Sandy Strayer and Francis Zehr

Henry County Public Schools Superintendent Sandy Strayer and School Board Chairman Francis Zehr

The Henry County School Board approved Thursday spending up to $345,000 on a 3-year system for professional learning and leadership to buiild and sustain a culture of STEM teaching and learning.

That system emphasizes critical thinking, asking questions and hands-on learning and projects, rather than just memorizing answers, and helps students build problem-solving skills and apply solutions to real-world challenges, proponents have said.

STEM generally is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math, but in this case STEM also is an acronym for Students and Teachers, Energizing Minds.

The school board approved purchasing the system — called Discovery Education STEMformation — from Discovery Education using up to $345,000 in fiscal year 2019 and annual payments from the next two school budgets.

This system “includes robust STEM professional development, ongoing job-embedded coaching and administrative leadership,” a school board document states. And it would create a partnership “to create a shared STEM vision” that would develop educators and administrators, cultivate “inquiry-based instruction;” and prepare a future workforce.

Lisa Millner, the school division’s assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said the system would begin at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School with eight teachers, who, according to a school board document, would become trainers and mentors for their colleagues.

Superintendent Sandy Strayer said some observers who have visited the school division have described it as technology-rich in the resources it provides. However, she said, an issue is that some staff have the technology but haven’t been trained in how to use it. This program would help to remedy that.

Strayer also said this system would help to engage and to energize students through questions and hands-on learning that retains information. Businesses and industries tell school division officials they want students to be able to apply what they have learned, she said.

Srayer said the contract for the system also has an option that would allow it to be expanded to other schools.

Strayer said other school divisions that use this system say it really works.

“Anything that Discovery offers is so engaging,” she said. “Their textbooks are phenomenal.”

Thomas Auker, vice chair of the school board, expressed support for the system.”I think it’s a good program. It will help the student who is struggling. ... It’s a hands-on type approach. I think that’s excellent,” he said.

School Board member Joe DeVault asked if the administration at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School supports this system. and Millner said the school’s administration is very excited.

The motion passed unanimously, but members Terri Flanagan and Merris Stambaugh were absent.

Thursday’s meeting was a special, called session to address final expenses for 2018-10, and to that end the board unanimously:

  • Approved end-of-the-year payrolls and other obligations at an estimated cost of $17,145,443.
  • Awarded a contract for food supplies to Sysco Virginia at an estimated cost of $1,490,825.
  • Approved a transfer request of $250,000 and forwarded a transfer/appropriation request to the Board of Supervisors to purchase of school buses and other end-of-year purchases for transportation.
  • Approved renewal of property casualty insurance with VACORP at a cost of $393,401.
  • Approved spending up to $340,000 for office furniture and supplies from Bassett Office Supply.

Paul Collins is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him at 276-638-8801, ext. 236.

Paul Collins is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him at 276-638-8801, ext. 236.

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