Healthcare-focused laboratory school planned for southwestern Virginia

Leaders from colleges and school systems along the Interstate 81 corridor between Bristol and Wytheville are working to open a laboratory school in southwestern Virginia.

The laboratory school would be launched by Emory & Henry College’s School of Health Sciences and would involve school systems in Bristol, Washington County, Smyth County and Wythe County, Smyth County Superintendent said Friday. Dennis Carter at a workshop on laboratory schools in Abingdon. Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, Virginia Highlands Community College and Wytheville Community College will also be involved, he said.

Carter, David Matlock, Executive Director of the Higher Education Center, and Dale Clark, CEO of Smyth County Community Hospital, discussed the project with Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera and Deputy Secretary McKenzie Snow during one of 32 seminars on offer. during United Way of Southwest Virginia’s 2022 Rural Summit.

A laboratory school is a public K-12 school that should be an “innovative, high-quality educational experience,” according to the state Department of Education. It is a partnership between higher education, employers, school divisions and communities.

The lead partner must be a college, but it doesn’t have to be a four-year institution, so community colleges and higher education centers are now eligible.

The school must focus on academic programs in a high-demand field such as computer science or sports medicine, according to the Department of Education.

State Senator Todd Pillion, in R-Washington County, was the primary sponsor of legislation authorizing laboratory schools. Earlier this year, the General Assembly allocated $ 100 million to pay for school start-up costs, which are an important part of Governor Glenn Youngkin’s agenda, Guidera said.

And they couldn’t come at a better time, Guidera said, just days after the 2022 National Educational Progress Assessment Scores were released on reading and math tests. The “Nation’s Report Card” revealed that fourth-graders in Virginia experienced the largest decline in reading and math in the nation.

“Our learning loss in math and reading was three times worse than the national average, and the national average wasn’t pretty,” the education secretary said.

He added that the state’s “universal approach to learning” is disappointing its students.

The governor’s plan is to open 20 laboratory schools within five years. Initially, the plan is to put a laboratory school in each of the eight regions of the Department of Education’s superintendent so that the schools are distributed statewide, Guidera said.

Up until three months ago, Guidera said 37 higher education institutions had expressed interest in launching a laboratory school.

The state now has six questions, and the hope is that a couple will open in September 2023, Guidera said.

The Southwest Virginia project hasn’t applied yet, but the plan plans to focus on health care. There is no application deadline.

Matlock said the local laboratory school will provide “routes and pipelines to meet the needs of the southwestern Virginia workforce.”

Clark, with Smyth County Hospital, said help is needed. Currently, there are 2,500 open positions in the Ballad Health system, she said.

The southwestern Virginia laboratory school plan is for about 80 students in grades 9 through 12, according to Carter. In his second year, the plan is to bring University of Virginia’s College in Wise and that area of ​​the region into laboratory school, he said.

Laboratory schools must be approved by the state Board of Education and, unlike charter schools, would not require local approval.

No student selection process has been established, but Guidera said it will most likely be done through a “lottery system”.

The education secretary said the hope is that interest is so high that many laboratory schools will be built in the next few years.

“It is about providing access to excellence and our hope is that there will be so much demand for these schools that we will continue to build them and continue to replicate the success,” he said.

He added that more money will be requested for laboratory schools during the 2023 General Assembly session.

Since no future money is guaranteed, however, Smyth County Superintendent Carter said that those developing the local lab school must find a way for it to ultimately be sustainable on its own.

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