Loudoun’s Academies Celebrated as a Vision Decades in the Making

Hours after the bustle of students bolting between labs and classrooms at the Academies of Loudoun quieted, the lights were still on in the building late Tuesday. Dozens of men and women who first envisioned the facility and brought that vision to life gathered in the shiny new Academies’ commons area to share stories of the ups and downs that finally led to its opening, check out students’ work already filling the trophy cases, and cut a big blue ribbon.

“Raise your hand if you contributed to this impressive facility in anyway,” Academies Principal Tinell Priddy said over the crowd ahead of the ribbon-cutting. Hands of educators, architects, builders, parent volunteers, business leaders, and current and former elected officials went up. “That is impressive.”

The Academies opened two months ago as the new home to three magnet programs: the Academy of Science, the Monroe Advanced Technical Academy, and the Academy of Engineering and Technology. About 1,200 high school students enrolled in one of the more than 30 programs, or pathways, attend classes on the campus every other day.

School Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) noted just how much learning—and in a variety of subjects—plays out throughout the 315,000-square-foot building each day, from the health care courses and in-depth scientific research labs in one wing to welding and graphic design projects in another.

And as much as school leaders and others talked about the impressive work students are already engaging in at the Academies, they reminisced about just how many hurdles they overcame to create the programs and open the facility.

Over hors d’oeuvres at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, former Superintendent of Schools Edgar B. Hatrick III and former Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Sharon Ackerman recounted some of the earliest conversations about the Academies to Superintendent Eric Williams. Hatrick said it was about 2001 when the concept was first discussed.

Initially, the goal was to create more space for the C.S. Monroe Technology Center. Later, the idea evolved to open a facility that would house larger versions of both Monroe and the Academies of Science. And in 2014, under the direction of then-board Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn), instruction staff created a third magnet program to be housed on the campus, the Academy of Engineering and Technology.

For years, the Academies was bypassed for funding by more urgent building projects, like new elementary, middle and high schools to keep up with record-breaking enrollment growth. Finally, the School Board and Board of Supervisors that served from 2012 to 2015 made it a priority to fit the $115.12 million Academies into its Capital Improvement Program, and voters overwhelmingly approved the bond funding in 2014.

Morse acknowledged that there is a lot to celebrate with the opening of the Academies, but he said it certainly has not been able to accommodate all of the students who want to attend. Loudoun enrolls 25,000 high school students across the county, and the Academies currently enrolls 1,550 students.

“That’s 6 percent of our high school population. Here at the Academies, we are barely scratching the surface of the talent in this school system,” Morse said. He mentioned that a Fairfax parent recently asked him if Loudoun would allow Fairfax students to attend the Academies. For years, Loudoun has sent some of its brightest students over the county border to Thomas Jefferson High School and Technology. Morse said with a smile, “I told her, ‘no.’”

Get a glimpse of what teachers and students are doing at the Academies by following the school’s Twitter feed, @LCPS_ACL.

The dining commons at the Academies of Loudoun. [Danielle Nadler/Loudoun Now]

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