Va. Secretary of Education kicks off listening tour in Lee County

Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni reads to students.

Virginia's Secretary of Education kicked off his state-wide listening tour in Lee County on Monday in an effort to learn about the academic priorities of the region.

Atif Qarni started his day by reading to a head-start class at Rose Hill Elementary School.

"We love talking to kids and hearing about their concerns because it's really about them," Qarni says. "We want to work hard to shape their future."

Qarni was just recently appointed as Governor Ralph Northam's Secretary of Education, and this is the first time he's visited schools in southwest Virginia.

"It's encouraging that rural areas are a priority, whether it's in southwest Virginia or anywhere in the Commonwealth. It's exciting for Lee County and the far western parts of the Virginia to be on the radar of the current administration," Dr. Brian Austin, the Lee County School System superintendent says.

The Secretary's listening tour has two main goals. The first is to see some of the challenges these schools face on a daily basis. The other is seeing what they already do well.

"We need to understand what their priorities are before we can shape our policies because we can't do that just sitting in Richmond," Qarni says.

Another priority of the new administration is giving students an alternative option to the traditional learning experience. A major part of that plan includes technical and career training centers.

"We're really looking at pathways to good paying family sustaining jobs," Megan Healy, Virginia's Chief Workforce Development Adviser, says. "We really want to build a skill set with 21st century skills here in the area."

Local and state leaders say they were both pleased with Monday's visit, as excitement builds for potential educational improvement in the region.

"Secretary of Education coming from Richmond to Lee County is a pretty big thing and we're happy to host him at any time," Mike Kidwell, a member of the Lee County School Board, says.

Qarni plans on visiting all eight superintendent districts in the state on his tour.

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