‘A Long Time Coming:’ Groundbreaking Ceremony Celebrates the Future Academies of Loudoun

In a county that’s opened 20 new public schools in the past two decades, not one groundbreaking ceremony has been held.

That changed today.

School and county leaders, as well as several students, gathered on the 120-acre construction site and future home of the Academies of Loudoun to celebrate a milestone in the decades-long effort to bring the specialty high school to fruition.

“This is special,” Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) said. “There’s nothing like this anywhere in the country.”

The Academies of Loudoun, slated to open in the fall of 2018, will house expanded versions of the existing Academy of Science and C.S. Monroe Technology Center, as well as a new program, called the Academy of Engineering and Technology. The 315,000-square-foot building along Sycolin Road south of Leesburg will have space to serve 2,500 students who attend classes there every other day or 1,250 students per day.

“This is a great day,” Superintendent Eric Williams said. “The Academies of Loudoun will bring students together to innovate, to explore, to research and collaborate as they solve real STEM problems.”

Local leaders have said the academies could rival Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology in Fairfax County. Loudoun foots the bill, at more than $13,000 per student, to send about 250 students there each year.

“We’re going to bring all our kids home from Thomas Jefferson,” Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said, with many gathered nodding in agreement. “This is monumental.”

The project’s designers, Stantec Architecture, ventured far beyond the school system’s prototype school building designs to create a facility that will feel more like a miniature version of the Apple Campus in Cupertino, CA, or Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn.

Courtesy of Stantec Architecture
Courtesy of Stantec Architecture

It’s designed to encourage collaboration among the three academies. There will be no wings or isolated hallways, and instead, most of the academies’ labs, classrooms and workspaces will open up into a large gathering area at the center of the building. That area, called Innovation Commons, will double as a dining area and as a venue for a variety of events, from robotics competitions to award presentations.

“In designing this facility, we actually toured various facilities from community colleges and makerspaces to the HHMI facility at Janelia to see how our facility could best fit our emerging vision for The Academies of Loudoun initiative,” Hornberger said. “That’s what we’re achieving here.”

Bowman Consulting is the civil engineer firm on the project, and it is being built by Holder Construction Company.

Even before the first excavator was in place at the site, leaders in the school system, the county and the business community started to craft curriculum for programs that will be housed there. Much of that effort was to create the brand new Academy of Engineering and Technology, which will begin classes this fall. Until the new academies campus opens, that program will operate out of Tuscarora High School in Leesburg.

And Loudoun high schoolers have already taken interest in the program two years before it will move into its permanent space. More than 600 students applied for the academy’s 150 seats. Eventually, it will have space for close to 750 students, according to Hornberger. It will provide science, technology, engineering and mathematics pathways for students with an emphasis on engineering, entrepreneurship and information technologies.

The Academies of Loudoun campus also will provide much-needed space for the Academy of Science and Monroe Technology Center, two of the county’s most popular programs, to expand. The Academy of Science has operated out of Dominion High School since it started in 2005. Monroe Technology Center, which opened in 1977, offers a variety of vocational programs, from auto collision repair to practical nursing.

Talk of opening a large learning center of this kind of facility started not long after Monroe Technology Center opened in Leesburg, according to Science Supervisor Odette D. Scovel.

Courtesy of Stantec Architecture
Courtesy of Stantec Architecture

“As soon as Monroe was built, we knew there’d be a problem with capacity,” she said. “There’s just so many more students who want that type of programming than we have space for.”

But, that need took the backseat to a more urgent matter—building and opening elementary, middle and high schools quick enough to keep up with record-breaking enrollment growth.

The previous School Board and Board of Supervisors, that served from 2012 to 2015, made it a priority to fit the $115.12 million Academies of Loudoun project into its Capital Improvement Program. And voters overwhelmingly approved the bond funding in 2014.

“This project is a long time coming, and it took a lot of work from a lot of people to get to this point,” Hornberger said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “But the real work is just beginning.”

He encouraged business leaders to consider how they want to get involved, from sponsoring lab space, providing internships, judging competitions or just sitting down with educators to talk about what skills the future workforce needs.

“Through community-based projects and collaboration we can better prepare our students for the 21st century workplace,” Hornberger said. “We’re at a place to do something exceptional here.”

A photographer positions members of the Loudoun County School Board at the Academies of Loudoun groundbreaking ceremony. (Danielle Nadler/Loudoun Now)
A photographer positions members of the Loudoun County School Board at the Academies of Loudoun groundbreaking ceremony. (Danielle Nadler/Loudoun Now)


21 thoughts on “‘A Long Time Coming:’ Groundbreaking Ceremony Celebrates the Future Academies of Loudoun

  • 2016-06-18 at 9:32 am

    “There’s nothing like this anywhere in the country” says Hornberger. Well, I will give him credit on that one. Nothing is so ironic than having a bunch of school board members absolutely clueless on STEM talk about a new STEM initiative. Most of this group refused to use the STEM-based value added metrics required for federal funding because they “don’t believe in it”. If that sounds like putting religion over science, it’s because it is. But Hornberger and Williams took it up a notch when they defrauded the feds by lying on the feds applications forms.

    I’m sure that many students will receive a good education here. But to claim this will “rival” Thomas Jefferson is foolish. TJ is as much about gathering the elite students of the region as it is about programs and courses. Fairfax is 3x as large as Loudoun and TJ accepts students from all over the region. TJ is tantamount to an elite Ivy League student population. There will be a lot of talent at AOS but it is not the same. The school board wouldn’t know because none of them have ever participated/attended anything called elite. I would hope that we still allow students to apply to TJ but if the last two years shows us anything, it’s that Supt Williams will want to take credit for the work of our bright students and will try to force all Loudoun students to attend Loudoun schools. He can’t take credit for their work done at TJ.

    And besides, isn’t it ironic that a chairman who works for the one of the country’s biggest (and most crooked) charter school magnates would object to paying $13k/yr (less than the avg Loudoun student) for TJ students when that is exactly what charter schools advocate – sending the per pupil cost for each student to a school of their choice (e.g. charters).

    The only question I have is how 1250 students are going to fit in a “300-square-foot building along Sycolin Road south of Leesburg.” Maybe it’s so innovative, students will be stacked 15 people high.

    • 2016-06-19 at 5:07 pm

      Point of correction: the article says 315,000 square feet, not 300 square feet at SGP writes. But reading and numbers are not his strong suit. Which is why he should not be with anything education related

      • 2016-06-20 at 10:48 am

        Nobody has ever accused CareerSwitcher of having a clue. The original story said 300 square feet. Another commenter even noted this on the Facebook site. You tried so, so, so hard to find a victory. And once again, you were sent home with the tail between your legs. So sorry.

  • 2016-06-20 at 4:25 pm

    so, your point is what, that you read the story incorrectly? or perhaps you were trying to prove you were clever? The bigger point is that this is a good thing but you are incapable of realizing the power of the school. Instead, you peddle you conspiracy theories and stories of neglect. How about celebrating progress for once

    • 2016-06-20 at 10:02 pm

      CareerSwitcher, let me go a little slower for you.

      1. Yes, it’s good to have more options. This school will provide more options for gifted students, for students to gain valuable hands-on skills (many more wished they had time to take these as elective courses) in Monroe, and for students to obtain practical STEM-based skills. That’s the good part.

      2. This school is not a TJ replacement. That’s what our school board believes. They don’t want to pay $13K/student to Fairfax to have some of our students attend the elite high school. What they don’t understand is that Harvard is Harvard not just because of the rigor of its classes but also because of the capabilities of its students. Allowing Loudoun students to compete with the region’s best at TJ is what some students want and need. We should provide that option as well.

      3. There seems to be a push for students to engage in focused, intensive STEM research very early in life. Maybe some of these students are fully aware of all options and want to tackle such projects. Most folks have no idea how much time it takes. They view PhD’s as having extensive knowledge across a large scientific area instead of the reality in which PhD’s are experts in a very narrow subject area. We are asking high school students to become PhD students. Some will make a difference and get great press. Others will learn a lot, sink a huge amount of time into their projects, and just maybe regret losing out on other opportunities in high school. Meanwhile, Supt Williams and LCSB will tout the successful researchers as “proof” he’s doing a great job in LCPS.

      4. We need to improve overall STEM education for all. AOS is a great option for some students but to lose focus on the other pieces of K-12 STEM education is misguided. Most of our board believes objective data is unreliable and “harsh”. They want to replace standard tests with subjective “projects” and eliminate any cumulative measurements. They certainly don’t want to use analytics to evaluate programs and personnel. While we certainly have some great teachers, we all know stories where we could improve. The PISA tests, buried by LCSB, showed not only were our students underperforming similar students around the world, but believed our teachers were less likely to care about them.

      We need concrete plans to improve STEM across the board. We need to use data to improve policies and evaluate personnel. And we need to stop trying to avoid objective measurements via SOLs and teacher-generated cumulative exams. AOS is mostly a photo-op to avoid these discussions.

      • 2016-06-21 at 9:28 am

        Let me go even slower for you, SGP. PISA testing is irrelevant. Standardized testing should not be the focus of schools. Projects absolutely add to student education. The handful of students who attend TJ should not be the focus of our school board. You are not an educational expert. You say that you want to beef up STEM studies for all children while also bash the schools for doing just that. The schools are not loosing focus on STEM while they build this new school.

        Was that slow enough

        • 2016-06-21 at 9:53 am

          1. PISA tests skills and application of concepts, not memorization. It is the only reliable means (so far) to evaluate how schools are doing. And neither you, nor Williams, nor Richards, nor any of LCSB has any explanation for why our own students are less likely to say teachers care about them. Maybe that’s one reason why we’ve had so many tragedies.

          2. Projects are a fad and a joke. Virtually no teacher can do them well. Certainly not more than 1-2 during the year. LCPS/LCSB has absolutely no way of evaluating them. They just want everyone to “believe” kids are learning without any evidence. I guess you would take up back to the dark ages where everything was based on belief. When will LCPS even propose measurements of project-based learning, much less execute them?

          3. STEM should be approached in multiple ways. It is appropriate to challenge those at every level. AOS provides that for some kids. It is not an elite school like TJ. To remove the TJ option is ridiculous. It’s like the high school coach who resents his prodigy attending (national contender) DeMatha HS so he forces him to play on the state contender local school. Williams and LCSB are selling out these kids so they personally can get credit. Very similar to how Principal Stephens (and others) have sold out the kids who fail SOL tests solely for their personal gain.

          4. Virtually nobody in LCPS is addressing the lack of STEM expertise among the teachers. Certainly not at the elementary level. And nearly all of our middle school teachers didn’t major in STEM. They fundamentally don’t understand the concepts. If a child gets to 9th grade without ever having been taught the concepts correctly, they will no excel in STEM. And the average to below-average kids will learn to hate math and science. LCPS has YET to hold a single STEM-focuses recruiting session. They fail to recruit STEM majors from engineering colleges. They just assume that “good enough” (equates to underperforming similar students in every single OECD county on PISA) is fine.

          LCPS has NEVER been focused on STEM. Never. They take no action to improve the overall STEM education. They don’t even hold public discussions nor invite in experts for panels. And we have the resident fool Debbie Rose who can’t even comprehend Fairfax’ FRL research study. If board members can’t understand basic research involving statistics, what possible hope is there for our students? You have proven that you probably need to go back to your old job. I guess you stay in education because they won’t take you back.

          • 2016-06-21 at 12:40 pm

            SGP, you are getting off topic again. Stay focused. This article is about the new school and you originally complained that LCPS should not build a place for our advanced students. Any of your other points (SOL and Principal Stephens, STEM expertise among teachers, PISA, Fairfax FRL research, etc.) are tangential at best and obstructions at worst. You can continue to insult me if it makes you feel better about your lack of expertise. But, please stay topic on this forum – a little bit of netiquette goes a long way

  • 2016-06-21 at 12:53 pm

    CareerSwitcher seems to suffer from the same logical failures as Hornberger. He seems to think that he can narrowly define a topic and then prevent anyone from discussing related issues. They both claim they are “off topic”. Hornberger is going to get his tail handed to him in court just as Plowman did. CareerSwitcher won’t because he has the right to make a fool of himself on these pages.

    I have never said AOS should not have been built. Nobody can point to any such statement by me. Nobody has ever accused CareerSwitcher of being able to “read closely”. He just makes up claims rather like Judge Irby makes up facts. I have stated the same points in both local newspapers regarding AOS. It is a good step but woefully insufficient and not a TJ replacement. It’s tantamount to President Obama saying look “we had a small victory in Fallujah so we should ignore all the other chaos in the world on my watch”.

    LCSB doesn’t understand STEM. Nobody on that board is even willing to confront the harsh data from the PISA tests two years in a row. Virtually none of them even understand VAMs. They just put their heads in the sand. And folks like CareerSwitcher applaud such ignorance. If it weren’t our very kids’ futures at stake, it would be funny. It isn’t.

    • 2016-06-21 at 5:39 pm

      SGO – you did call the school a “minor step” and you continue to berate LCPS for their forward thinking about a place for advanced students. You have called for education beyond the math and science currently being taught but you whine at the mention of projects and hands-on activities

      You have also supported tracking students so that advanced students are in classes without less advanced students – this is precisely what this facility is all about. So, you are seeing the progress you have asked for and you are still trying to pick a fight.

      The only conclusion is that you are only happy when you are unhappy. That you will complain about any and all progress the school is making. You also complain about my challenges to your perpetual pettiness yet without me, you have no audience.

      • 2016-06-21 at 10:12 pm

        CareerSwitcher, you are wrong. I have advocated for tracking of students based on ability. By the time a student is in high school, tracking is available. That is if the principal doesn’t believe in using the more advanced kids to teach the slower kids. In elementary school, they don’t group by class. And there are not 450 students in each grade. Thus, elementary school is when most advanced kids are slowed down. By the time students are in middle school, if the principals are inclined, there is no problem. I know as all the schools did this back in the 1980’s before it became fashionable to use some kids to teach the slower ones.

        You might make the argument that this mitigates the lack of teachers capable of teaching the advanced subjects. By concentrating them in one location and bringing students to the teachers, you can have more effective STEM teachers. But in general, classes of 450 should be sufficient to generate the minimum students for any given course in each high school.

        This does not replace TJ. It does not fix the effectiveness of some STEM teachers for the general population. And it does nothing to fix STEM education in K-8. Do you claim it does?

        I never complained that Loudoun did not have a magnet school or TJ equivalent. Go find where I did. It doesn’t exist. Once again your strawmen arguments are foolish. As for an “audience”, why do you even engage? Why not just let me go “unheard”? It’s because you know people read this. You have no problems lying (about your intent to “give me an audience”) just like all the LCPS officials. Btw, have you read the WaPo blogs? We have quite the running engagement. Maybe you know better than to try to engage beyond your capabilities.

  • 2016-06-21 at 8:19 pm

    I read the Castillo story and thought to myself, “Any man who abuses a woman is a coward.” Then I read this article and the comments. In my opinion, the Virginia SGP comments aimed at Judge Irby, Mrs. Stephens and Mrs. Rose are irrelevant to the story and are simply verbal abuse of women in our community. I am disgusted. Adults should be able to debate without name calling, harassment or abuse of one another.

    • 2016-06-21 at 10:34 pm

      “Verbal abuse” of women? Are you serious? Is that like the “verbal abuse” that some LCPS official (likely Stephens) accused me of toward my kids when they helped me create flyers detailing Stephens abuse of students (coercing them to retake it) who failed the SOLs?

      You are simply ignorant. As folks may recall, I suggested Loudoun offer $100M and Supt Williams in exchange for Karen Garza of Fairfax. I noted that she was the most honest and transparent politician I had ever seen. She had a firm grasp of the issues and was politically deft enough to achieve progress. I have praised Asst Supt Cynthia Ambrose for her understanding of student growth and for her honesty. She pulls her punches because of the political climate here but if you could get her off the record, you would be amazed at what you might hear. And I noted that Dusty Sparrow Reed was an excellent candidate for school board. She didn’t win (DeKenipp had the audacity to accuse Reed of running for school board to promote her firm, what a ridiculous charge but I didn’t hear you pipe up then, now did I?) but nobody can dispute I refuted the false allegations of DeKenipp.

      You are simply pulling out the Democratic/Hillary Clinton play book. You claim to want all women to be held to the same standards and then you use the gender card when one is criticized. Let’s be very clear:

      1. Rose tried to suppress public criticism by filing a criminal complaint. A criminal complaint for free speech. How is that any different than Vladimir Putin? Rose advocated segregation by race/income in Leesburg and was either too unethical/incompetent to understand the Fairfax research. She called her constituents “disgusting” in a meeting.

      2. Irby sits on the bench and literally decides whether folks remain free or not. Irby made up imaginary facts to absolve LCPS. If my claim were not true, Irby could sue the bejeesus out of me for “defamation per se”. That means she doesn’t have to show actual damages, it’s assumed because of her position. She won’t file anything because she knows I am correct in my allegations. She either can’t understand the law or is just biased. She literally graduated from a bottom 10 law school whose LSATs range from about the 15th percentile to the 40th percentile (despite being one of the most expensive schools in the country). Irby is a joke. The ironic part is that she will largely be culpable for the downfall of LCPS (more on that later). She was definitely instrumental in a fair judge down in Richmond ordering SGPs released.

      3. And Stephens. Where do I start. Stephens is a horrible principal. Many other commenters on this board have no love lost for her. Her math growth scores (nobody disputes VAMs are accurate at the school level) ranked 899 out of 1142. She blocked any discussion of her horrible scores. She refused to give parents growth reports on their individual children. She coerced students who failed the SOLs to retake them solely for her own benefit. She called the sheriff to object when I handed out flyers on the public sidewalk. She refused to release my children to me after school. She forced my kids to walk in the sleet to school rather than allow me to drop them off in the car. She likely (or another LCPS official familiar with internal Seldens actions) reported me to CPS to try to have my kids removed from my custody. I’m pretty sure LCPS administrators were so disgusted by her conduct, they demoted her from a 700-student school to a 150-student school. Wait until a jury hears about her actions.

      You have the audacity to compare me to a murderer? Are you serious? While you were too busy having fun in your 20’s, I was serving on a nuclear submarine spending over 10 straight weeks underwater to help protect this nation and your rights. Multiple women have contacted me to thank me for standing up for all students and parents against LCPS corruption. They are too scared to come forward and I respect their position after seeing how far LCPS is willing to go. You are no different than any of the school officials in trying to shut down legitimate criticism. I have been at least as harsh on Williams, Hornberger, and Fox. Trust me, they will each have their day in court. You should be upset at Hornberger. He was the ringleader and used Turgeon (to chair the kangaroo court), Stephens (to issue the No Trespass letters without having to get his name publicly involved), and Rose (to lead the charge against “personal attacks”) while pretending to be innocent. Each of these, along with Plowman, define “ethical filth”. I’m sorry you don’t like our freedom of speech. Maybe you should move to Egypt where they agree with you.

  • 2016-06-22 at 11:19 am

    So, I guess I misread SGP comments and he is actually a supported of the new school. That means there is nothing left for him to criticize regarding the school or regarding this article. We all win.

    • 2016-06-22 at 2:34 pm

      CareerSwitcher, yes I am in favor of this new school. Concluding that the conversation should end there is like nobody should talk about current world security because Obama managed to close Guantanamo Bay.

      Despite being the only person on the ballot, 30% of the voters couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Eric Hornberger. Maybe it’s because Hornberger has run on “improving STEM education” but has done virtually nothing. So Academies of Loudoun was his answer. These Academies will serve 1250 students out of nearly 80K. It only applies to students in high school. Even the majority of high school students won’t have access.

      He (and most of the other board members) have done nothing to improve the rest of our math education. Number of STEM-focused recruiting fairs: ZERO. Willingness to hire STEM majors without an education degree: NONE. Panels/hearings on STEM education specifically math: NONE. Willingness to follow federal guidelines to measure teacher effectiveness in math: NONE. Willingness to collect and share best lessons on math: NONE. Tracking of math students by ability: NATA. Heck, they won’t even acknowledge we are teaching Common Core lessons when they objected to the Virginia School Boards Association requesting more info be provided to districts!

      Trying to claim that the STEM conversation is over because you built a single building is laughable. Most of the school board has no clue about STEM. They don’t have STEM majors. They don’t understand it. And they refuse to discuss or welcome best practices. Frankly, it’s malpractice. But because they are elected with such a tiny fraction of the vote, nobody seems to care.

    • 2016-06-22 at 6:55 pm

      In my opinion, it is shocking that someone can defend their verbal abuse of women based on their belief that the women deserved it due to their lack of understanding, schooling, not listening to him, not following his recommendation, disagreeing with him or ruling against him; or justifying verbal abuse of women because he also abuses men on occasion; or being a veteran gives him the right to verbally abuse women. The lack of remorse and volume of continued misogynist comments show a complete lack of respect for women. Absolutely disgraceful.

      • 2016-06-22 at 11:18 pm

        Marta Sanchez, I can agree with you that any physical abuse of women is unacceptable. As I have stated before, when I contributed to the combined federal campaign (charity drive), the majority of my contributions were directed toward shelters for abused women. I have known women who suffered from physical abuse. It is always completely unacceptable and more needs to be done.

        However, you would have the public treat women as “less than equal” to men. In other words, the public can criticize men but if they dare apply the same critique against women, it amounts to “abuse” because somehow women can’t handle criticism. That is NONSENSE. I raise my daughter to be strong. Absolutely no physical retaliation by either child. But words are never a reason to become physical. Period. This misguided notion that mere words warrant some type of punishment or retaliation is a large reason why we have physical abuse.

        But let me be more clear. You, Marta Sanchez, are pathetic for excusing corruption and/or incompetence by women in positions of power. Judge Irby created fictional facts. This is not in dispute. You criticize me for pointing that out but fail to even try to refute it. Debbie Rose attempted to segregate kids by race/income. She filed a frivolous criminal complaint (LCSO’s detective’s finding, not just mine) for public criticism. You criticize me for pointing that out but fail to even try to refute it. Principal Stephens had a horrendous student growth report, coerced students who failed the SOL to retake it solely for her benefit, and filed a frivolous CPS complaint (again the CPS conclusion, not just mine). You criticize me for pointing that out but fail to even try to refute it.

        I gravitate to strong women who can either refute or accept criticism. It is apparent you cannot. You are clearly weak. Not in the physical sense as I have no idea. But your psyche and opinion of women is so low that you would shield them from valid criticism. I truly hope my daughter never encounters or is lectured by anyone like you. I can assure you that she would eat you for lunch and she has not yet reached the ripe ol age of 10. Your tired playbook is already worn thin. It won’t help you in elections and it certainly won’t help you here.

        If you truly wanted to be treated as a weak, sensitive woman, just let us know. We will pat you on your head, ignore all of your comments and accept you for what you are. If, on the other hand, you want to be part of the modern world and be treated equally, then you better get thicker skin. I can assure you that Supt Karen Garza of Fairfax is not weak.

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