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Alternate Career Pathways Explored at Chamber Breakfast

Creating multiple academic pathways toward employment goals was the subject of the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of Innovation in Education on September 5th at the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) Administrative Offices in Ashburn.

LCPS Superintendent Dr. Eric Williams and Steven Partridge, vice president of strategic partnerships and workforce education at Northern Virginia Community College, outlined innovative ways to provide students with options toward reaching successful employment. Their message was heard by about 200 business and educational leaders in the school board meeting room.

Williams highlighted five LCPS graduates of Monroe Advanced Technology Academy (MATA) who went on to successful careers without following the traditional path to a college degree. These graduates included a welder who is now a forewoman in a shipyard (her bachelor’s degree was paid for by her employer); auto servicing and construction graduates who have pending employment at General Dynamics; a cyber security graduate working at MC Dean, which is paying for their college education; and a welding graduate earning $4,700 per week.   

“Stories like these can help wake up parents and young people to the possibilities,” Williams said.

The MC Dean opportunity was the result of an internship that began when a company representative spoke at the Academies of Loudoun, he went on.

“One of our asks this morning is for you to come into our classrooms in addition to posting jobs, participating in Job-for-a-Day or offering internship experiences.”

Williams noted that the Loudoun School-Business Partnership Executive Council’s Job- for-a-Day is coming up November 13th. He asked businesses to consider hosting a high school junior or senior who wants to explore a possible career.

Partridge, from NVCC, said parents have to be open about their student pursuing a non-traditional path toward a career goal. “We, in society, talk about multiple pathways, but it’s always for somebody else’s kids… We don’t walk the walk. We’re telling other people to do this, but it’s not good enough for our kids. We need to recognize this and do something about it.

“This is a challenge,” Partridge went on, “because we’re changing the mindset of how we do things. We kind of look at education as being linear. It might be linear, but we have to find different ways of getting people there. It’s no longer high school to college to get a four-year degree. We need to find different ways to the finish line.”

Partridge noted that only 60 percent of the people who start college graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years. “What happens to the other 40 percent? They have some college. We need to figure out how to tap into that resource, because the jobs that are here in Loudoun County will not stay here unless we figure out a way to get people skilled and credentialed.”

Williams outlined programs LCPS was introducing as early as elementary school to get students thinking about career paths. “We’re now in the first year of a three-year program to roll out computer-science integration in all of our elementary schools.” He noted students will be coding and engaging in computational thinking, complex problem-solving with and without coding. (The new Waxpool Elementary School has an emphasis on computational thinking.)

“We believe strongly that it’s not about waiting until the middle-school level to place an emphasis on developing students’ interest and capacity as it relates to computer science and computational thinking.”

At the middle and high-school levels, Williams noted career and technical education (CTE) courses are organized in four specific areas: business and information technology, family and consumer sciences, marketing education and technology and engineering education. He said more than a thousand students signed up for a new cyber security course during the first year it was offered. “That’s just one example of the courses we’re adding at the middle and high-school level.”

The State of Innovation in Education was attended by School Board Chair Jeff Morse (Dulles District), Vice Chair Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) and members Debbie Rose (Algonkian District) and Eric Hornberger (Ashburn District); Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall and Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (Algonkian District); State Sen. Jennifer Boysko (33rd District); and Leesburg Town Councilwoman Suzanne Fox.