Prince William schools may bolster science, math, tech

February 25, 2013

Interest in science, technology and math is growing rapidly in Prince William County, especially in the school district’s information technology specialty program at Forest Park High School.

School Board member Betty D. Covington (Potomac) has persuaded the school system to consider expanding the IT program to Potomac High School as soon as possible.

The superintendent’s proposed budget includes $150,000 to look into expanding the IT program and adding the national Project Lead the Way engineering program at Stonewall Jackson High School.

The IT program, like all county specialty programs, is open to any Prince William student. It has become so popular that for the first time, there will be a lottery for rising freshmen who want to enroll at the Montclair-area school in the fall.

“As a [School] Board, we want to meet the needs and interests of students as much as we possibly can,” Covington said.

Along with the IT program, the national Project Lead the Way program has captured students’ attention. Woodbridge High School implemented the program first, with Patriot High School following when it opened in fall 2011.

Patriot Principal Michael Bishop raved about Project Lead the Way in a phone interview Tuesday. The five-part program gives high school students a practical and challenging look at the math, science and technology fields.

“It’s bridge support, it’s house design, and it’s exactly what kids in the 21st century should be learning,” Bishop said.

If expanding those programs is cost-effective, Mickey Mulgrew, associate superintendent for high schools, said, he wants to do so as soon as possible.

“We want to make [the specialty program] available to all taxpaying residents of Prince William County,” Mulgrew said.

The trick is finding teachers certified to teach the programs, said David Eshelman, supervisor of career and technical education. He said Old Dominion University is the only four-year college in Virginia to offer a career and technical education teacher certification program. Teachers who want to be certified to teach Project Lead the Way curriculum must go to the Norfolk school for training, Eshelman said.

Eshelman said that he hopes to bring that training in-house and that he wants the program at all county high schools. Five middle schools are undergoing a pilot program.

The School Board is scheduled to vote on the fiscal 2014 budget March 20.

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