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Virginia Governor Recognizes Unique Valley Health System-Area Public Schools Partnership

31 October 2017 News

An innovative partnership between Valley Health, the region’s not-for-profit health system, and eight public school districts has earned recognition from Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. On the night of October 26 at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, a delegation from Valley Health and the school districts was honored as finalists in the inaugural Governor’s Award for Excellence and Innovation in Education, recognizing outstanding education professionals, teams of professionals, community partnerships, schools and divisions for excellence and achievement in a variety of categories.

“Over the last four years, my administration has worked hard to reduce the achievement gap, improve accountability, and expand opportunities for career exposure and experiential learning in our public schools. These individuals, schools, divisions and partners are at the forefront of that effort, and I applaud their willingness to think outside the box ad boldly try new things,” said Governor Terry McAuliffe. “Excellent education is the key to unlocking the potential in our children, our commonwealth, and the new Virginia economy.”


The Community Partnership for Health Sciences Education was one of 120 nominees. The Partnership works to enhance and expand current health sciences education programs in northwest Virginia’s high schools, create more dual-enrolled high school courses for college credit, align more closely with the needs of local healthcare employers, and build a pipeline of aspiring high school graduates with the right skills and knowledge to pursue careers in the healthcare industry. An annual one-week Health Sciences Academy draws rising 10th-12th grade students from each high school to learn about health careers while earning one credit at Lord Fairfax Community College. The Academy is one of the partnership’s signature events.


The unique community collaboration developed from conversations between Valley Health President and CEO Mark H. Merrill and Rick Leonard, then-Superintendent of Winchester Public Schools, and was officially launched in April 2013. The partnership united Valley Health and school systems in Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah, Warren Counties, the City of Winchester, Lord Fairfax Community College and Shenandoah University in an effort to expand the health sciences curriculum in area high schools and institutions of higher learning, and create pathways for students interested in pursuing health science careers.  (Rappahannock County has since joined the effort.) Valley Health made an initial investment of $300,000 to kick start the collaborative.


“It’s an absolute honor and privilege to receive one of the first Governor’s Awards for Excellence and Innovation in Education,” said Mark H. Merrill, Valley Health President and CEO, and co-chairman of the Partnership. “Our group is singularly focused on creating awareness and interest in a range of healthcare careers, and then creating a pathway for each student to receive the education and guidance to achieve meaningful, gainful employment in the northern Shenandoah Valley. Everyone benefits: Valley Health, area schools and the students.”


“It’s an honor for the Partnership to be recognized as a model for providing trailblazing innovations and pathways to success for our students in the Northern Shenandoah Valley,” said Partnership co-chair Doug Joyner, EdD, Coordinator of Student Services, Winchester Public Schools. “We deeply appreciate the dedication of each of our partners in preparing and providing education and employment opportunities for a highly-trained health sciences workforce.”


Katie Rice, Supervisor of Career and Technical Education and STEM for Shenandoah County Public Schools, values the Partnership for creating a shared sense of purpose. “It’s been huge for us to have this level of conversation between the health system and school districts. Because we meet consistently,  we’ve developed relationships and know who to reach out to.  Having the region’s largest employer tell us its needs has helped us grow programs to guide students to employment opportunities.”

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