One way or another, Loudoun County students will most likely have more math, science and technology education at their disposal.
Plans for a combined technology and science academy set to open in 2018 were revealed by Loudoun County’s director of the career and technical education Monday just as the School Board considers an application for a math and IT charter school.
The Advanced Technology Academy/Academy of Science would combine C.S. Monroe Technology Center and the Academy of Science in a new building on a 119.26-acre campus just off Sycolin Road and west of the Dulles Greenway in central Loudoun. The facility would allow both of the high school programs to double in size—Monroe Tech could accommodate 1,000 students and Academy of Science 500 students.
“We see this center as where the practical and the theoretical come together to provide, I think, one of the best STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] programs around,” Shirley Bazdar, Loudoun County Public Schools director of the career and technical education, said to the School Board as she showed them digital renderings of the envisioned facility.
The academy is part of the five-year building needs plan, or Capital Improvement Program, proposed by Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick last week. The plan has funding for the campus set for fiscal year 2016—at an estimated cost of $109 million—with a fall 2018 opening.
Bazdar illustrated for the School Board why both Monroe Technology Center and the Academy of Science expansions are needed and why combining the programs on a shared campus is ideal.
Monroe Technology Center, now in a 35-year-old building in Leesburg, houses the school district’s vocational and technical courses, including culinary arts, TV production, auto service technology, biotechnology, masonry, nail design, welding, graphic communications and licensed practical nursing, among others. The plan for the expanded Monroe Advanced Technology Academy would introduce several new programs, including information technology, public safety, hospitality and tourism, and aviation mechanics programs. It would also allow the school to expand its Claude Moore Scholars Health and Medical Sciences program to include courses in dental hygiene technology, respiratory therapy technology and surgical technology.
Fifteen miles east on Rt. 7 is the Academy of Science, which opened in 2005 as a means to provide high-achieving students an opportunity to delve into science and math more than Loudoun’s typical high school curriculum. The academy, which operates out of Dominion High School in Sterling, has seen more students each year want to take part in its rigorous courses—from 185 applicants in 2005 to 633 applicants this school year for 65 available seats. While doubling its student capacity, the expanded Academy of Science would also provide lab space for students from other Loudoun high schools, as well as teachers, to conduct scientific research, Bazdar said.
She told the board members that collaboration between Monroe Technology Center and the Academy of Science already takes place, and a combined campus would only allow the teachers and students to do more. She gave an example of an Academy of Science student who worked with Monroe Tech students to test a paint he was developing for cars.
“And it worked out really well,” she said. “…The shared facilities would allow for increased collaboration.”
The combined academy’s focus would also help meet Loudoun’s projected employment needs, Bazdar added, which will call for a growing workforce in construction, government, healthcare, services and technology fields.
Following Bazdar’s presentation, School Board member Thomas Reed (At Large) asked senior staff members whether it is possible, both from the instruction and construction standpoints, to bump the project up on the CIP to open in 2017.
“We’ve been talking about this since 1994,” Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Sharon Ackerman said of expanding Monroe Technology Center. “I think we are ready to go.”
Sam Adamo, executive director of Legislative and Planning Services, said it is possible to put the project on a construction timeline that would have it completed in time for an earlier opening, as long as the cost falls within the county’s current debt limit ratios.
School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) asked whether the Academy of Science could be expanded enough to accommodate the roughly 175 Loudoun students who attend Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County each year. LCPS pays Fairfax County Public Schools its average per-pupil cost, roughly $12,500 per student, for each of those students to attend the prestigious high school.
“Thomas Jefferson has always—prior to this, but this board could change that—been an intricate part of our planning in terms of educational opportunities,” Hatrick said. “But could that be changed? Sure.”’
The School Board will hold its second public hearing and work session on the CIP at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, at the LCPS Administration Building, 21000 Education Ct., in Broadlands. It is expected to adopt its final CIP at its Nov. 27 meeting.
The School Board is also in the midst of reviewing an application for a charter school that aims to meet some of the same needs as the planned academy. The Loudoun Math & IT Academy would be a sixth- through 12th grade charter school with a focus on math, technology and science. The Loudoun parents behind the application, however, have said their proposed school will meet a unique need in Loudoun because it would enroll any student, no matter his or her academic level. Thomas Jefferson high school and the Academy of Science only accept a small percentage of the county’s brightest students.
The application is under review by a committee of the School Board and will go before the entire board next month.