ABINGDON — Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin attended a roundtable discussion focused on education at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon on Monday.
At the beginning of the roundtable, Youngkin highlighted his administration’s commitment to improving Virginia’s education system and gave a brief update on the education budget that has been passed by the Virginia General Assembly, which — once he officially receives, reviews and signs the legislation — will become the largest public education budget in Virginia history.
“You have an administration that is absolutely committed to making sure that we are pressing forward to give Virginia’s kids everything they need in order to live their dreams right here in Virginia,” Youngkin said. “What will get signed will be the largest education budget in the history of the commonwealth of Virginia, and that is wildly exciting.”
During the roundtable, school administrators, staff and community leaders walked the governor through some of the programs and resources that they have built together in order to meet the needs of students across Southwest Virginia, from apprenticeship programs to online schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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“I think that the big picture for all of the things we’re talking about is that we collaborate out of necessity, not because it’s something that’s nice to do, [or] it looks good on paper. We do it because it’s actually what gets things done around here,” Katlin Kazmi, executive director of the Region VII Virtual Academy, said.
Connie Ratliff, a mother of two students at John Battle High School in Washington County, spoke about how the COVID-19 pandemic has shaped her daughter’s high school experience and how she and her fellow classmates lost touch and continue to struggle with anxiety. Ratliff also highlighted the need for more trained guidance counselors to assist students in navigating their mental health.
“The stress is a factor, anxiety still is a factor, and I don’t think they’ve really regained the relationships that they should have had as high school students,” Ratliff said. “I do think there should be more available resources for them to go to.”
Throughout the roundtable conversations, Youngkin emphasized the role that data will play in his administration’s evaluation of education programs.
Keith Perrigan, the superintendent of Bristol Virginia Public Schools, hopes that use of data becomes a “flashlight and not a hammer.”
“We’re doing a lot of great things all over Southwest Virginia and public education. We’re not perfect, and we want to improve in those areas,” Perrigan said. “Tell us what the bar is, give us the resources to make it happen, and then let us do our work because we’ve demonstrated over time that we can. We know how to serve our communities.”