Virginia Governor’s School Program
The Virginia Governor’s School Program began in 1973 when Governor Linwood Holton established the first summer residential programs for 400 gifted students from across the commonwealth. From its beginnings, with three summer schools in 1973, the program has expanded to more than 40 sites throughout the commonwealth.
Virginia Governor’s Schools provide some of the state’s most able students academically and artistically challenging programs beyond those offered in their home schools. With the support of the Virginia Board of Education and the General Assembly, the Governor’s Schools presently include summer residential, summer regional, and academic-year programs serving more than 7,500 gifted students from all parts of the commonwealth.
The years since 1973 have brought refinement and change to the programs, yet one aspect, the student, has remained constant. Each year, hundreds of outstanding young people come to one of the different Governor’s Schools in search of knowledge and eager to accept the challenge of acquiring advanced skills. Each group makes the Virginia Governor’s School Program a special experience by creating a community of learners who demonstrate their remarkable talents in diverse and meaningful way.
What types of Governor’s Schools are available?
Three types of Governor’s Schools provide appropriate learning endeavors for gifted students throughout the commonwealth: Academic-Year Governor’s Schools (AYGS), Summer Residential Governor’s Schools (SRsGS), and the Summer Regional Governor’s Schools (SRgGS).
The Virginia Department of Education, in conjunction with localities, sponsors regional Academic-Year Governor’s Schools that serve gifted high school students during the academic year. Currently, 18 Academic-Year Governor’s Schools provide students with acceleration and exploration in areas ranging from the arts, to government and international studies, and to mathematics, science, and technology.
The Virginia Board of Education must approve proposals for new or expanding Governor's Schools. The board passed, in 1998, Procedures for Initiating Academic-Year Governor's Schools to direct the actions of regional planning groups. Each school creates a program tailored to the needs of its students. Academic-Year Governor’s Schools vary in format. While three are full-day programs, fulfilling all requirements students need to graduate, most are part-time programs. Students in these schools spend a portion of their day at the Governor’s Schools but rely on their high schools to provide other programming required for graduation. Students use computers, robotics, and other current technology in laboratory activities; they conduct in-depth research, work with other students to develop special projects and performances, and alongside mentors in business, industry, government, and universities gaining experiences that enhance their understanding of the content as well as contemporary career options.
The Academic-Year Governor’s Schools have developed innovative ways to serve their students. Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology, Central Virginia Governor’s School, Maggie L. Walker Governor's School, Roanoke Valley Governor’s School, and Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology are housed in their own facilities. Other Academic-Year Governor’s Schools share campuses with high schools, community colleges/universities, or professional organizations. The Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk shares facilities at the Wells Theatre and with the Virginia Ballet. Several new schools are using interactive television to link multiple high school sites. A. Linwood Holton Governor’s School is the commonwealth’s first completely virtual Governor’s School. Daily, students in more than 24 high schools in 13 counties in Southwest Virginia are taught through an Internet connection using a variety of software. Commonwealth Governor's School uses compressed video technology and coordinated large group activities to produce a community of learners at multiple sites across three counties.
Faculties for the Academic-Year Governor’s Schools are selected based on advanced degrees, professional experience, and training and/or experience with gifted high school students. Most teachers have the gifted add-on endorsement that represents post-graduate training in gifted education, and several are certified through the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. Each school is responsible for providing staff development to extend its teachers’ knowledge and use of innovative teaching strategies, technology, and contemporary subject matter.
The Academic-Year Governor’s Schools are established as “joint schools” by Virginia school law. As such, they are typically managed by a regional governing board of representatives from the school boards of each participating division. The regional governing board is charged with developing policies for the school including the school’s admissions process. While these processes differ from school to school, all applicants are assessed using multiple criteria by trained evaluators who have experience in gifted education and the focus area of the specific Academic-Year Governor’s School.
The Virginia Department of Education oversees and evaluates the Academic-Year Governor’s Schools. Each school is evaluated through the use of evaluation rubrics designed to determine the effectiveness in curriculum, professional development, program design, guidance and counseling, identification and selection process, and facilities. A full-site evaluation team visits each school every six years.
Summer Residential Governor’s Schools provide gifted high school juniors and seniors with intensive educational experiences in visual and performing arts; humanities; mathematics, science, and technology; life science and medicine; or through mentorships in marine science or engineering.
Each Summer Residential Governor’s School focuses on one special area of interest. Students live on a college or university campus for up to five weeks each summer. During this time, students are involved in classroom and laboratory work, field studies, research, individual, and group projects and performances, and seminars with noted scholars, visiting artists, and other professionals. In the two mentorships, students are selected to work side-by-side with research scientists, physicians, and a variety of other professionals. A director and a student-life staff provide supervision of students 24 hours a day, throughout the program.
One of the most important aspects of the Summer Residential Governor’s Schools is the opportunity participants have to live, study, and get to know other students with similar interests and abilities from across Virginia. Both co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are designed to encourage students’ interests and abilities. Recreation and free time are provided outside of the academic environment that enables these students to enjoy, what for many is their first summer living away from home.
Any Virginia gifted tenth- or eleventh-grade student may apply for the Summer Residential Governor’s Schools. Applications are made available in October through a Superintendent’s Memo. Prospective students may click here to have access to the information and applications. Additional copies are sent to high school guidance departments of public and private schools, as well as each school division’s gifted education coordinator. Each school division has a specific number of nominations it may send to the Virginia Department of Education.
Nominations may be made by teachers, guidance counselors, peers, or by the students themselves. A school or division selection committee chooses the nominees from each school or division and forwards the nominees to a state committee. Consideration is given to students’ academic records, test scores, extra-curricular activities, honors, and awards, creativity, original essays, and teacher recommendations. Students applying for the Visual and Performing Arts Summer Residential Governor’s School participate in a statewide adjudication where they audition or present portfolios for review before a pair of professionals in the specific arts field. Because of the limited number of residential placements available, not all students who are nominated by their schools can be accepted for participation.
The Virginia Department of Education evaluates the Summer Residential Governor’s Schools once every four years. Rubrics similar to those developed by the Academic-Year Governor’s School directors are used to evaluate the Summer Residential programs. Visiting teams include specialists or university faculty with expertise in the content or focus area, Academic-Year Governor’s Schools directors, and teachers, local gifted education coordinators, and other professionals directly involved in the specific fields.
Twenty Summer Regional Governor’s Schools are available throughout the state. The Summer Regional Governor’s Schools exist in a variety of formats. Most often, groups of school divisions design these programs to meet the needs of their local gifted elementary and middle school students. These schools provide exciting opportunities in the arts, sciences, and humanities. The Department of Education approves each Summer Regional Governor’s School and evaluates each school once every six years.
Summer Regional Governor’s Schools typically are housed at a public school or on the campus of a college, community college, or university. The lengths of programs vary, with some lasting a week or less while others may last four or more weeks. Most students return to their homes at the end of each day’s activities; however, the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, Southside, and Valley/Ridge Summer Regional Governor's Schools are residential.
Gifted students may apply for the regional summer school in their area. The Summer Regional Governor’s School director and the planning committee with representatives from the participating school divisions at each regional site establish nomination and selection procedures. Program topics and grade levels vary among the sites and change from year to year in response to annual local evaluations and changing concerns in the localities sponsoring the Summer Regional Governor’s Schools.
What is the purpose of the Governor’s Schools?
Governor’s Schools give gifted students academic and visual and performing arts opportunities beyond those normally available in the students’ home schools. Students are able to focus on a specific area of intellectual or artistic strength and interest and to study in a way that best suits the gifted learner’s needs. Each program stresses non-traditional teaching and learning techniques. For example, small-group instruction, hands-on-experiences, research, field studies, or realistic or artistic productions are major elements in the instructional design at all schools. Students become scientists, writers, artists, and performers as they work with professional mentors and instructors. Every effort is made to tailor learning to needs of the community of learners that compose the program.
The Virginia Governor’s School Program has been designed to assist divisions as they meet the needs of a small population of students whose learning levels are remarkably different from their age-level peers. The foundation of the Virginia Governor’s School Program centers on best practices in the field of gifted education and the presentation of advanced content to able learners.
Who administers the Governor’s Schools?
The Virginia Governor’s School program is administered by the Virginia Department of Education, Office of Secondary Instructional Services, in cooperation with local school divisions, colleges, and universities. A local director at each Governor’s School site has direct responsibility for the logistics of the program. Academic-Year Governor’s Schools have directors and regional governing boards that provide policy and administration of these schools. Program and site directors at the Summer Residential Governor’s Schools along with the principal specialist in the Virginia Department of Education work together to manage and maintain these programs.
How are the Governor’s Schools funded?
A variety of revenue finances the operation of the Virginia Governor’s School Program. The Department of Education and the participating school divisions fund the Virginia Governor’s Schools. The Virginia General Assembly has provided Academic-Year Governor’s Schools with additional funding through the “Governor's School add-on.” This funding along with an appropriate share of participating divisions’ basic student allocation for these students are considered appropriate funding sources for the Academic-Year Governor’s Schools.
The Department of Education through an appropriation from the General Assembly funds the Summer Residential Governor’s Schools. In addition to these general funds sources, school divisions from which selected students come are charged a portion of the tuition charges. Host colleges and universities make in-kind contributions with additional support often provided by foundations and the host communities.
The Summer Regional Governor’s Schools are provided a fixed amount of funding based on the needs of the program. Additional funding is expected to be provided by the participating localities. Most localities assume responsibility for transporting students to and from the Summer Regional Governor’s School sites. Local colleges and universities make in-kind contributions with additional support provided by foundations and the host communities.
How are sites for the Summer Residential Governor’s Schools selected?
Based on a request for proposals (RFP) offered by the Virginia Department of Education, universities and colleges throughout the commonwealth develop proposals to host these programs. A committee of in-state and out-of-state educators, members of the Virginia Advisory Committee for the Education of the Gifted, and others who are knowledgeable in the area of specialization evaluates these proposals for the Department of Education. Evaluation expectations are outlined in the RFP. The selected institution receives a one-year contract that may be renewed for four more years, based on successful evaluations. Current contracts expire in the summer of 2003.
The local program directors, in conjunction with the Department of Education, choose locations for the Summer Regional Governor’s School sites. The selections are based on availability of trained instructional personnel, facilities, and ancillary support. Localities work with the Department of Education to reformat and modify programs as needed.
Who establishes policies for the Governor’s Schools?
The Department of Education, regional governing boards, local superintendents, site or program directors, school boards, and advisory committees establish policies for the Governor’s Schools. These policies are described in an administrative procedures document for each school. All Virginia Governor’s Schools submit a copy of the current administrative procedures document to the Department of Education annually in the fall.
How are Governor’s Schools’ high standards maintained?
Each Governor’s School maintains its standards through a system of internal evaluations. Summaries of findings are submitted to the Department of Education as part of the administrative procedures document. Internal evaluation methods may include collecting information from students and staff, interviews and written surveys with administrators, instructors, students, and parents, and analysis of other documents related to the programs.
Teams of external evaluators visit each Governor’s School on a regular basis. Evaluation rubrics have been developed based on the National Association for Gifted Children’s standards. The Governor’s School directors receive commendations and recommendations from the team sponsored by the Department of Education. The final report, sent to the director and the chairperson of the regional governing board, summarizes the findings and conclusions of the team. This information is part of the annual report prepared for the Virginia Board of Education.
What is the relationship of the Governor’s Schools to state and local plans for gifted education?
The “Regulations Governing the Educational Program for Gifted Students” mandate differentiated instructional opportunities for gifted students in grades K-12 in Virginia, and the Virginia Governor’s School Program is an important component of the comprehensive program. School divisions incorporate the different Governor’s Schools as options for their students; however, each locality is expected to provide additional options for students who choose not to attend or are unable to attend Governor’s Schools. Local administrators of gifted programs are actively involved in the Virginia Governor’s School Programs. Their support typically includes serving on advisory committees, nominating students, identifying potential instructors, participating in school evaluations, and communicating information about the program to the appropriate local audiences.
What is the effect of Governor’s Schools on local school divisions?
Local schools benefit from Governor’s Schools in several ways. Students who participate in Summer Residential Governor’s Schools return in the fall with new experiences to share with their teachers and classmates. Teachers who serve as instructors for Summer Residential Governor’s Schools acquire new skills for working with gifted students. These teachers’ knowledge of content, instruction, and community resources is expanded through participation in these programs. In addition, individuals from colleges, universities, business, industry, government, and other community volunteers interact with students and instructors in a Governor’s School and often increase their involvement with local schools.
The Academic-Year Governor’s Schools have an important influence on students and educators in the local school divisions. These Governor’s Schools help localities by providing additional educational challenges for the small number of exceptionally gifted students needing more specifically designed instruction. The staffs of Academic-Year Governor’s Schools provide in-service training for other local teachers, conduct special performances, and demonstrations for students, and share equipment, facilities, and expertise.
Academic-Year Governor’s Schools’ teachers serve as leaders or active members in their professional associations providing colleagues at the state and national level with valuable examples of differentiated instruction and curriculum design. Academic Year Governor’s Schools were charter members and founders of the National Consortium of Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science, and Technology (NCSSSMST). The Governor’s School for Government and International Studies served as the 2000 State Elections Headquarters for the Virginia Student/Parent Mock Elections program
What is the relationship between Governor’s Schools and business and industry?
Because Academic-Year Governor’s Schools stress the creation of a learning community, local businesses and industries play an important role in these programs. They provide mentors who work with Governor’s School students to give them real-world experience in careers and to assist them with research projects. Local businesses and industries provide guest lecturers during Governor’s School classes. Business and industry also contribute equipment and supplies, facilities, and expert advice to help support the Governor’s Schools. Visiting artists, authors, and lecturers provide insights for students who attend the Governor’s Schools, offering students an opportunity to make valuable contacts in their areas of interest. The directors of each Governor’s School actively seek ways to incorporate mentors and experiences from the community and business into their programs. Numerous partnerships have been formed between Academic-Year Governor’s Schools and community businesses; several schools are supported through the efforts of foundations developed by parents and community leaders to provide additional financial and technological support.
Donna L. Poland, Ph.D.
Specialist, Governor's School and Gifted Education
Office of Middle and High School Instruction
Virginia Department of Education
P.O. Box 2120
Richmond, VA 23218-2120
Voice: (804) 225-2884
Fax: (804) 786-5466
Article From the Virginia Department of Education, Richmond, VA