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August 20, 2009
Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Thursday, August 20, 2009

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The 2,500 students expected to begin a new school year in Martinsville today will be greeted by new teachers, new programs and some expanded programs.

"Our objective this year is to build on the positive directions we are heading in by implementing new and expanded programs," Martinsville Schools Superintendent Scott Kizner said.

A highlight this year is a new Freshman Academy at Martinsville High School, he said.

Ninth-grade students started school on Wednesday, a day earlier than other students, and they were met with a team of educators who provided "a more personalized learning schedule" in a central location on one side of the building, Kizner said.

The academy will provide additional support to freshmen during their first year of high school. It was deemed necessary because national research shows the transition to high school "is one of the most difficult," Kizner said.

The high school's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program, which offers advanced classes, also was expanded, and business classes will partner with others to encourage and expand the entrepreneurial spirit among students by creating kiosks to illustrate business models, Kizner said.

Some students will open small businesses at school as part of the program, he added.

The high school's new Teen Health Center will offer a number of services including vision, hearing, stress, nutrition and dating issues. Its staff is "ready to go," he said.

A Response To Intervention program at Martinsville Middle School will provide "different levels of support to children that are struggling" in class, and also reinforce reading and writing skills, Kizner said.

Educators at Patrick Henry Elementary School have created alliances with the Virginia Museum of Natural History. As a result, and in conjunction with the PTO, Kizner said a greenhouse will be built on the school property to provide hands-on learning opportunities.

Albert Harris Elementary School also will use gardening in an outdoor campus to offer hands-on science experiments, he said.

The seven comprehensive early childhood learning programs will continue at Clearview Elementary School, Kizner said.

"There is a division-wide initiative" to get parents more involved through programs such as father/son or mother/daughter reading nights and "open nights" for specialized discussions of interest to certain grade levels or classes, Kizner said.

The division also hopes to create partnerships with parents to help youngsters understand and follow expectations in student handbooks, specifically as they pertain to dress, cell phones and the like, he said.

"We want to make sure parents understand our policy and support it," Kizner said.

The school division also assumed responsibility for the Continuing Adult/GED program previously offered through Patrick Henry Community College, Kizner said. Classes are held in the central office, and so far, about 60 people have enrolled.

A total of 28 new teachers will be in classrooms this year, he said. Sixteen were hired to replace teachers lost through attrition. Federal stimulus funds were used to hire the remaining 12 teachers.

Some new hires are from other states, including upstate New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan. Two teachers recently returned from teaching stints in Honduras, he said.

As a result of the diverse backgrounds of the new staff members, Kizner is anticipating new ideas will be generated for more programs to be implemented.

Last year, 2,520 students were enrolled in the division, including those in the early childhood development program. The 2,500 expected today is an estimate, he said.

"But I anticipated a decline" based on census projections and a report from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, which predicted an overall declining enrollment in Southside Virginia, Kizner said. The research center provides information, data, research and technical assistance in a number of different areas.

Birth rates from five years ago also pointed to the decline.

"That is a pattern we may see over the next couple years," Kizner said.

Regardless, "our thinking is build on your strengths. An organization has got to keep looking at ways to improve" or else it will falter. "We are willing to take risks" and implement new ideas and strategies, he said.

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