clerk Janie Fulcher, the school board took no action, made no appointments and took no resignations after emerging from the closed session.


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