Investing in education strengthens the economy, whether such investment is boosting property values or molding future workers, Loudoun School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III told area business leaders Thursday in his annual “State of Education” presentation to the county Chamber of Commerce.
Hatrick said the school system has coped with the challenge of surging enrollment during an economic downturn by pursuing operational efficiencies, developing partnerships with the business community and using volunteers. But, he said, the success of the school system cannot be measured by numbers alone, because the school system’s bottom line is “the high-quality students we send off well prepared for an uncertain and challenging world.”
“For all the statistics and economic metrics I can throw at you, the real worth of public education is in the ability to connect with individual students and change their lives for the better,” Hatrick said.
He gave examples of former students whose education in Loudoun schools helped prepare them for success:
→Ari Dyckovsky, a 2012 graduate of Heritage High School and the Academy of Science, who won a $50,000 Intel award for placing in the top three at the International Science Fair.
→ Florence Thompson, a 2012 graduate of Woodgrove High School, who was named a Gates Millennium Scholar.
→ Monika Khot, a 2010 Briar Woods High School graduate who, as a summer intern in research and technology for Boeing, developed software that is in the early stages of the patent process.
→ Potomac Falls High School graduate Matt McLean, who won a gold medal in swimming at this year’s Olympics in London.
→ Loudoun Valley High School graduate Rob Jones, who won a bronze medal in rowing in the Paralympics after suffering severe injuries in Afghanistan.
→ Jenny Spring, a Stone Bridge High School graduate who completed the Loudoun schools’ teacher cadet program and is teaching fifth grade at Sanders Corner Elementary School, which she attended.
→Wonmon Joseph Williams, a student who overcame homelessness and substance abuse, graduated from Dominion High School and attends the University of Virginia, where he plays football and serves as an advocate for a living wage for the university’s employees.
In his presentation to the Chamber of Commerce, Hatrick compared himself with a corporate chief executive addressing his stockholders.
“Unlike other industries, public schools don’t get to set production quotas,” Hatrick said. “We have no say in the number of students we accept every year. We only deal with the impact of their arrival.”
He used charts and graphs to create a picture of a school system that has grown by 36,000 students and opened 38 new schools in the past 12 years — 22 elementary schools, eight middle schools and eight high schools — while having had to tighten its belt in recent years because of the economic downturn.
Over the past five years, he said, the school system’s operating budget has increased 8.5 percent as enrollment has gone up 20 percent. Over the past two years, the operating budget has increased about 14 percent after two years of decline.
The cost per student, projected to be $11,595 in the 2012-13 school year, is about 9 percent lower than it was five years ago, although it has increased in each of the past two years.
Hatrick also cautioned that the average salary of teachers in Loudoun, once on par with Fairfax County, has lagged in the past five years. With an average salary of $61,304, Loudoun ranks ahead of only Manassas, Prince William County and Manassas Park in the Washington area.
Hatrick pointed to the county schools’ energy conservation program as an example of how the school system is working to keep down costs. Last week, 42 Loudoun schools were awarded the Energy Star label by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Only one entity in Virginia, Food Lion, has more Energy Star buildings in Virginia than Loudoun’s schools,” he said. Earlier in the year, Loudoun public schools became one of only three school systems in the United States to receive the EPA’s Sustained Excellence Award.
Hatrick emphasized the importance of partnerships between businesses and schools and said that investing in students has a positive effect on the local economy.
“Knowledge, and the ability to combine disparate bits of knowledge into innovative products, will be the currency our children will use as adults,” he said.
He announced that Loudoun has been selected to be a Microsoft Innovative Pathfinder School District as part of Microsoft Corp.’s “Partners in Learning for Schools” program. The school system was chosen because of its video-conferencing initiative that connects teachers and students in Loudoun to experts in various fields, as well as other students around the world, Hatrick said.
School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger, who also addressed the Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged that he and most of the other board members have been “on a steep learning curve” for the past eight months. Six of the nine School Board members first took office in January 2012.
“I believe it is fair to say that we have grown in our appreciation of the complexities associated with modern education,” he said.
Hornberger outlined some of the priorities identified by School Board members during a day-long retreat in May, including focusing more on math, particularly in the lower grades; revisiting discipline policies and procedures; expanding educational options for students, including charter schools; improving long-term planning for new school facilities; and taking another look at employee compensation and exploring ways to link pay with performance.