Secretary of Education Visits Academies

“I guarantee one thing; this is not a normal high school and it’s not like any school you’ve ever seen. We are striving to provide some very unique learning opportunities for our students.”

That was the introduction given by Academies of Loudoun Principal Dr. Tinell Priddy to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Tuesday, February 26th. DeVos visited the Academies as part of Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month.

After a roundtable discussion involving Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) administrators, Academies’ staff and students and business leaders, DeVos had a question for Priddy.

“Dr. Priddy, you said up front this isn’t a normal high school. My question is ‘Why shouldn’t it be?’” 

LCPS Chief of Staff Dr. Michael Richards, who was representing Superintendent Dr. Eric Williams during DeVos’ visit, said the school division was more than happy to share what has been learned in developing the Academies, right up to the federal level. “One of the things we like to do at the Academies is share ideas. We’re very happy to be able to share ideas this morning.”

Among those sharing ideas were Academy of Engineering and Technology (AET) juniors Pranavi Karnati, Vrushti Joshi and Azrin Rahman, who won the 2018 INCubator National Pitch Competition with their Grow Greenly, LLC project. This project featured the development and production of a self-fertilizing plant pot that was conceptualized at the AET.

“I don’t think I ever thought this process would bring me to where I am today…,” said Rahman. “When I came in, I just wanted more knowledge about STEM. Entrepreneurship really intrigued me… I never thought I’d have my own company. I never thought I would develop something real…We actually do what we’re saying.”

“It’s time to stop talking and learning and continue to learn through doing,” said AET entrepreneurship educator Laura Boyd Smidt. “We’ve really asked our students to step outside of their comfort zone.”

Smidt added that AET students are now working with culinary arts and auto collision repair students from the Monroe Advanced Technical Academy (MATA) on joint projects. She added that the Academies’ shared lunch period gives students from different curriculum paths (AET, MATA and the Academy of Science) a chance to collaborate on projects that transcend the curriculum.

Priddy said the Academies lives up to its core mission – explore, research, collaborate and innovate – which is inscribed on the building’s walls. She said having three curriculum paths under one roof leads to interesting collaborations. “Each is a little different and that allows us to reach a broader range of students.”

Stephen DeWitt, the deputy executive director of the Association for Career and Technical Education, asked staff and students about the business partnerships that help fuel imaginations and practical results at the Academies.

LCPS Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Dr. Ashley Ellis said school-business partnerships are important across the school division, not just at the Academies; noting businesses work with schools at a variety of levels with experts giving feedback to students on projects. “We feel it’s very important for our students to experience working with the businesses and community members.”

Priddy noted AET ninth-graders have an Innovation Challenge framed by a business question with cross-functional teams working on the challenge. “We seek to involve (business) people as research mentors, to be judges for our science fair or symposium.”

Priddy also noted the Academies have a placement coordinator who works on extended learning experiences; seeking out internships, mentorships and potential job placements for students with industry credentials and licenses.

School Board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg District) and Broad Run Supervisor Ron Meyer attended DeVos’ visit. After the roundtable discussion in the Academies’ auditorium, DeVos toured the school’s Radiology Technology Lab and greenhouse.