Educators, legislators come together at Virginia Education Summit

Mason Interim President Anne Holton (left), discussing strategies during the first day of the Virginia Education Summit on Mason's Fairfax Campus, said working across sectors is "key to our young people's success." Photo by Evan Cantwell.

George Mason University served as the catalyst for critical state education policy discussions Monday hosting for the first time the Virginia Education Summit, an annual gathering of members of the Senate Education & Health and House Education committees with education specialists and, this year in particular, Mason educators.

The summit provides state education legislators an overview of education issues they will face when the General Assembly convenes in January.

“I love many things about this summit,” Mason Interim President Anne Holton said in her welcoming remarks at Merten Hall, “but I mainly love that you all come together in a bicameral and a bipartisan way to focus on this important topic at all levels.”

Michelle Marks, Mason’s vice president for academic innovation and new ventures, served on a panel about higher education pathways and degree completion, highlighting the university’s ADVANCE Program partnership with Northern Virginia Community College. Virginia First Lady Pamela Northam participated in an early childhood panel. The first day of the summit also covered access and affordability, and classroom innovation.

Held in partnership with the Hunt Institute, the event shifts to the Annandale Campus of Northern Virginia Community College on Tuesday. Mark Ginsberg, dean of Mason’s College of Education and Human Development, and Mason Chief of Staff Dietra Trent will serve on teacher preparation and teacher compensation panels, respectively. Trent, like Holton, is a former Virginia secretary of education. Another member of Trent’s panel is the current Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, who earned a master’s degree in history and teaching certificate from Mason.

Other summit topics to be discussed Tuesday include attracting and retaining teaching talent and broadband’s role in the state’s economic success.

“Hosting the Virginia Education Summit is a wonderful opportunity for Mason leaders to discuss an array of key and critical issues in education, including early education, P-12 and higher education,” Ginsberg said. “As a presenter at the summit, I’ll review many important issues pertinent to the field of educator preparation and showcase our programs at Mason to prepare the next generation of Virginia educators.”

Holton made sure the legislators and other attendees from around the state know about Mason’s mission of access to excellence and status as a Tier 1 research university, its distinction of being the largest and most diverse public university in Virginia and the state leader in producing tech talent, and how Mason is a majority minority institution with no marked graduation rate disparities among groups.

As a Mason education policy professor and a member of the State Board of Education, Holton said she appreciates the broad impact of convening the Senate Education & Health and House Education committees at Mason.

“You all help us focus on the connections between pre-K and K-12 and higher ed and the workforce,” Holton said. “We all sometimes work in our little sectors, and you can help us broaden our focus and encourage us to make those partnerships work across sectors, which is really, really key to our young people’s success—which is why we’re all here in the first place.”