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LCPS looks to ease concerns over Monroe Tech changes

Progress is being made at the new Academies of Loudoun, located on Sycolin Road between Ashburn and Leesburg. Courtesy Photo
“You’re losing a year of experience!” a man yelled from the audience, briefly interrupting an Academies of Loudoun ad hoc committee meeting Tuesday. He was echoing frustration felt by teachers, students, parents and alumni over curriculum changes to C.S. Monroe Technology Center in its move to the new Academies of Loudoun.

During a Curriculum and Instruction committee meeting in February, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Ashley Ellis and LCPS staff said that the move to the academies is an opportunity to revise programs, increase program offerings and provide more opportunities for students at Monroe Tech, or Monroe Advanced Technical Academy (MATA), as it will be called when it opens at the new campus. One of the revisions was the condensing of two-year programs down to one year in an effort to offer more seats to more students. For example, Masonry I and Masonry II would be offered by semester over the course of one year, instead of Masonry I for the first year and Masonry II the second year.

Many Monroe students, parents, alumni and local businesses voiced sharp opposition to the change. They worry that condensing the programs from two years to one will reduce learning and restrict opportunities for students to participate in internships and other work experiences with businesses in the community.

At the meeting Tuesday, Ellis said the concerns have been heard. She also said that while course hours would be reduced with this change to the curriculum, they would still meet the minimum requirements for the Virginia Department of Education’s Standards of Quality.

“Students will be able to complete requirements—all minimum requirements are being met,” said Ellis.

But in terms of real-world, hands-on practice time, it would be significantly less than what Monroe students have been doing within these programs.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that [the minimum requirement] doesn’t include valuable, hands-on experiences beyond that,” said Ellis.

“But you're confident that that’s not a disadvantage?” asked committee member Debbie Rose (Algonkian). “How is it not a disadvantage?”

“It is a disadvantage,” answered Ellis.

Ellis and her staff then told the committee that they decided to make some courses – welding, graphic communications and auto servicing technology – two-year programs again. Levels I and II would still be offered by semester in the first year, and then students would have the option to take a Level III course the second year.

“For a few programs, the quality of instruction and certifications would be significantly impacted. That far outweighs the benefits of being able to enroll more students,” Ellis said.

School Board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg) also voiced concern about the rigor of these condensed courses, specifically if "rigor" meant that students would be rushed through two years worth of work in one year.

Another significant worry raised by Monroe students and parents is the changes made to the admissions process. The application used to include letters of recommendation from teachers and prompts for students to write letters of intent outlining their goals and plans if they were accepted to a program at Monroe. Now the admissions board would only be looking at academic records, SOL scores and PSAT scores. It also now has a $35 admissions fee.

Academic records and test score requirements could potentially box-out students who have IEPs (Independent Education Plans) or who simply don’t excel academically, but could thrive in one of Monroe’s programs.

A letter sent on March 1 to members of the Academies of Loudoun Admissions Board and the LCPS school board from the students of Monroe expressed frustration over this change.

“We are not just a number in the student information systems,” they wrote. “LCPS students should not be solely evaluated on GPA, attendance, previous grades in classes, and test scores. For 40 years students have been chosen to attend C.S Monroe Tech because they are unique and different, not because of what grades they obtain. On behalf of many of the students who have submitted or plan to submit their applications to Monroe Advanced Technical Academy, we are writing to express concerns about the 2018-19 new revised AoL application. Currently the application does not provide ample opportunity for students to articulate their qualifications for the programs that align with their career paths.”

Science Supervisor Odette Scovel said that while the admissions board would be looking at academic records, they would not be looking at discipline or attendance as those records are separate from academics and test scores.

“We again have heard a lot of very helpful feedback on the admissions process, and as was noted in some of the comments the admissions window is going to close relatively soon. So any sort of changes – and staff is open to changes and we’ve been talking about changes – would have to take place for the following admissions cycle,” said Ellis.

Scovel also said the staff is considering having students also submit a letter of interest and résumé next year. But it’s too late for that for the 2018-2019 school year, as the deadline is March 8.

Ellis said LCPS' goal is “to have a transparent admissions process.”

“We want to simplify the admissions process for students,” she said. “We don’t want it to be cumbersome. So that is part of our goal. But I do understand and have heard the feedback that students don’t feel like they have a voice in the admissions process and that is something we will continue to have conversations about.”

Academies of Loudoun Principal Tinell Priddy then had an update on the available space for Monroe at the new campus. She explained that the facility had 315,000 total square feet, and 175,000 square feet of that will belong to MATA. This is compared to the 54,405-square-foot instructional space at C.S. Monroe Technology Center. She also said she is organizing a tour of the building for MATA teachers in the coming months so they can weigh in with their needs for the space.

Priddy ended the presentation on a positive note with some recent photos she had of the snazzy new facilities going up on campus. She had shots of the front of the building, inside the foyer, and a photo of the new green houses.

“To our surprise, they’re much bigger than we planned,” she said of the greenhouses “I cannot wait to see what the plant sale looks like.”

School Board members Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) were also in attendance Tuesday night. However, due to a rule under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, they were not able to comment or discuss issues with staff or their fellow school board colleagues because they were not members of the ad hoc committee. However, DeKenipp later posted an open letter to his School Board colleagues on his Facebook page that reiterated concerns with the integration of Monroe programs into the Academies of Loudoun.

“It is my understanding that the board will receive and update on the project on March 13, but I felt it critical that I share some of the previously mentioned concerns here,” he wrote. “I hope I can count on everyone to take these concerns seriously, as they impact students in every district in Loudoun County and we are now in a position to fix them proactively.”

Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter @MsSophieDesmond.


davisB, learn to read.  Stop misquoting others’ statements.  My statement below is quite clear.

Brian Davidson, so confused.  Let’s review.

You previous and frequently posted (on many sites) claiming that STEM careers are the only legitimate careers for our youth. 

I an not arguing against all students learning math and science and I am encouraged that you now included English as an important subject but I am still amazed that you continue to dismiss any other path other that STEM.

Oops, I posted this to the wrong article.

davisB, so confused.  Let’s review.

1. Math and English are the 2 critical subjects in K-12.  Without a strong foundation, students won’t be successful.  They are also the 2 subjects used to measure effectiveness via VAMs in teachers, schools, curricula, etc. since they are effectively continuous.

2. However, not all students need to learn calculus (nor even can effectively).

3. Yet all students, even those who prefer drama, culinary arts, or plumbing, need a strong foundation in math.  Math is involved in nearly every profession.  And…

4. If students don’t get a strong foundation in math, they are precluded from seeking STEM careers.  Not that everyone must seek such a STEM career, but they should have that door open if they are inclined entering high school.

5. That being said, vocational professions are valuable and can be lucrative.  Germany and other 1st-world countries have apprenticeship programs that provide alternate paths than college-track high school courses.  I have always supported such a model.  Apparently, from the comments here, most in Loudoun do so as well.

Notice what vocational studies are not.  They are not equivalent to art history, gender studies, or criminal justice degrees.  Good vocational courses teach students to problem solve and acquire valuable skills applicable after high school.  Vocational courses should be promoted and offered in abundance.  And they should NOT require any academic test scores for admission.

Didn’t LCPS administrative staff members discuss the changes with the administrators and teachers at Monroe? It seems like all parties should have been at the table while making the decisions.

It appears that LCPS rarely includes relevant parties in their decisions. For example, when proposing changes to fundraising policies, none of the booster or parent groups were asked for their input. There are plenty of examples, unfortunately, of LCPS not including input from outside the bubble.

Can someone please explain what “due to a rule under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, they were not able to comment or discuss issues with staff or their fellow school board colleagues because they were not members of the ad hoc committee” means? They can post on Facebook but not contribute to face to face discourse?  This is really a Virginia law? And how does it help us?

This seems like another institution out of control.  The bloated administrators have way too much time on their hands to be working on their own ivory tower rather than serving the educational interests of the students.  Get your GED and go to NOVA.  They know how to put a student first.

funny that Brian Davidson is now promoting vocational training when he previously and frequently said that the only classes that matter are STEM.  Can’t wait for him to endorse reading and writing as well

Over my 8 years on the school board I attended many Monroe graduations. It is clearly a diverse offering and frankly I am appalled that any decision lessens the access to these programs. 100% of applicants should be accepted to Monroe and if the new building can’t house them then high school around the system should be renovated to provide universal technical education. We make kids take dodge ball and Shakespeare but turn away a child that wants HVAC, cooking, construction etc! The same logic applies to the first two years of the AOS [program which could easily be taught at EVERY high school using the centralized facility for the 3rd and 4th year of the program which is project/experimentation oriented. At $1.2 billion per year there is no excuse in my experience especially when we see over priced projects like turf fields being built without financial justification.
Bob Ohneiser Esq.

It makes no sense to admit students to Monroe based on test scores.  Even when there are foreign language schools in DC, they usually hold a lottery.  They even held a lottery here in LCPS for FDK.

Why are the LCPS admins doubling down on such a ridiculous admissions policy?

If there is such high demand for vocational tech, why don’t we expand it?  Now, hold on, didn’t the school board just dedicate $41M to raises for its employees but it can’t find a few $M to serve students who need these skills for a successful career?  Maybe if we take some of those raises from the school board member LCPS spouses and use it to serve kids, LCPS can actually fulfill its mission. 

Schools do NOT exist to employ teachers and school board member relatives at high wages.  Schools exist to effectively educate STUDENTS.

Only the folks running LCPS could mess this up. A move to a new building and then the rocket scientists who invented the isolation fortress for special needs children started thinking.  And by the time the lightweights on the School Board catch-up, here we are. Wealthiest County in America has so many mental midgets running their government institutions. Wow

I get the impression that combining under one roof and one Principal the schools for academically gifted students with the center for manually gifted students may not have been such a great idea in the first place.  Shouldn’t the Monroe Tech students at least have their own Principal?

Well as I’m sure many will comment, especially those that are part of any educational system.  It’s not about a quality of education that prepares you for skills that are sadly disappearing in the United States, it’s about cramming more students, lessening the amount of educational time, increasing costs and of course let’s not forget “meeting the minimum requirements”.  Liberal policies at their best, good for them and whomever supports them, bad for everyone else.  Virginia needs to go Red again before it’s too late!

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