School board members in Martinsville heard an update from Joe Sumner, the executive director of the New College Institute (NCI) at their regular meeting on Nov. 13.
Sumner laid out the goals of his presentation when he began speaking.
“I think it’s good to kind of start with the big picture. I’d like to share some of our recent successes, talk about where we’re going in the future, and at the end, I’d love to just open up for questions, comments, or concerns,” he said.
The overarching theme of his talk was “We want to be a part of success. We want to be a partner. We want to help,” Sumner said. “We’re going to listen. We’re here to learn.”
During a brief update about NCI, Sumner noted the facility was established in 2006 as a higher education center.
“Now this is one point where I do like to spend just a moment or two because there are still some folks that don’t quite realize there are five higher education agencies that are spread throughout the Commonwealth, three are state agencies in and of themselves, meaning not three together but each individual organization is a state agency,” he said.
“The New College Institute is a state agency. We have multiple lines of reports that we have to provide at the state level,” he said. Although Sumner directly reports to an executive board of directors, “we also report directly to SCHEV,” the Virginia State Council of Higher Education, “as the Secretary of Education.”
Sumner said that sometimes “it helps to understand that we’re a state agency because there are times when you might drop by NCI, look and say, ‘what the heck are they doing?’”
In those cases, he said, “Chances are we probably got a call from Richmond that said, ‘You all are going do this,” and we said, “Yes sir.”
NCI has three facilities located in Uptown Martinsville: the Baldwin Building, King Hall, and the Fayette Lab. “We employ approximately 25 personnel,” Sumner said, adding that the total includes a combination of full-time, part-time, and contract employees.
Because NCI is a state agency, “we are told exactly what it is that we are to do and how we are to do it,” Sumner said. “We have six line items in the code. We take those six line items and distill them down into four basic areas of operation.”
Those areas are degree opportunities, workforce development – which is mostly on a statewide level, K-12 operations whether direct instruction, professional development or extracurricular,” and community engagement, he said.
In addition, Sumner said there are “unwritten laws” that he will adhere to during his tenure at NCI.
We will not compete with other institutions in the immediate vicinity, whether the community college or the school system. It does not matter.”
“It does not matter if I get called” about beginning some new program, Sumner said his first calls would be to the school divisions and Patrick and Henry Community College to determine whether the program is offered elsewhere and to “see if I can help put some rear ends in some seats, so to speak.”
Regardless, “we will not compete. We will not carry on programs that are already in place,” he said, adding some programs have been sunset, “and any new programs we start will follow the next three” areas.
“We’ll address workforce needs at the local, regional, and Commonwealth levels, and that’s important because if it is a local need, we want to partner locally with those institutions,” Sumner said. “If it is a regional or Commonwealth need, we will approach our local organizations first and if they say, ‘you know what, that’s kind of out of the realm of where we operate,’ then we’ll take care of further” steps. New programs, he said, are driven by workforce demands, “and all programs must be sustainable to (ensure) the need is met.”
NCI is not “chasing grants because there’s a bunch of money for this category of training,” Sumner said. If a program “does not lead to a career locally or at least at a minimum, lead to a career that is driven by one of these state initiatives, such as broadband or something in this area, then we are not going to pursue it just simply for the fact that there’s a grant or there’s lots of money out there.”
Rather NCI wants “to train and educate individuals to stay here.”
NCI currently has four university partners that offer bachelor level, master level, and even doctoral level degrees “at our institution,” Sumner said, and added, “we also operate on the do not compete principle.” None of the degree programs offer the first two years at NCI, Sumner said. “Those first two years are to be taken at” Patrick and Henry Community College or Danville Community College.
“The idea is that we create that pipeline where students get the education they need, all the way from pre-K up to graduate level degrees, right here in Martinsville,” he said.
NCI is working on new opportunities, and has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a new university that plans to bring two new degree offerings to Martinsville, Sumner said. However, NCI has been asked to not provide specific information about that partnership yet but to wait for a joint announcement that Sumner said may come by the end of the year or early 2024.
“We are excited to share that with everyone just as soon as I can,” he said.
In other matters, the Martinsville City School Board:
*Heard an update about the Magical Unicodes LEGO Robotics Podcast at Martinsville Middle School.
*Heard details about The Kennel Café, also located at Martinsville Middle School.
*Considered approval of a Consent Agenda.
*Learned that November 22-24 is fall break. All schools and offices will be closed during that time frame.