Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2015 - 07:42:25

McDonnell hosts summit on education in Chester
By Blake Belden, Staff Writer
Oct 2, 2013, 12:43

BLAKE BELDEN/ HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Gov. Bob McDonnell speaks at an education summit at John Tyler Community College on Friday.

CHESTERFIELD — Some of the most academically accomplished students in the United States today might not even be regarded among the top students in the world. Gov. Bob McDonnell said this is a “wake-up call” to why increased Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education in Virginia continues to be of paramount necessity, speaking at his second annual STEM Summit on Friday morning at John Tyler Community College in Chester.

The summit was a forum with educators, organizations and executives who discussed the future of education, industry and a competitive national/international workforce in relation to STEM. 

At the event, McDonnell pointed out that of 34 advanced nations in the world, U.S. students ranked 17th in science and 25th in math.

“As good as we are, we’ve got to do better.  It’s a global economy,” McDonnell said, emphasizing the notion from a business perspective that if our nation wants to excel in an international economy, we must be able to sufficiently compete with the high standards set by other economies like Shanghai, Beiijing, Tokyo and London.

McDonnell did not issue this as a blanket criticism of the current state of education in Virginia, but rather as a motivational push to continue to bolster the already growing opportunities and implementations within K-12 academic institutions statewide, with a focus on starting younger than older.

“We’ve got to have the young geeks being developed in third, fourth and fifth grade,” McDonnell said, using the term “geek” as a positive re-enforcement rather than a grade school insult.

John Tyler Community College President Ted Raspiller supported the idea that “you can’t start too soon” providing the youth with an opportunity to develop a STEM-based education, and proudly emphasized the “thrilling” statistic that 22 percent of the students at the community college are seeking a STEM-oriented degree, a number that has recently been showing consistent growth.

In fact, Virginia public schools were ranked fourth in the nation by Education Week for the fourth consecutive year and received top honors for technology management from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers.

In the past couple of years, the number of STEM academies in the state has nearly tripled from eight to 22, what McDonnell considers a “monumental leap forward” due to the fact that STEM-related jobs are currently growing faster than any other discipline.

Of course, with increased outlets for instruction comes the need for additional instructors.

“One of the things ... I think is critically important is that we get more professionals in the teaching ranks in these areas and that we do everything possible to elevate the quality of teaching,” McDonnell said.

In addition to establishing a Teacher’s Cabinet to help bring new innovations and improvements to statewide K-12 programs, McDonnell acknowledged that better quality educating demands a better paycheck.

“If we’re going to retain good teachers, especially in STEM, we’ve got to pay them more.  So this year, we increased teacher pay by two percent.  It’s not a lot, but it’s the biggest jump we’ve had in about six years,” McDonnell explained.

According to Teacher Salary Survey Results released by the Virginia Department of Education, the average annual teachers’ salary demonstrated just under a four percent increase between fiscal years 2008 and 2009.

McDonnell declared that underperformance in the school system is not acceptable on any level.

“The days where we accept excuses about why kids fail and why schools aren’t  measuring up and why some chronically underperform, those days and excuses are over. Every young person deserves access to a world-class education,” McDonnell said.

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