Prominent local business leaders converged with education experts Sept. 4 for the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce's State of Innovation in Education forum.
Held at the School Administration Building in Ashburn at 8 a.m., the event featured three speakers. Keynote speaker superintendent Edgar Hatrick, who announced his July 1, 2014, retirement earlier this year, kicked off the speeches with his final State of Education address.
Hatrick touched on a variety of topics, looking not just at this past year, but what he hopes for beyond his tenure, especially with regards to investments in education.
“Because we are doing more with less, we are saying that our children . . . are more of a financial burden than an asset to be invested in,” Hatrick said. “The way in which we discuss the financial assets we devote to our children also will make a huge difference in their, and our, future.”
Hatrick, who has served as superintendent since 1991, cited statistics that show the LCPS budget has not increased with enrollment and that Loudoun is six out of eight in per pupil spending in Northern Virginia.
Answering back at critics, Hatrick also noted the bulk of the budget, 89.4 percent, goes to personnel costs.
“I've been questioned in the past for some of the things that have been included in the school system's budget,” Hatrick said. “The main thing in all of those budgets has always been, is and for my final budget will be people.”
Ultimately, the superintendent iterated two goals for the spring budget season: increasing salaries and capital improvement.
In order to attract and retain teachers, Hatrick said, we need to have salaries competitive with our peer counties. For example,teachers with master's degree earn less in Loudoun compared to Fairfax until the 29th year of teaching.
On capital improvement, Hatrick urged the Board of Supervisors to construct the new facility to house the Academy of Science and Monroe Technology Center on Sycolin Road. The facility is not scheduled to open under the Board of Supervisors' Capital Improvement Plan until 2020. Combined, Monroe and AOS turned away more than 800 students last year.
“Every year, we are turning away hundreds of students who could benefit from these programs,” Hatrick said. “Their future is affected by our inability to fund a proper facility to an expanding need.”
But Hatrick's address wasn't all critical. His praises covered many subjects in LCPS, from the increase in the number of students taking computer science thanks to Microsoft's TEALS program to the 17 percent increase in students earning advanced diplomas.
Still, Hatrick warned, we cannot allow success to make us complacent.
“Taking excellence for granted and the failure to invest in continued excellence is the surest route to decline,” Hatrick said.
Following Hatrick's speech, attendees also heard from Julie Leidig, provost of the Northern Virginia Community College's Loudoun campus and Andrew Rotherham, co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education, a non-profit organization that analyzes education policy.
Leidig addressed some of NOVA's programs for those in Loudoun, many of which focus on the STEM fields. In addition to offering associate's degrees, professional training, remedial education and workforce development, NOVA is working with LCPS students through dual-enrollment, with which high school students can earn college credit, robotics camps and a sySTEMic solutions program, where NOVA and local businesses work together to get kids excited about the science, math, engineering and technology field.
NOVA is also continuing to renovate their campus and will soon welcome George Mason University to its Signal Hill Road site. Leidig anticipates a joint degree program at the site and also notes they are trying to work with Mason to establish a 4-year program at the Loudoun campus proper.
Andrew Rotherham focused on things he feels need to change in the education system today, first discussing achievement gaps suffered by lower-income and minority students.
“We don't hold schools accountable for this. We hold them accountable for overall pass rights,” Rotherham said. “The only ones accountable are the kids.”
And while Rotherham also discussed the importance of new technology and innovation at schools, he did differ from Hatrick in the methodology to implementation, noting school leaders around the country will likely have to do more with less.
“In a couple of years, medicaid will be a higher expenditure than education,” he noted. “I'm all for investing in kids, but we have to engage in numbers.”
Still, Rotherham emphasized modernizing the learning experience and giving students choices in their education. His point was succinct.
“Only two institutions look like they did years ago: churches and our schools.”