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Monroe Tech parents, students concerned about Academies of Loudoun changes

Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge), chairwoman of the Curriculum and Instruction Committee, speaks at a Feb. 21 meeting on changes to the Monroe Tech curriculum. Times-Mirror/Veronike Collazo
The C.S. Monroe Technology Center in Leesburg has long been lauded as the county’s successful vocational and technology program. Loudoun County Public Schools has further invested in Monroe with its transfer to the $85 million Academies of Loudoun as the Monroe Advanced Technical Academy.

But as the transition nears, faculty, students and parents have become aware of policy shifts they say will change Monroe for the worse.

Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Ashley Ellis went through some of the program changes and addressed some concerns at the School Board Curriculum and Instruction meeting Wednesday.

Ellis said LCPS staff saw the move to the academies as an opportunity to revise programs, increase program offerings and provide more opportunities for students.

The Department of Instruction found that many programs had less than 50 percent of students returning for a year two course, Ellis said, and some courses did not comply with state and county standards of quality.

As a result, the department made changes to programs that has included condensing two-year programs into one year. Impacted subject areas include culinary arts, welding, masonry and HVAC.

Ellis said in condensing each year-long program into a semester, students will still meet hour requirements for certifications. She said LCPS staff is using the remainder of the school year to finish developing the new curriculum and plan to implement the changes next school year with the opening of the academies.

While LCPS officials say students will receive the same quality education, Monroe students, alumni, teachers and parents have serious concerns to changes in curriculum and building plans.

Loudoun County Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) said she’s heard from several concerned constituents that by condensing the programs from two years to one, students who need more time to learn are shut out.

Students at Monroe often work with local businesses, and now business leaders are concerned that students will have less time — or no time at all — for outside projects.

“I’m hearing it from volunteer fire and rescue chiefs that they feel all these changes are going to undermine the program whereby they bring on board students from Monroe in those programs to work with them,” Umstattd said. “I hear it from businesses like ProJet Aviation, which contacted me yesterday, and they view this as having major negative impact on their aviation education program. I know there are other businesses that work closely with these students and feel this is going to undermine the student’s ability to work with those businesses.”

Parents also say the curriculum changes weren’t communicated to them, and now some of their students who are already enrolled as juniors are stuck because year two programs will not be offered next year. Other programs have been extended, which also affects plans for current students.

Frank Bryceland’s son is enrolled at Monroe and taking a course on computers. Next year, he planned to take a specialized cybersecurity course, but now he’ll be required to take a second year of a computing course, hampering his plans to start a career early and shave off a year of college.

Bryceland said the changes were made after his son had started the program and students like his son should be grandfathered.

Steve Davis, another Monroe parent, said his biggest concern was with the process. The changes are already being enacted, and parents don’t know who approved the changes or why parents weren’t consulted.

“The problem is they’re making these things, apparently, arbitrarily and are not including the parents, are not including the instructors and are not including the current administration, and I don’t know who is in charge. It doesn’t appear even this board was privy to what these curriculum changes are and are surprised yet it is actually being enacted,” Davis said.

In addition to curriculum changes that may result in less experience and less internship and outside project opportunities, Umstattd said she’s also heard for teachers that plans for Monroe program classrooms have been changed, sparking concerns about instruction and state certification.

Two years ago, architects worked with Monroe program directors and teachers to design classroom and workshop spaces. Since then, those plans have been unilaterally changed, Umstattd said.

Concerns include not enough storage space for welding and masonry classes in the three-story, 315,000-square foot academies building, no washer or dryer for the cosmetology program, sinks for the nursing program are down the hall and not in the clinic, a computing course that required permanent workstations with outlets for laptops and other technology instead has movable workstations with no outlets and classrooms have been reduced in size.

The academies is expected to serve 2,500 students each year.

Umstattd said the facility changes have also caused concerns about program certification if the academies do not meet state standards..

“Across the board, parents and students are getting extremely concerned about these changes. I don’t think the School Board was fully advised of the implications of this. I don’t think LCPS reached out adequately to parents and students that these changes were planned to be implemented,” Umstattd said.

Umstattd said the School Board should look into whether there were change orders after the architect touched base with the department directors, the program directors and teachers.

The Academies of Loudoun will open in the fall, combining the Academy of Science, Academy of Engineering and Technology and Monroe Advanced Technical Academy under one roof. Courtesy Photo

“Did someone put in change orders that then raised the price of the academies? If that was not run by the teachers and program directors then that’s an additional cost the Board of Supervisors may have been asked to fund that was unnecessary,” Umstattd said “And now, in order to meet state certifications, are we going to have to pay more to go back, increase the size of those classrooms, put in more electrical outlets, make sure there is running water where there has to be, etc. So that whole financial aspect is something that I as a member of the Board of Supervisors am very concerned about, but I don’t know the answers yet to those questions.”

Ellis said Monroe will have state-of-the-art facilities in the academies that are years ahead of what the program currently uses in its Leesburg location. She also said all state requirements will be met by the building.

But parents are also concerned about the changing admissions process. Monroe is not as academically based as the Academy of Science or Academy of Engineering and Technology, yet the admissions process solely looks at a student’s academic record, Davis said. This is not how the Monroe admissions program has been conducted.

Nick Strigel, a Monroe welding program graduate, said he wouldn’t be where he is now had the proposed changes been implemented when he was in school. He also said the new admissions process is not fair to students like him with individualized education programs (IEP).

Strigel said his first year of welding was used to familiarize himself with all of the machinery and learn basic welding skills, whereas his second year was more project focused and intensive. It wouldn’t be possible for a student to learn all the machinery in a single semester, he said.

“I wouldn’t really know what I’d be doing. I wouldn’t know everything. I don’t think I would have gotten into the Tulsa Welding School in Florida because I wouldn’t have had much experience. Therefore, I wouldn’t have a good job right now like I do,” Strigel said.

Strigel said students with IEPs will have a much harder time learning machinery and regulations under the condensed one-year welding program.

The School Board's Curriculum and Instruction Committee Chairwoman Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) asked staff for more information on how the curriculum changes affect special education students.

She also said she wanted more information on how the curriculum changes could reduce opportunities for student enrichment and work in the community. Some students win scholarships through outside jobs and competitions offered through Monroe.

“I want to make sure that we’re not missing out on some of those opportunities for the students,” Turgeon said. “It’s hard for me to grasp how the students are getting the same out of a two year versus a one year program.”

Committee member Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) said he’d like to see how Loudoun handles vocational and technical education compared to surrounding jurisdictions. He also wanted to explore the academies offering apprenticeship and internship options for advanced students to adjust to the condensed curriculum.

The issue has been referred to the ad hoc committee on the Academies of Loudoun, which will schedule a meeting once staff has compiled answers for committee members.


EdMyers suggests that allowing a few hundred kids to complete a program which was presented as a stable option is going to highjack LCPS and be cost prohibitive.

Let’s review the proposed FY19 budget proposal by this school board. Recall that LCPS has the lowest teacher vacancy rate of any county (0.6% vs Fairfax 2.0% and Richmond at 13%) and pays its step 1 and 30 teachers (who can remain at that step from age 52 till 65+) more than Fairfax.

1. Overall increase of $88M

2. FDK completion for cost of $2M

3. Additional counselors for cost of $7M

4. Teacher raises including some over 9% for a whopping cost of $41M despite teachers transferring into LCPS at 3x the rate they transfer out

Ed, why would you suggest a one time grandfathering of vocational students would be more than a drop in the bucket compared to these costs? This school board is all about throwing taxpayer $ at their teacher spouses and union friends and saying to heck with the best interests of students.

Make up your minds.  Do you want to pay for all the bureaucratic bells and whistles of grandfathering and community involvement especially when it allows special interests to hijack school operations for their pet projects?

Or, do you want a lower cost streamlined process that rapidly changes to meet the educational needs of the total community at the expense of the comfort of those who dislike change.

What is unrealistic is to expect low cost when committees of thousands of parents and activists with axes to grind make operational decisions. 

What I don’t get is why Loudouners ebulliently gush about LCPS and, yet, constantly get stabbed in the back by that same school district.

Wake up people.  LCPS is a local swamp of cronies who take care of themselves and not the kids.

Education is their excuse, not their mission.

Not shocked at all by this debacle. LCPS board and chiefs make up the rules as they go and always want a blank check. No checks and balances. Why not put in gold toilet seats and jack up the price another million or two… Loudoun has the money because all reports show we’re the richest county. Oh, and the sky is falling…. Our kids will suffer….

NoVa, I empathize and feel that this is more of the same—- Have your son take any courses he wants to at NOVA via dual enrollment, maybe even online.  Talk to NOVA directly.  They will help him.  Also, consider having him “home schooled” and graduate him so he can start full time at NOVA this summer.  Another option is that he get his GED and leave LCPS so he can be in control of his own decision making and career path. NOVA is way better than LCPS any day.  They work very hard to serve the community, not their own ivory tower dreams.

I am not sure why anyone is shocked. LCPS didn’t consider input when they ended midterms/finals nor when they started PBL (“project-based learning”). If LCPS feels no need to communicate such major changes, let alone consider input, ahead of time on these major changes, why would you think this LCPS administration will ever listen to your input or best practices. They obviously know better.

Well this will be interesting game of point the finger to watch.  Let me get my popcorn.

Sadly, my son is one of the students affected by this change.  He is a rising senior who is taking the Cisco/Networking program at Monroe this year because he was advised to take his desired program, with Cyber Security, next year.  Now that program is being converted to a 2 year path and he cannot apply as a rising senior.

Cyber Security is not a passing interest for my son.  He has wanted a career in that field since he was 12.  He has been looking forward to that class for years.  His Cyber Patriot team this year was the first Loudoun County team to make it to the national semi-finals.

This has been a crushing disappointment for us and is absolutely changing my son’s academic plan since he will not be able to gain the NOVA credits.  There absolutely should have been a transition plan of some kind!  I asked the AOL Dean about a transition plan and what options these students caught in the middle have.  She completely dismissed my question and stated that this was a new school and she would not speak to anything regarding the current school (Monroe).

Have no fear, this school board will end up pushing out the trades for all those college bound brianiacs and in the future we will wonder why the US has to outsource blue collar work. What a shame!

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