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Governor’s School decision put on hold

After focusing discussion on financing transportation and enrollment for students attending a Regional Governor’s School, Halifax County School Board members decided to hold off on deciding yes or no to participating in the upcoming year.

The decision came during the regular monthly school board meeting Thursday night in Halifax. 

The board plans to continue discussion at a work session scheduled for Nov. 4 at 5:30 p.m. 

In the meantime, Coordinator of AP/DE and Student Services Shawn Haws plans to attend a meeting at the Regional Governor’s School Oct. 25 to get more information. 

According to Haws, the Keysville Governor’s School in which Halifax County students participated years ago had one Governor’s School, which has now become the Humanities Governor’s School, and since that time the STEM Governor’s School has been added. 

 “At the present time, they are also looking into a third Governor’s School that would be health science specific, respiratory therapy would be the governor’s school piece related to the health science academies that are being rolled out,” Haws said.

The Humanities Governor’s School, which includes a joint board tuition fee and a SVCC dual enrollment tuition fee, would cost $4,651.84 per student.  

The STEM Governor’s School, which would cost the full SVCC dual enrollment tuition fee, would cost $1,839.50.  

 “When looking at the possible health science specific Governor’s School, it would be founded similar of that of the STEM academy. There would be a full tuition for that program,” said Haws. 

“If we were to reenter into the program, it would start with juniors, and then the program would build from there,” Haws explained. 

The next year participation would double with having seniors and a new cohort of juniors. 

ED-8 Trustee Walter Potts said, “Why couldn’t we look into offering these courses in our system? Why do we need to spend the money to send our students down there when we can do that here with dual enrollment that would not cost us a dime?” 

Haws replied, “The way that our system is set up, the students’ first level of classes is taught here in our system. However, what will happen is in their second year, the courses that are offered to complete the program we do not have and probably would not be able to have because they are very specific.” 

ED-4 trustee Cheryl Terry said, “I am concerned of where we would get the money, not only for transportation of these children, but the actual cost of the program.” 

When the idea was first approached in January, Herndon met with Transportation Director David Guill to determine the cost of transporting students to the Regional Governor’s School in Keysville.

According to Herndon, the cost estimate would be $1.75 a mile plus the cost of the bus driver, which at $70 a day would be roughly $12,600. 

Herndon said, “For driver and transport, the cost is roughly $36,690.” 

Several of the board members gave ideas of reducing the transportation cost. 

 “I recently thought we could meet with another school system to save on transportation,” Herndon said. “I talked with superintendent of Mecklenburg just to look into that if we did decide to go back.”  

ED-5 Trustee Dr. Roger Long said, “I don’t see how pairing with another school would help, since we don’t have one that goes directly through Halifax.”  

Herndon replied if Halifax County did partner up with another division, “we would not have to pay for our driver to stay the whole time.”

ED-7 Trustee Dick Stoneman questioned the possibility of getting a 15-passenger van. 

 “We don’t own one right now,” Transportation Director Guill said. “The state has regulations about having CDL licenses to have those. We do have a few small buses, but they do not really save you a lot of money. School buses gets about eight miles to the gallon; one of the smaller ones may get 11 or 12.” 

Herndon brought up the possibility of using a car if four or less students participated, and Guill said it was possible, but you would still have to pay the driver. 

Chairman Kim Farson said, “While I am 100 percent in support of activity buses, when we are talking about mileage and per mile cost, it’s going to cost the same to take those students to an educational opportunity also. Activity buses cost just as much per mile, and we have some running to the very edge of our county with only a couple of students.” 

In March, school board members considered another possibility to reduce cost, which would be to offer students their own version of Governor’s School via satellite at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center.

Diane Thomas spoke to the board about her desire to return to the Regional Governor’s School and spoke on behalf of the Southern Virginian Higher Education Center and its willingness to participate. 

Thomas read the following statement from Executive Director Betty Adams: 

“Our enthusiasm regarding the return of the Governor’s School to Halifax County is unwavering. And while we remain open to hosting the Halifax County Governor’s School on the SVHEC campus, the final decision regarding the location and operations lies with Dr. Herndon and the Halifax County School Board. The SVHEC stands ready to collaborate in whatever role is deemed appropriate.” 

Frosty Owens said he felt that while one of the least expensive ways to participate would be to send students to the higher ed center, he felt Keysville was where they need to go. 

 “Our Governor’s School is face to face, it’s not, never was, and I don’t know if it will ever be a virtual one,” Owens said. “The expectation of Governor’s School is that students would be sent down in the morning and would return to their home school for their third and fourth block.” 

Owens added, “There are two big plusses to going to Keysville. One is that the students are on a college campus, and that’s kind of a needed experience. Plus, I felt students in the past thoroughly enjoyed that atmosphere. Secondly, the students get to mingle with other students from other school districts. Students never have that opportunity except in a Regional Governor’s School.”  

Haws said virtual governor’s schools do exist; however, the one we partner with has specific vision and mission statement they had to propose in the development of that governor’s school to the department of education as well as the joint board for Region 8. 

Haws said, “Our Governor’s School is a face to face interactive, interdisciplinary Governor’s School. That’s how it’s designed. It is not set up within its definition to be done virtually. They really focus on that interaction and being research based. Students coming together in that college campus atmosphere, working with students from other parts of the region and a lot of hands on labs take place which would be difficult with a virtual environment.”

Potts said, “So technically right now, that option is out.” 

Farson asked Haws for benefits of even venturing to even looking at Governor’s School. 

 “Children learn differently, and you want to do your best to offer as many opportunities as you can,” Haws replied. “While we do have dual enrollment and AP, the Governor’s School would bring forth a great research component that steps that up. Yes, we offer the exact same courses on our campus, so it’s one of those things you have to consider the fact that we want to provide as much as we can, but can we?” 

ED-2 Trustee Karen Hopkins showed her support in rejoining Governor’s School and requested the board hear from Haws after his meeting which also would allow for more time to consider the decision.   

According to Herndon, there is still time for the school board members to come back in November to decide whether they want to participate or not.