Friday, February 17, 2017

Do You Want to Know a Secret?

Do you want to know a secret?  Last week ended with a several exciting announcements for Isle of Wight County Schools.  We unveiled our educational plans for both Smithfield and Windsor High Schools.  And we had a major donation from Smithfield Foods in support of our vision for high school redesign.  Somehow we were able to keep that a secret for over two months before the official announcement. 

So why make these changes?  The proposals we presented support our vision, which is to create a learning environment that enables every child to discover his or her unique talents and gifts.  We strongly believe in focusing on the process or the journey that students take in their learning and less on the outcome. To become innovators our students need to be allowed to stumble and make improvements along the way.  We do not believe this can be accomplished without redesigning the high school experience for our students.

In early 2016, we hosted a business roundtable where representatives from business and industry shared with educators the skills students need to be successful in their company.  We learned from the business leaders that students need experiences different from what they are getting in the traditional classroom.  Collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication were the skills they identified students should have in order to be effective employees.  In addition, they need hands-on, real-world experiences, both in and out of the classroom.

The plan we shared last week emphasizes our commitment to preparing our students for college, career and life.  At Smithfield High School, we will retrofit the old “E” Building behind the school to accommodate several Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.  There will be a commercial-grade kitchen for Culinary Arts, a MakerSpace for students to design and build their own products and creations, a realistic lab for the Nursing program, as well as labs for welding, mechatronics and global logistics.  A generous $3 million donation from Smithfield Foods will be used to establish the Smithfield Foods Legacy Project.  The funding will support the MakerSpace area, as well as a JROTC fieldhouse and a Multi-Use Pavilion.  Specifically, the donation will enable us to provide the kind of spaces where students will be able to use their minds, their hearts, and their hands to create beautiful quality work. Windsor High will be home to a Greenhouse, Construction Lab and Cosmetology program.  To expand on the highly successful Ag program, we plan to use land behind Windsor Elementary School to construct a working farm.  

While most of the plan focuses on career and technology programs, there are components in the re-design that modify existing spaces into areas that encourage collaboration, showcase student work and facilitate a healthy lifestyle.  Both high schools will see renovated cafeterias and media centers, as well as the conversion of other areas into more collaborative settings. At Windsor High, that includes an Outdoor Classroom, Art Courtyard and changes to the existing space for Outdoor Dining. Smithfield High will have an exercise/fitness room for use by students and staff, and an Athletic Fieldhouse with a weight-room for all sports’ teams.

By reallocating the money currently budgeted for the Pruden Center, which we will no longer attend next year, in conjunction with some adjustments to our current funding, and the significant donation from Smithfield Foods, we will be able to make all of these projects a reality.  

The changes coming to Smithfield and Windsor High have been recognized by others as necessary to prepare students for a global economy.  In his remarks to SHS students, Smithfield Foods CEO Ken Sullivan addressed the importance of keeping up with changing needs of businesses and industry.  "You have to change; you have to innovate; you have to adapt in education, just as you do in the business world. If you don't, you will not be successful."  An editorial in the Daily Press on February 13 also praised the vision we have for our high schools.
High school students who have an early eye toward their career paths will be able to learn a wide range of technological skills — for example, welding — that will give them tremendous advantages in a job market that is looking hard to find prospective workers with specific skills and certifications.  For students to be able to acquire these skills as part of their public high school education is an immeasurable benefit.
I’m attaching the presentations that were shared with students, staff and the community at SHS and WHS so you can see what each plan includes.  I am also listing links to several articles written about the plans for both high schools, including the donation from Smithfield Foods.  I look forward to sharing our progress on these plans with you in a future blog. 

Links to News Coverage