Governor's School Programs
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 Governor's School programs a special experience by creating a community of learners who demonstrate their remarkable talents in diverse and meaningful ways.
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).
- Academic-Year Governor's Schools
- Summer Residential Governor's Schools
- Summer Regional 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.
The Governor's School programs are 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 specialist in the Virginia Department of Education work together to manage and maintain these programs.
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 Governor's Schools annually submit a current administrative procedures document to VDOE.
A variety of revenue finances the operation of the Governor's School programs. The Virginia General Assembly, through VDOE and the participating school divisions, fund these programs. Academic-Year Governor's Schools are funded through the Virginia General Assembly with a funding addition, "the Governor's School add on." This funding to Academic-Year Governor's Schools is provided in addition to an appropriate share of participating divisions' basic student allocation for their Academic-Year Governor's Schools students.
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.
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 (external link). 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.
The "Regulations Governing Educational Services for Gifted Students" mandate differentiated instructional opportunities for gifted students in grades K-12 in Virginia, and the Virginia's Governor's School Programs are an important component. 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 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.
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. Also, 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.
Many 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. Several 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 Maggie L. Walker Governor's School for Government and International Studies served as the 2000 State Elections Headquarters for the Virginia Student/Parent Mock Elections program.
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.