By Aila Boyd
Secretary of Education for the Commontwalth of Virginia Atif Qarni spent last Thursday meeting with officials from Botetourt County Public Schools and touring local facilities.
Qarni was appointed to his post in 2018 by Gov. Ralph Northam after having spent 10 years teaching history, mathematics, civics, and economics at a public middle school in Prince William County.
The Thursday morning visit started off at the Greenfield Education and Training Center, where he met with school and county officials.
“I can’t wait to tell you how great Botetourt County is,” Superintendent of Botetourt County Public Schools Dr. Lisa Chen said. “We’ve built relationships with our county administrator, the Board of Supervisors, and our School Board members.”
Qarni said that he was “very excited” to come to Botetourt County and that he had “heard great things” about it.
He said that his office and Northman’s administration want to do all that they can to assist the school division in its efforts. “We want to get out of the way and support divisions as much as possible,” Qarni said.
Since becoming secretary of education, Qarni has traveled to roughly 80 percent of the school divisions throughout Virginia. He said that it’s his goal to make it to all of them by the end of his first two years in office.
The tour then progressed up the hill to Altec Industries Inc. While there, John Herrig, Altec’s plant manager, explained how the business operates to Qarni and the numerous partnerships that it has with the school division. A tour of the facility that was led by Brian Price followed.
The Botetourt Technical Education Center was the next stop. Although the school offers programs in aerospace technology, building trades, computer systems, technology, cosmetology, criminal justice, cybersecurity, engineering, information systems technology, teachers for tomorrow, veterinary technology, auto body, auto service, mechatronics, nurse aid and welding, Qarni only had enough time to fit in visits to the latter five classes.
Lunch was then served by Jane Reynolds’ Work and Family Studies students at Lord Botetourt High School. The food came from the farm-to-table program.
After lunch, Qarni visited the auditorium where he spoke to students who were participating in the Rachel’s Challenge training. The goal of the training, which was sparked by Columbine High School shooting victim Rachel Scott’s “Code of Ethics,” is to reduce school violence and bullying.
“Rachel’s Challenge is about making sure that everyone around you is taken care of,” he said.
Qarni noted that there’s a lot of pressure on high school students to succeed, but stressed that there are numerous ways to become successful. He said that some students may want to attend a four-year college, while others would prefer to explore other options.
“All of you are young, you’ll figure it out,” he said.
He went on to use his personal journey to explain that there are different paths to success. He enrolled in George Washington University right after high school, but it didn’t work out. He decided to enlist in the military and was deployed to Iraqi in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. After leaving the military, the time was right for him to give college another try. After some time at a community college, he transferred to George Mason University, where he graduated with a degree in sociology.
The last leg of Qarni’s visit took him to Greenfield Elementary School, the winner of the 2011 Board of Education Excellence Award, the 2012 Educational Excellence Award, and the 2015 Board of Education Distinguished Achievement Award. While there, he learned about the school’s emphasis on collaboration, community, creativity, and critical thinking. Student leaders provided him with a guided tour of three classes before taking him to the gym where he was honored with a special musical performance.