LOUISA COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Visiting Louisa County Public Schools (LCPS) on Friday, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow spoke with 8News on new changes impacting the Commonwealth’s education system and efforts in funding to heal education infrastructure.
Balow — named to the Youngkin Administration as the state’s 26th superintendent back in January — met with both students and staff at Jouett Elementary School and Louisa County High School.
“It’s been an amazing day, just a humbling visit from beginning to end,” she said. “It was really wonderful to see the focus on STEM, which, of course, is the application of everything that you learn in the classroom.”
Balow was first greeted at the high school by LCPS’ Little Lions, an early learning and care program. The students were dressed in red, white and blue for Constitution Day. The program was highlighted by Balow as a potential solution to the state’s teacher shortages, as outlined in a recent Executive Directive from Governor Glenn Youngkin.
“We want great teachers in every single classroom, and we think that there are great teachers across the Commonwealth who are either beginning teachers and may need some help getting into the classroom, or who are potential teachers that we want to incentivize to get into the classroom,” Balow said. “The Executive Directive also directed me, as the State Superintendent, to really flex as much money and as much support as we can to support great efforts that are going on across the Commonwealth, like in Louisa County.”
Balow also spoke with 8News about funding for school construction projects, after a Thursday agenda item issued by the Virginia Board of Education laid out new guidelines for construction loans through 2024. The presentation authorized the Board to offer up to $200 million in fiscal year 2023 and up to another $200 million in fiscal year 2024 from the Literary Fund for school construction loans.
“Kids have so many opportunities when we have school buildings that aren’t crumbling; when students are coming to school and not having to worry, and teachers and communities are not having to worry about crumbling schools,” Balow said. “So the goal is really to make sure that every community across Virginia can address the needs that they need to with the renovation and/or new construction.”
The topic of school construction was particularly relevant at Louisa County High School, which was destroyed in a 2011 earthquake, with the new school having opened in 2015.
In total, 38 Innovation Grants were awarded Friday to help educators bring a special project of theirs to life in the classroom. According to a release, each year, the Louisa County School Board sets aside more than $25,000 in funding to be used specifically for that program.
During her visit, Balow also spoke with high school students about the various branches of government, and how her work falls within the executive branch of enforcing laws in and helping local school divisions and boards to understand how those policies impact them.
Balow further spoke with 8News about pending curriculum changes.
“If you compare the draft standards that exist right now to the 2015 standards, there are changes in content, and really, those are to just be respectful and inclusive of all Virginia’s history and all of United States history, and, frankly, some of that was missing,” she said. “The content is more in the new standards, the draft standards that will be accepted for first review and then go out for additional public comment.”
That public comment period on the proposed 2022 History and Social Science Standards of Learning opened in July and will close on Sept. 25. According to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), all comments received by that closing date will be considered for review and revision of the standards.
Some Senate Democrats have already shared their comments on the revisions, accusing the governor of overstepping his authority in an attempt to “whitewash” history and the way it’s taught in Virginia schools.
“The governor has never ever said anything even remotely close to whitewashing history. In fact, just the opposite. The governor, the secretary of education, myself, all of the administration and, I believe, all of Virginia has the same goal in mind, and that is to teach history, comprehensively, the good and the bad,” Balow said. “One thing that I’ve learned in Virginia is that we are always interested in being the best and being the first, and so we want to have the best history standards in the nation, and we want to be the first state to get there.”
Among the proposed changes to the learning standards is the addition of the Profile of a Virginia Graduate “life readiness” skills, as what the VDOE noted is an essential component of a quality history and social science instruction program. World Geography Standards were also rewritten and reorganized to align to national and international standards, according to VDOE. The language surrounding the teaching of reconstruction in Virginia’s post-Civil War era and the usage of “Indigenous” instead of “Native” or “First Americans” has also been proposed.