Monroe Center Is Set to Launch Tech Academy

By Kameel Stanley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 3, 2008

For more than 20 years, the Monroe Technology Center in Leesburg has been the flagship for career and technical education for Loudoun County public school students. Hundreds have participated in dozens of programs, including culinary arts and nursing.

This fall, the center will launch an academy for science, technology, engineering and math -- a program aimed at integrating high school academics, career training and higher-education goals. The academy was approved last month by the Virginia Board of Education.

"This is not a traditional program for a tech center," said Shirley Bazdar, the Loudoun school system's director of career and technical education. "It's a step above."

The Loudoun Governor's Career and Technical Academy will serve 125 students this school year. Students will have to apply for the program, which will offer courses such as radiology technology, pharmacy technology and medical laboratory technology.

The academy will focus on four "career clusters areas," school officials said: agriculture, food and natural resources; health sciences; science, technology and math; and transportation, distribution and logistics. They said the four areas are aligned with state and regional workforce demands.

Students will be able to get industry certification for some careers and to dual-enroll for college credit at Northern Virginia Community College and Virginia Tech.

"That's the key here -- giving them both the skills and the academics," said Kim Thomas, assistant principal at Monroe. "Anything we can do to give students a leg up is important."

The academy's goals will include decreasing high school dropout rates, partnering with businesses to provide students with experiences that prepare them for the workplace, and increasing enrollment and retention rates in higher education.

"It's going to allow them to compete in a global society," Bazdar said of the curriculum. "It's going to give them an added advantage."

The center's recognition as a governor's academy comes although Loudoun lost its bid for a state grant to establish an academy.

Last year, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) set up a program to establish six academies in Virginia in an effort to improve education in science, technology, engineering and math.

Educators at Monroe had been laying the groundwork for such an academy since 2001, when they were involved in a task force about the center's programs. But when Loudoun applied to be one of the six grant recipients, it was turned down.

Loudoun school officials decided they would work toward establishing a program on their own. They formed a partnership with the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation, which provided $150,000 for the academy's planning phase and $150,000 for the 2008-09 school year.

"We are actually the first unfunded [governor's] academy in the commonwealth. The designation was like the icing on the cake," Bazdar said. "It really validates our efforts."

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