President Danilowicz joins education leaders, policymakers for Virginia Education Summit
Education and political leaders gathered at Radford University on Thursday, Oct. 27, for day one of the 2022 Virginia Education Summit, sponsored by the Hunt Institute.
The goal of the summit was to bring together policymakers with state and national education experts to research and discuss the most pressing issues facing Virginia’s education system.
Radford University President Bret Danilowicz opened the session by welcoming the group gathered at the university’s Kyle Hall to “Highlander Country” and stating Radford’s commitment to building upon the educational standards in Virginia and beyond, briefly explaining the university’s role in the process.
“Our faculty and staff work collaboratively with Virginia Tech, UVa-Wise, our regional community and our college partners in school systems with common goals of elevating educational achievements and economic development of our region,” Danilowicz said. “We know the importance of linking education to workforce needs, and we are committed to working together to improve the commonwealth's education system and its associated benefits to individuals, communities and businesses.”
The Hunt Institute, which works with a number of states to inform policymakers about key issues, began offering the education summit in Virginia in 2015. Former Radford University Board of Visitors member Javaid Siddiqi, Ph.D., serves as president and CEO of the Hunt Institute.
Before the daylong discussion began, Siddiqi reminded the gathering that they would be “grappling with issues from early childhood education all the way to post-secondary education.”
Virginia Sen. Louise Lucas, chair of the senate’s Education and Health Committee, added that “for the next two days, each of you will hear from leading experts on a variety of topics as these experts will help us think through some of the most pressing questions we are facing in the legislature. I hope to use what we learn here at this summit in the work of the upcoming legislative session. I hope each of you will leave here with action items about how we can better support students across the commonwealth.”
Virginia Del. Glen Davis noted that the “partnership with the Hunt Institute has been very important for the education committees.”
Throughout the day, panelists tackled issues relating to educator diversity, literacy instruction, school innovations and related policy and the importance of internships in a future of higher education uncertainty.
Before the session kicked off, summit attendees visited McHarg Elementary School in Radford. “It truly is an amazing, innovative elementary school, Davis said. “I think it truly is the model for what elementary schools should be in the future.”
The Hotel Roanoke in Roanoke, Virginia, hosted Day 2 of the summit. There, Danilowicz participated in a panel discussion concerning balancing free expression on higher education campuses.
“My belief is that when we can work with our students to understand civil discourse and how to, not just speak, but how to listen and understand each other in a way that actually lends itself to freedom of expression,” the president said. “Unless we can hear each other and understand each other’s perspectives, we’re never going to be able to solve issues.”
Danilowicz spoke of a new minor at Radford, Wicked Problems, that is built around six courses that address difficult topics where there is no consensus solution, such as climate change and the circle of poverty.
“In those classrooms,” he said, “students must debate; they must disagree to actually understand the topic being discussed.”
That minor is an example, Danilowicz said, “where our faculty have recognized that this is a difficulty and they are trying to provide those educational opportunities for students to debate, to learn how to debate without getting, in a sense, in each other’s face.”
The president also spoke of a modeling exercise on civil discourse that he participated in recently with the university’s Board of Visitors.
Those were two examples, he explained, of “how to encourage students to engage and follow great academic behavior without having to go down the road of hate speech itself.
“Because freedom of expression challenges will occur on campus,” Danilowicz noted, “we have to be ready to embrace that these challenges will be there and think about how we can solve them with civil discourse.”