Governor visits school board office to announce $10.8 million education grant

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane, Virginia Ed Strategies CEO Jennifer Stevens, and Bristol Superintendent and President of the Coalition of Small and Rural Schools Keith Perrigan visited the Mecklenburg County School Board office on Thursday, February 11 to announce that the Virginia Department of Education and Virginia Ed Strategies “will collaborate to create a professional development program to increase teacher effectiveness and improve in-person, remote and hybrid instruction in science, mathematics and computer science”.

Virginia Ed Strategies is a South Boston based non-profit that supports Virginia schools. The organization has been awarded a $10.8 million Education Innovation and Research grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The program is a five-year effort to help businesses and communities prepare students for life and careers. “For this small town girl to have been a part of winning $13 million grant to start this non-profit was nothing short of a miracle in my book. I did not expect to see another one in my career yet here I am standing before you today to share news of another such miracle,” said Stevens.

The VDOE and Virginia Ed Strategies plan to create the Professional Learning by Choice Community, or CHOICE for short. The project aims to “provide high-quality, teacher-directed professional development opportunities and experiences for up to 2,100 middle and high school science, mathematics, and computer science teachers”.

To determine where it is most needed a self-assessment tool to assist teachers in determining what they need for professional development and growth. There will also be a customized online dashboard that enables teachers to select the learning experiences that best meet their individual needs. Grant funds will pay for the training selected by teachers as well as any additional costs such as travel and materials. “The professional learning chosen by teachers, hence the name of the project, will replace one hundred percent of the training required under school division contracts during the time that teachers participate in the project and will count towards their license renewal,” said Stevens. The project will also provide instructional coaches and mentors and participating teachers will a part of a community of practice to encourage peer and peer collaboration and support.

“Of the 138 proposals submitted nationwide during the last fiscal year, the U.S. Department of Education only awarded 20 grants,” said Northam. “I am proud that Virginia Ed Strategies brought one of these grants home to Virginia to support students and teachers at a time when they need it most. The CHOICE project will equip educators in our rural school divisions with increased capacity for teaching STEM disciplines in a variety of learning environments and better prepare young Virginians to thrive in a rapidly changing, technologically-advanced, global society.”

“I’ve talked to a lot of businesses that growing in Virginia but also a lot of businesses that want to come to Virginia. The reason that we are doing so well economically is because of our talented workers and we need to keep that going. We need to continue to train our children for the 21st century jobs and so we have to ask ourselves what are those jobs? I know you all have heard us talk about STEM but I add a few letters, I call it STEAM-H (Science, technology, engineering, arts, math, and healthcare). Those are where the jobs of the 21st century are and so things like cyber security and unmanned aerial systems and computer technology, data collection, data analysis, that is what we need to train our children for if we’re going to keep our economy vibrant and strong,” said Northam.

He also said, “In order to do this we have to have the teachers that educate these children in these STEM related fields and I’m proud of our teachers. This has been a tough year for them as well. I’m confident, and I don’t want to make any promises here in Mecklenburg County, but working with the legislature, our revenue is good, and our teachers need a raise and I think we’re going to be able to accomplish that this year.”

The Governor spoke of the importance of the STEM related fields and a need for universal Broadband. “I have $50 million per year in the budget to reach out and make sure that all Virginians have access to Broadband.”

“By providing teachers with this opportunity to increase their content knowledge and improve their effectiveness, this initiative will make a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of Virginia students,” Dr. James Lane said. “And we will create a platform that can be expanded and impact teaching and learning statewide. I congratulate Virginia Ed Strategies for its leadership and vision in pursuing this opportunity to improve teaching and learning in the commonwealth.”