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Virginia Governor Recognizes Unique Valley Health System-Area School Systems Partnership

Virginia Governor Recognizes Unique Valley Health System-Area School Systems Partnership

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 among 13 finalists honored for 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.

The Community Partnership for Health Sciences Education and one of its projects – “Worlds of Work”, or “WOW”—were each nominated and among the 13 finalists. 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 motivated students from each high school and 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, CTE/STEM Supervisor for Shenandoah County 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.”

More than 120 nominations were submitted from around the state for the Governor’s Award.