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Satterwhite wants to make the Prince Willam County School Board less partisan, and wants to be its next Chairman

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School superintendent resigns: ‘Anybody who thinks this is not hard for me, you are wrong’

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Here are the resumes of the 20 people who applied to take Ryan Sawyers’ place as Prince William School Board Chairman

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Lillie Jessie: ‘I am hoping that the new chairman understands the limitation of his or her power’

An email from Prince William County School Board Occoquan Representative Lillie Jessie: 

There has been much questioning and speculation about my plans to run for the Interim Chair position on the Prince William County School Board. This letter is designed to end those questions. I never applied to become Chairman and have no desire to seek that position now. I am first and foremost the representative for the Occoquan District until December 31, 2019.

It is important for the public to understand the process. First for the immediate appointment that will occur at the April 18th Board Meeting, only the seven current Board Members select the Interim Chair. If I were appointed as Interim Chair, I would have to give up my Occoquan seat and someone else would have to be appointed to it later. I would also give up my right to vote.

My purpose for being on this school board has always been to make a difference in the lives of students. This new “Title” would not improve achieving this goal. Let’s be clear the Chairman of a school board has no more power than other members. The only power he or she has is to preside over a meeting and finalize the agenda. There has been much confusion about the power of that position recently. The Chairman cannot make unilateral decisions related to the dismissal of personnel, modification of the budget, or the addition, modification and/or deletion of programs. I am hoping that the new Chairman understands the limitation of his or her power.

My greatest and most satisfying achievements have been in the changing the lives of students and “Being a voice for the voiceless.” Some even call me, “Miss Equity!” What an honor. It is a badge I will wear with pride. Schools in the eastern corridor and a few in the west lack equity in space, facilities and programs. During Wednesday night’s Mark Up budget meeting I was able to convince a majority of my colleagues to provide a safer football field for Woodbridge High School. This school was built in 1975. Their stadium as well as their practice fields are muddy and unusable most of that time. Students were being bussed to other more updated facilities to practice.

Other achievements that I spearheaded were moving the Nurses from a classified contract to Teacher level contracts They had been requesting this for at least 15 years. For the first time, Mrs. Loree Williams and I were able to convince our colleagues to put a student representative on the board. Students are actually filling the board room. These are the type of achievements that continue to fuel me. I will continue to support activities that allow me to achieve my moral purpose. I have often said, “We say it is about the kids but it never really is. It is usually about the adults!” I have been blessed in my life to know “Why” I chose to be on this board and it was always bigger than a title.

I will continue to support the Chairman as his or her Vice as I have in the past. I will always fight and fight hard for “Equity fueled by a need for Excellence.” It has been my honor to serve the students in Prince William County for more than 40 years. As I have told the Superintendent, when it comes to “World Class” performance, “We are not there yet!” I will be continue to be “consistently insistent and persistent “ in pursuit of that goal.

I am honored to serve.


Despite claims of enhanced school safety, removal of trees called ‘unfortunate situation’

LAKE RIDGE — The trees that once provided shade and seclusion at Antietam Elementary School is gone. 

They were removed as part of a $10.3 million project to add 13 new classrooms to the school located at 12000 Antietam Road in Lake Ridge.

Specifically, contractors working on the project needed storage space for equipment. And, now that the trees are gone, a school official says the school will be safer. 

This all has those who live nearby the school a bit riled. Here’s a portion of an email from Micheal Stephens to Occoquan District School Board Representative Lilly Jessie: 

“As you know, the school has been there for years and was totally hidden behind beautiful trees. The neighborhood is extremely upset and we cannot determine the real reason this was done. The plans were put on a website over two years ago and nothing in the published plans indicate that this was to be done. Folks feel that they have been deceived and lied to.  

There was no notification posted on the school grounds and homeowners are outraged that as a result, their property values have declined. There was no notification to the Lake Ridge Park Association, the largest Home Owners Association in Prince William County. The school is in the neighborhood that all homes in the Association must comply with guidelines. The neighborhood environment in Lake Ridge, as you know, values the trees in every way and homeowners are not allowed to cut any down without first getting permission from the homeowners association.”
And the school divisions’ response from Prince William County Public Schools Director of Facilities Services John J. Windley: 

“I’m providing a response to the complaint regarding the trees that have been removed from the front of Antietam ES. Please know that we do value trees and would not arbitrarily tear them down. We take months designing the civil infrastructure to keep as many of them as possible. I do apologize that our information on the website does not clearly indicate everything about the construction and its impacts. We will improve that information.

The area inside the bus loop is a long oval shaped space that currently has a fairly high elevation in comparison to the asphalt drive. In order to construct the new addition and additional parking we need to install a waterline, two storm sewer lines and associated easements within the existing bus loop.  The remaining area within the bus loop will be needed for the contractor’s and sub-contractor’s storage units and staging area.  This will require regrading of the bus loop.
The additional area near the front entrance of the school has been cleared for storm water detention and additional parking to accommodate the needs for the increased staff, parents and visitors.  The storm water detention system is an underground system that collects the additional storm water that is accumulated by the additional surface parking.  This is a very efficient system that doesn’t require additional land.
The redesign of the bus loop also resolves other issues for us.  When we begin our design process, there are many design and construction staff members involved in not only looking at the requirements for the addition, aesthetics and juxtaposition to the surrounding area, but the needs of our students.  Does it meet the needs of our educational process?  Is it accessible?  Is it a safe environment?
To that last point, the area within the proposed bus loop will now provide increased visibility to the front of the building and main entry in the event that prompt response is required by law enforcement and the fire department.  This site design element is becoming increasingly important with school design, both locally and nationally.
We also juggle a fine balance with sites such as these with the abundance of trees that offer hiding places for people that are up to no good. As always, we consulted with our Risk Management Dept and they suggested the removal of densely populated trees as they have received concerns before about trespassers parking in the bus loop at night under the cover of the dense trees, blocking any view of them from Antietam Road. This tree area also provides a secluded hiding area for someone that may want to try and cause harm to staff and or students before sunrise and after sunset.  There were also concerns of children playing in a wooded area so close the bus circle.
We are continuing to work on a landscape plan for the revised area in the loop that will be engaging and thoughtfully designed to both those residents that are arriving and those that pass by.
I do apologize that this unfortunate situation occurred. If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to ask.”

Virginia Association of Police Chiefs: Stewart’s armed guards in school plan not a good idea

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14-year-old, 12-year-old, charged with school related threats

From the Prince William police press release:

Threats on School Grounds – On March 7 at 4:27PM, officers received information of a potential threat of violence at Rippon Middle School located at 15101 Blackburn Rd in Woodbridge (22191). The investigation revealed that a student, a 14-year-old male, communicated over the social media app “Snapchat” suggesting an act of violence at the school. A search warrant was subsequently executed at the residence of the student. Following the investigation, officers obtained a petition for the student who was served and released back to the custody of a family member.

Charged on March 8: [Juvenile]

A 14-year-old male of Woodbridge

Charged with threats of serious bodily injury on school property

Court Date: Pending | Status: Released to the custody of a family member

Threats on School Grounds – On March 5 at 11:22PM, officers received information of a potential threat of violence at Lake Ridge Middle School located at 12350 Mohican Rd in Woodbridge (22192). A student reported to officers that she overheard another student earlier that day making statements suggesting violence at the school. On the morning of March 6, a School Resource Officer identified the student who made the statements. During a subsequent search of the student, a single disassembled scissor blade was recovered. Upon further investigation after speaking with the student, the School Resource Officer determined that the threat was not credible. Following the investigation, a School Resource Officer obtained petitions for the student who was served and released back to the custody of a family member. The case will be handled through Juvenile Intake.

Charged on March 6: [Juvenile]

A 12-year-old male of Woodbridge

Charged with knowingly communicating a false threat to damage a building and possession of a weapon on school property

Woodbridge Senior High School is hosting a multicultural night

From an email: 

Hello! I am writing to inform you that Woodbridge Senior High School is hosting a multicultural night on March 9th from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. 

Multicultural Night is a celebration of all the international flavors of Woodbridge Senior High School. Did you know that Woodbridge students speak more than 50 different languages at home?

This annual event showcases our diverse backgrounds, and gives students an opportunity to explore the world – while traveling the halls of Woodbridge! When the doors open participants receive a glimpse of a variety of cultures through booths set up at the entrance.

They are then escorted into the auditorium, where the event officially kicks off with a “Parade of Nations,” followed by special cultural performances done by our students. Participants are then directed towards our upper and lower cafeterias to experience our “Taste of Nations,” including unique dishes from all parts of the world.

Lastly, the fashion show, featuring traditional styles worn in the cultures featured throughout the night, concludes the event. 

House vote aims to disassemble ‘school-to-prison pipeline’

Capital News Service tells us the Va. House of Delegates doesn’t want year-long school suspensions, with some exceptions. Here’s the press release:

House OKs Limiting School Suspensions to 45 Days

By Kirby Farineau

Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia students who break school rules may no longer face the possibility of a yearlong suspension under legislation approved by the House of Delegates to address what some lawmakers call the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

House Bill 1600, which passed 84-15 on Tuesday, would reduce the maximum length of a suspension from 364 days to 45 days. It is one of several measures lawmakers introduced in response to complaints that Virginia schools overreact to minor infractions – and sometimes charge students as criminals for transgressions that should draw a detention.

“At the end of the day, if our students are out of school, they’re not learning,” said the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Del. Jeffrey Bourne, who previously served on the Richmond School Board. “We should not continue to use access to education as a punishment and expect positive results.”

On its way toward passage, the bill was amended to allow school officials to impose a suspension of up to 364 days if “aggravating circumstances exist” or if the student is a repeat offender.

Del. R. Lee Ware Jr., R-Powhatan, said he historically had reservations about limiting schools’ options in disciplining students. However, he called HB 1600 “a responsible middle course.”

“It allows a considerable amount of latitude to educators with the responsibility of maintaining order in schools,” Ware said.

HB 1600 was among a slew of proposals introduced this legislative session to address how Virginia schools discipline students. In 2015, the Center for Public Integrity reported that Virginia has one of the highest rates in the nation for referring students to law enforcement. Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, has called the situation “the No. 1 civil rights issue of our modern time.”

Several of the bills never made it out of committee. They included:

  • HB 445, which sought to end a requirement that principals report certain misdemeanor crimes to law enforcement. The bill, proposed by Carroll Foy, was rejected in a 5-2 vote by a subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee.
  • HB 296, which would have prohibited suspending or expelling students in preschool through third grade, except for violent crimes, drugs or other serious offenses. The House Education Committee voted 12-10 vote to kill the legislation. The bill was sponsored by the panel’s vice chairman, Del. Richard Bell, R-Staunton.

Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, opposed Bell’s measure, saying it would “make our classrooms less safe.”

“I don’t think it’s up to us to try to micromanage discipline issues in the local schools. That’s why we have local elected school boards,” Cole said.

While such legislation met opposition in the House, the Senate has been more receptive.

On Thursday, the Senate Education and Health Committee approved SB 170, which, like Bell’s legislation, would bar suspensions and expulsions in third grade and below. The committee voted 11-4 in favor of the measure. SB 170, sponsored by Sen. William Stanley, R-Franklin County, now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Last week, the Senate unanimously passed SB 476, sponsored by Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania. Like Carroll Foy’s bill, it would give school principals the discretion not to call police on students who commit misdemeanors or other minor crimes.

Reeves’ measure has been assigned to the House Courts of Justice Committee – the same panel whose subcommittee killed Carroll Foy’s proposal.

Only two high school bands will march in the Gov. Ralph Northam’s inaugural parade. One of them is from our backyard.

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The new Prince William School Board Vice Chairman is a familiar face

Lilly Jessie, of the Occoquan District, will fill the role for a third consecutive year of vice chairman of the Prince William County School Board.

Her re-appointment comes after a failed attempt by Prince William County Coles District School Board rep Willie Deutsch to nominate Diane Raulston, of the Neabsco District to serve as vice chairman of the board. Raulston declined to accept the nomination. 

Jessie last year filled in for Chairman Ryan Sawyers during a string of absences from regular school board meetings, something she points out in the video above. 

You’re going to have to turn up your speakers to hear this audio as we were a bit too far away from Jessie to get great-quality sound.

Here’s a press release about her re-appointment from the school division: 

Lillie G. Jessie, of the Occoquan District, was re-elected to a third term as vice chairman for 2018 at the School Board’s annual organizational meeting on January 3. Jessie first joined the School Board in 2012 and was reelected in November 2015.

The Board established the location of its regular School Board meetings at the Edward L. Kelly Leadership Center, 14715 Bristow Road, Manassas, Virginia, on the first and third Wednesdays of the months January through June and September through December. Closed session meetings will begin at 6 p.m., and public meetings convene at 7 p.m. Dates may be adjusted to better accommodate winter and spring break calendars.

The current School Board will serve through December 31, 2019. Biographical information and contact information for all Board members are on the School Board’s web page.

Prince William County schools population grows, and so does the debate over trailer classrooms and school overcrowding

Prince William County’s continued explosive growth has led to another debate over teaching children in trailers.

Last year, the school division built a new eight-classroom addition to Neabsco Elementary School in Dale City. It was thought the new classrooms would negate the need for the five trailer classrooms and one portable trailer bathroom outside the school building.

But now there are now 12 trailers at the school — more than double the amount of portable classrooms than before the start of construction — the enrollment in Prince William County schools is on the increase. 

Now the division wants to alleviate the overcrowding by moving about 160 students out of Neabsco Elementary and into nearby Montclair Elementary and Kyle Wilson Elementary School, which opened in 2016.

It’s the second time boundary changes have been proposed for Kyle Wilson Elementary School. Coles District School Board Representative William Deutsch, who represents the district in which the school sits, says Kyle Wilson Elementary School should be left to grow naturally, something he says will happen soon with more homes planned to be built in the area.

Others on the School Board, like Occoquan District Representative Lilly Jessie said Prince William County is too much of a wealthy school district to have children attending classes in trailers, if it can be helped, and supported moving the children to the new schools.

About 40 students who live along Emberdale Drive in Dale City would be moved to Montclair Elementary, while the remaining students who live across the street along Darbydale Avenue, and in homes behind Hampton Middle School would be moved to Kyle Wilson Elementary.

School division officials on Wednesday night told the School Board that Neabsco Elementary School is currently 120% over student capacity. If the students were moved, the school would then be at 97% capacity, and the trailer classrooms would be removed.

Deutsch countered with his own presentation that showed Kyle Wilson Elementary School would soon be over capacity if the children were moved. If approved, the changes are slated to take effect this fall.

The School Board is scheduled to take up the matter again later this month at its January 17 meeting.

People in the video in order of appearance: 

Coles District Rep William Deutsch

Potomac School Board Rep Justin Wilk

School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers

Woodbridge District Rep Loree Williams 

Occoquan District Rep Lilly Jessie


Boundary-change public hearing for Neabsco Elementary School

We’re hearing about a new plan to shift students away from the overcrowded Neabsco Elementary School in Dale City. 

A new plan would move students from Neabsco Elementary School to Montclair and Wilson elementary schools. 

Wilson would pick up 118 new students under the plan. A website shows the streets in the attendance areas of those affected, showing which streets would have students relocate from Montclair and Neabsco.

From Prince William County Public Schools: 

The School Board is scheduled to receive recommendations, known as “Plan 6,” for adjusting attendance areas for Montclair, Neabsco, and Wilson Elementary Schools at its meeting on Wednesday, January 3. A boundary planning committee that met during the 2016-17 school year proposed Plan 6 following several meetings. The attendance area changes are expected to alleviate overcrowding at Neabsco Elementary School, which currently has 12 portable classrooms, and better balance student enrollment.

A public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, January 17 at 7 p.m. in the School Board meeting room of the Kelly Leadership Center. The Board is scheduled to act on the proposed Plan 6 during its regular public meeting that will follow the public hearing.


Prince William County school teacher Atif Qarni named Virginia Education Secretary 

A Prince William County School teacher will be Virginia’s next Secretary of Education. 

Gov.-Elect Ralph Northam came to Beville Middle School in Dale City about 1:30 p.m. Thursday to announce Atif Qarni, an 8th-grade civics teacher at the school, would oversee the state’s education department. 

It is very important to me that we have a secretary of education in the Commonwealth of Virginia that understands the classroom,” said Northam. Someone who knows K-12 education and has a vision of where to take K-12 in the coming years”

A Marine, educated at George Washington and George Mason University, Qarni has long been active in local politics. In 2013, he challenged Bob Marshall for the 13th District House of Delegates seat, soon to be held by Danica Roem. Two years later, he ran and lost in a Primary Election against State Senator Jeremy McPike, who went on to win the General Election against Manassas Mayor Hal Parrish.

Northam, a pediatrician, says career development for teachers and addressing overcrowded classrooms — of which Prince William County has the most overcrowded classrooms in the Washingon, D.C. region — are top priorities for his education office. 

Qarni received a phone call on Wednesday telling him he had been selected for the job after a two-week interview process. It is a job the 8th-grade teacher applied for because he feels he can use his experience from the classroom to make positive changes in Richmond.

“I’m looking forward to using the things I’ve learned in the last 10 years as a classroom teacher,” he said.

His students gathered in the library of the school where Northam stood at a podium to make the announcement. They all cheered when they saw their teacher be recognized by the incoming governor. 

Qarni helped to organize a candlelight vigil for 15-year-old Ruben Urbina outside Prince William County Government Center in October. Urbina was shot and killed by Prince William police after police said he wielded a three-foot-long crowbar at them and ignored commands to drop the weapon.

Qarni has also organized multiple mock elections for students at Beville Middle School in an effort to impress upon students the importance of civic participation.

NOVA Woodbridge students teach computer literacy to seniors

From a press release: 

In effort to assist seniors with computer literacy skills, Northern Virginia Community College’s (NOVA) Woodbridge Campus has partnered with local non-profit organization Agape Love in Action, to host Wisdom Meets Technology (WMT), a free comprehensive computer training course open to all senior citizens.

Students enrolled in NOVA’s information technology (IT) and cybersecurity programs are teaching a total of 15 enrolled local seniors from WMT. For sessions held on Fridays from Dec. 1 through Feb. 2 (excluding holidays), seniors ranging in ages 65 to 87 are participating in a curriculum tailored for individuals with limited knowledge of computer software and operating systems.

NOVA students serve as instructors to provide seniors a unique learning experience based on content at a pace suitable for their needs. Each class is structured to be small in size to provide individualized assistance to maximize the learning experience. At the completion of the course, participating seniors will be able to navigate the Internet, read and open emails, open and send email attachments, compose, edit, save and retrieve Microsoft Word documents. 

WMT was the idea of Corliss Udoema, a business owner who was recently named Virginia Small Business Person of the Year. Udoema said as a senior citizen herself, she felt individuals within her age group should become familiar with technology for daily living and to stay connected with family. Since the inception of WMT, a total of 414 seniors have completed the program. To date the oldest graduate was 89 years old.

“Learning is enhanced when seniors are encouraged and allowed to learn at their own pace,” Udoema said.” NOVA students are not trying to teach our seniors how to create a spreadsheet or anything advanced. The curriculum will be focused on learning the basics, how to turn on a computer, check their bank accounts and pay bills online, watch content online, use the Internet and learn how to send and receive emails and photos. We are very appreciative of this new partnership with NOVA’s Woodbridge Campus.”

When WMT graduated its first class of seniors in 2016 at Central Carolina Community College, in Sanford, N.C., Udoema was looking for additional locations to host the program after relocating to the northern Virginia area. She contacted the faculty and staff at NOVA-Woodbridge after speaking with Campus Provost Sam Hill about collectively offering seniors throughout Prince William County another option for educational resources. Udoema along with Dr. Paula Ford, assistant dean of information technology, Michael Turner, dean of students, and several faculty and staff worked together with NOVA students to create a course schedule and curriculum to highlight basic technology concepts. Lorton resident Sue Miller expressed her gratitude to the College and its students for helping her to become more comfortable when using a computer.

“I know absolutely nothing about computers. I don’t own one and my friends have been begging me for years to purchase one of my very own,” said Miller. I’m excited and looking forward to learning everything that I possibly can from the WMT program and our NOVA student instructors.”

For registration and/or additional information about Wisdom Meets Technology call (703) 686.4846.

Antietam Elementary students flying high after radio chat with International Space Station

It took over a year planning and preparation, but then on Monday, December 11, 2017, their ship — the International Space Station — came in.

Students at Antietam Elementary School in Lake Ridge used a Ham Radio to speak with Astronaut Astronaut Mark Vande Hei.

The window to speak to speak to the station was short — about 10 minutes. And the timing had to be just right, too.

As the ISS made it’s approach over Virginia, flying in space at 17,500 mph over the U.S. from west to east, the students put out a call.

“NA1SS, this is KM4TAY for our scheduled contact,” said one student.

After about three tries, the space station came in loud and clear and the audio was piped over a loudspeaker for the more than 600 students that packed the school’s cafeteria to listen. Selected students lined up to ask questions about what life in space is like, about the food astronauts eat, about working in zero gravity, sleeping on a wall, and if an asteroid has ever stricken the station.

Vande Hei answered each question thoughtfully. While he did, the student body sat quietly and listened intently, raising their hands over their heads and waving them to show their excitement.

“We’ve been talking about this on the morning news every day for almost a month to get them ready for this,” said Principal Marcia Wieduwilt.

The school applied to be one of 20 to get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to speak to the ISS.

In preparation for the event, the administrators purchased a new antenna for the school’s ham radio club to use. About 30 students belong to the club.

How Prince William leaders plan to work together to eliminate trailer classrooms in the county’s public schools

WOODBRIDGE — Elected leaders vowed Tuesday night to work across legislative bodies to find new school site for Prince William County students.

More than $163 million is needed over the next 10 years to eliminate trailer or portable classrooms at county schools. That’s in addition to the school division’s 10-year, $1.2 billion capital improvement plan.

School Board members met with the County Board of Supervisors, where they learned the construction of two new middle schools, and 50 new elementary school classrooms would eliminate the need for trailers by 2028.

Until now, leaders had relied on proffers from developers, of donated land inside new housing developments, where new schools could be built. Changes in state law enacted last year prohibit local officials from seeking those new school sites and have forced the county’s school division and Board of Supervisors — the taxing authority — to examine purchasing future school sites.

Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, At-large urged members of both boards to pressure state General Assembly members to reform a proffer system that leaves their hands tied when it comes to pushing developers for incentives. While the Board of Supervisors has approved far fewer new housing developments over the past year, new homes continue to be built, by right, on previously zoned land.

“The Board of Supervisors approved six units in 2016, not 600, or 60, six. And when you’re not rezoning units, they go and build units designed 30 years ago,” said Stewart. “We’re not approving developments, but that doesn’t mean there is not any development going on.”

The move toward closer collaboration comes after a series of meetings of the Joint County/School Capital Process Team made up of members of the School Board and Board of Supervisors. Woodbridge District Supervisors urged members of both boards to come together sooner than later to work on a funding and land acquisition scheme.

“It seems like we’re all in violent agreement. We want to reduce class sizes, we want to remove trailers, and we want to move forward on land banking because buying it now is cheaper than waiting until later,” said Principi.

Building new additions to schools isn’t the same thing as reducing the number of students per classroom. Prince William County has the highest class sizes in the region.

“I had seven trailers at Vaughn [Elementary School] while I was principal, and then we built a wing, got rid of trailers,” said Occoquan District School Board Representative Lilly Jessie. “The only way you reduce the number of trailers is you have to build another school or build an addition.”

Building a new wing to a school only allows for students in overcrowded classrooms to move to a new classroom. Only the construction of a new school building can eliminate the need for trailers, school board members argued.

Building bigger schools is also a benefit. A push last year by Supervisors Peter Candland and Jeannie Lawson to increase by 500 seats the size of a planned 13th high school saved county taxpayers as much as $180 million.

Historically, the county school division has needed about 20 acres to build an elementary school, 60 for a middle school, and 80 for a high school. But with land becoming scarce, especially in the eastern side of the county, leaders will have to think outside of the box.

“If we’re going to build new schools where they are most needed, where existing schools are the most overcrowded, we may need to build the same schools on a smaller footprint,” said Coles District School Board Representative Willie Deutsch.

That may mean some schools could be built without what has been standard amenities, to include practice sports fields.

How NOVA, Prince William County Landfill are working together to create a pipeline of new construction workers for the region

When it comes to talented workers to fill open construction jobs, there just aren’t enough to go around.

Heavy equipment operators are high-demand in the Washington, D.C. region due to new and ongoing construction initiatives in the area. Construction projects like the development and maintenance of buildings, airports, gas and oil pipelines, tunnels, bridges, and roads.

Two road construction initiatives — adding toll lanes on Interstates 66 and 395 in Northern Virginia will create an additional demand for local heavy equipment operators.

The I- 66 project dubbed, Transform 66 – Outside the Beltway will modify nearly 23 miles of I-66 providing two express lanes alongside three regular lanes from I-495 to Route 29 in Gainesville. There will be dedicated express lane access points and space in the median reserved for future transit. The I-66 express lanes are scheduled to open in 2022.

The I-395 project includes extending the Express Lanes for eight miles north from Turkeycock Run near Edsall Road to Eads Street in Arlington. The project will also convert the two existing HOV lanes and add an additional third lane to express lanes. These newly extended lanes are on track to open in the Fall of 2019 and the entire I-395 project is set for a summer 2020 completion.

“Two thousand five hundred heavy equipment jobs go unfilled in the region due to a shortage of heavy equipment operators. This shortage is expected to double as projects on Interstate 66 and Interstate 395 begin,” stated Ken Garrison, Executive Director of the Heavy Construction Contractor Association, in an article on Prince William County’s government website. “With the jobs averaging $65,000 to $70,000 a year, that would mean an influx of $325 million into the economy annually and the money would stay in the local economy,” said Ken Garrison,

In an effort to help fill this job demand in our region, Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Workforce Development is creating a six-week Heavy Equipment Operator Certification Program to provide students will the skills necessary to safely operate heavy equipment in the construction industry. Melanie Stover, Director of Business Engagement for NOVA said the curriculum development assessment began out of a request from local businesses and the Heavy Construction Contractors Association (HCCA).

“The HCCA estimates the need for heavy equipment operators to be in the thousands for our area, due to contracted construction projects. Heavy equipment operators not only work on buildings but also infrastructure projects, such as road and bridges, and land development.”

Partnering with Construction Industry Experts

NOVA Workforce Development partnered with Mike Steigerwald a Training Specialist from The Lane Construction Corporation on the development of their Heavy Equipment Operator Program curriculum.

“Steigerwald was highly recommended by the HCCA for his focus on equipment safety and industry certifications,” said Esther Perantoni, Director of Curriculum Design and Implementation for NOVA Workforce. “We didn’t want to just create a program – we wanted to create a pipeline that would give students the certifications they need to succeed in the construction industry and provide area businesses properly trained resources.”

Stover agrees. “We want to provide our students a jumpstart to their career and an accelerated approach to the construction industry. We already have businesses like Atlantic Contracting and Materials Inc., Superior Paving Corporation and SW Rogers Company wanting to interview our students towards the end of our program for jobs.”

Asked what the Heavy Equipment Operator Program entails, Perantoni said, “Students will graduate from our program with the following National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) certifications: NCCER Core, NCCER Heavy Equipment Level 1 and VA Basic Flagger. These are national and industry-wide certifications which are a great value to our students.”

Collaborating with local resources

“Students will be able to get hands-on experience using various pieces of heavy equipment at Prince William County Landfill,” said Stover.

The landfill already provides local fire departments training in the trench for confined space rescues.

“The Solid Waste Division is pleased to be a resource for job training and economic development in the County,” Deborah Campbell, Public Relations Specialist for Prince William County Solid Waste Division said.

“We often work with universities such as George Mason, Virginia Tech and James Madison, as well as Prince William County schools on projects that help make the landfill a valuable community resource and learning experience,” said Campbell.

Empowering students

NOVA Workforce’s first Heavy Equipment Operator Program is on track to launch in February or March of 2018. Classes will have a ratio of eight students to one instructor. Program participants are required to be 18 years old, have a valid driver’s license and have transportation to get to various work sites.

“We already have people waiting in the queue for our program to begin. Veterans, women support organizations and local skills sourcing centers have all shown interest in this new program. We foresee this initial program as being a launch pad for additional heavy equipment operator programs as we continue to move forward” said Peratoni.

Interested participants will be able to find information and certification costs on NOVA’s Workforce Development website in the coming months once the program details are solidified.

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