NOVA President Urges Loudoun Leaders to Think Long Term

Northern Virginia Community College President Scott Ralls started this morning’s State of Innovation in Education event with some good news, and some bad news.

The bad: Out of the nation’s 20 largest metro regions, Washington, DC, is second to last in terms of labor force growth.

The good: There is plenty of opportunity to turn that around.

He addressed a roomful of educators, business and nonprofit leaders at the annual event, part of the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce’s Policymaker Series, and said it was up to them, working in tandem, to equip the next generation of workers.

“We—I’m talking to all of you and me—are a major part of this,” he said. “This is a remarkable region as a workforce engine.”

He pointed to the growing number of jobs in the cybersecurity, data center and general technology industries that are headquartered in Northern Virginia. He also referred to the partnerships among K-12 school systems, Northern Virginia Community College, and universities in the area.

“Partnerships exist here among educational institutions more than I’ve seen in any other region,” Ralls said.

He read a quote from Bill Gates, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year, and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” Ralls said to not get overwhelmed with a short-term plan but start chipping away at a big idea.

In his comments, Superintendent Eric Williams gave the audience an update about what is going on in Loudoun classrooms to prepare students for life after graduation. He told the story of Park View High School student Gabriel Filippini, who used the school’s 3D printer to create a prosthetic hand for his little brother, Lucas.

“Here is a student doing incredibly meaningful work,” Williams said. “That’s the entrepreneurial and problem-solving skills that we want our students to have.”

Yes, Gabriel’s teacher is making sure the class satisfies the state-required curriculum, but he is also harnessing a genuine interest in the classroom lessons. “We’re working to recapture the joy of teaching and learning,” Williams said.

In his two years at the helm of Loudoun’s 78,680-student school system, he has nudged the county’s teachers to help students connect what they are learning in the classroom to solve real-life problems, an initiative he calls One to the World.

“What’s the result? Incredible level of engagement and ownership among students,” he said. “Not just working for a grade but really working because they value what they’re doing.”

That means long-lasting learning and more students prepared for the ever-changing workforce.

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