Two months after teachers at Monroe Technology Center protested major changes being made to technical and vocational programs, county school administrators are assuring them that their concerns have been heard, many have been addressed, and some are simple unfounded.
School Board members received a slew of emails and phone calls in February as word spread that about two dozen Monroe courses would be cut in half, from one-year to two-year programs as Monroe moves onto the new Academies of Loudoun campus this fall. In some cases, that would prevent students from getting the experience needed to earn professional industry certificates. Monroe is considered one of the best vocational schools in the nation because it gives students a chance to earn the certificates they need to enter the workforce.
In a heated question-and-answer session April 10, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Ashely Ellis assured School Board members that the teachers’, students’ and parents’ biggest concerns have been addressed. The original plan was to reduce 23 programs from two-year programs to one-year programs. She told them that for three of those—welding, graphic communications and auto servicing technology—her staff decided to continue to offer an additional year.
Of the programs that will still be reduced, including masonry and auto collision, Ellis said school leaders want to maintain high quality programs but also ensure more students have access to the programs. “It’s a balancing act between those two really important goals,” she said.
Moving many of the programs from two years to one year opens up space for Monroe to almost double its enrollment to 1,100 students.
School Board members also asked her about several complaints they’ve heard from teachers, including not enough storage space, classroom spaces that do not fit large equipment needed for their courses, and too few outlets in some classrooms.
Academies of Loudoun Principal Tinell Priddy said the teachers were given photos of the classrooms and storage space, along with square footage measurements, in January, and they are now taking tours of the building. She is touring the space with them so she can log and address concerns, she added. “We are trying to give them as much comprehensive information as we can,” Priddy said.
School Board member Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) said what has happened in Monroe’s transition has shined a light on the need for better communication between administrators in the central office and teachers. She said she spent “hours and hours” in meetings with Monroe teachers and that many of their protests have been brushed off as “well, they’re not going to be happy with change.”
For example, Turgeon said, the computer engineering and design teacher’s concerns about the location and number of outlets in the room have not yet been addressed. Teachers are also hearing that there is less space but more students.
“Of course they’re not happy, they’re not getting any information,” she said. “It’s very concerning for these teachers as they’re trying to plan these programs.”
“The whole move to the Academies of Loudoun is rife with rumors, and as much as we try to knock them down, they’re still out there,” Joy Maloney (Broad Run) said. “I don’t know what the solution is besides more communication.”
Specifically, she mentioned rumors that there will not be enough space at the new facility to hold the school’s seasonal plant sale and that there will be little parking space. Ellis confirmed both are untrue. She said there will be more space in practically every area. Monroe Tech will have almost 32,000 more square feet of instructional space in the new facility, and a greenhouse almost four times the size of its current greenhouse.
“We will continue to look at this,” Ellis said. “We have to be in the space, live in it and experience it, and I’m sure we’ll find things we love and things we don’t and want to change.”
School Board Tom Marshall (Leesburg), a member of the ad hoc committee on the Academies of Loudoun, said the first step should be repairing the relationship between central office administration and teachers. He noted that Monroe Tech Principal Tim Flynn was not at the board meeting, most likely because he did not feel comfortable advocating for his staff.
He said, “We have to start building trust. I think that’s something we need to do with the faculty at Monroe.