State committee advances Smithfield shipbuilding-focused lab school

Published 2:32 pm Friday, April 12, 2024

A proposed lab school that would be housed at Paul D. Camp Community College’s Smithfield campus received tentative approval on April 11 from the state’s College Partnership Laboratory Schools Standing Committee.

The Isle Marine Trades Academy, which the college proposes to operate in partnership with Isle of Wight County Schools and Newport News Shipbuilding, would allow up to 80 high school students to earn an associate of applied science degree in technical studies and industry credentials in either maritime welding or electrical concurrently with their high school diploma.

Following a 10-day public comment period, the proposed lab school will head to Virginia’s Board of Education for final approval on April 25. Comments on any lab school can be submitted at 

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IWCS Director of Secondary Instruction Marsha Cale said the goal is to begin recruiting students next school year and to open the school by 2025.

Paul D. Camp President Corey McCray proposed the lab school seven months ago in hopes of persuading Isle of Wight supervisors to continue the college’s lease of its county-owned Smithfield campus, housed on the second floor of a former high school on James Street. At the urging of former Supervisor Dick Grice, supervisors voted last summer to end the lease come mid-2024 on grounds that the campus was going underutilized, but they rescinded the vote in September after embracing McCray’s lab school concept.

“This will be an exciting opportunity for the students of Isle of Wight County and a tremendous addition to the Camp Community College,” Supervisor William McCarty said after learning of the state committee’s vote. “Maximizing any resources that our county has is something to be applauded and appreciated. Students can enter career-ready from high school into these high-demand and well-paying fields. Congratulations to everyone that will make up this valued and vital partnership.”

McCray cited Newport News Shipbuilding’s role as the state’s largest industrial employer and projected growth as his reasons for wanting to partner with the shipyard. According to a 2022 Congressional Research Service report, the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan calls for 321 to 404 manned ships.

“We are responding to a workforce demand with the ship repair and shipbuilding industry; this is a matter of national defense,” McCray told the committee.

“The Navy has recognized that Hampton Roads is a key component to shipbuilding,” said Bill Docalovich, program director of the state-funded Naval Shipbuilding College for Newport News Shipbuilding’s parent company, Huntington Ingalls Industries.

Docalovich said Newport News Shipbuilding expects to hire 3,000 to 5,000 new employees over the next five years, only a fraction of whom would originate from the company’s Apprentice School in Newport News, which according to the company’s website can take four to eight years for students to complete.

The creation of workforce-tailored K-12 lab schools has been a priority of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who in 2022 signed a two-year state budget that included $100 million in state funding for the initiative. As of April 4, the Board of Education had approved six out of 21 applications for lab schools, none of which are presently operating in Hampton Roads.

According to McCray’s proposal, Paul D. Camp is requesting $1 million from the state’s startup funding. The college would contribute an additional $150,000 in 2025. By its second year in operation, the school would begin to receive state funding based on the number of students enrolled.

IWCS, according to Cale, wouldn’t be required to make its own startup cash contribution but would instead provide teachers, students, the use of Smithfield High School’s and Windsor High School’s facilities, and student transportation to and from Camp’s Smithfield campus and each high school. The goal, Cale said, is for the lab school to become self-sustaining by 2029.

Students would enroll in the lab school during their junior year, during which they would complete general education courses at Camp’s Smithfield campus from 7:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m., then travel to either Smithfield High School for welding or to Windsor High School, which houses the school division’s electrical career and technical education equipment, from 11:45 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. Seniors would spend their mornings at Camp’s Workforce Trades and Innovation Center in Suffolk, which the Navy recently donated $1.3 million toward building, and spend their afternoons at Camp’s Smithfield campus.

“More than 50% of our students actually do not go on to four-year universities; they are going to two-year schools or going directly into the job market,” Cale said.

The IMTA would include representatives from Isle of Wight and Paul D. Camp on its governing board, which would act independently of IWCS and the college.

“I think everyone’s pretty excited about it,” said School Board Chairman Jason Maresh.