METC student on proposed Renaissance Academy: ‘Build it’

Summer Johnson drew a big laugh during Friday’s panel discussion on the Renaissance Academy.

That’s the name of the standalone school devoted to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) that Monongalia County Schools wants to have built and open by 2027.

To get there, however, the academy has to clear the primary ballot next month.

Voters will be asked to consider the $142.6 bond measure it will take to get it done.

Opponents say that it’s too pricey and will add to the tax burden that’s already heavy for a lot of households.

Proponents, though, say Morgantown and Mon will benefit richly from the human capita the academy could deliver — with its deep dives into STEM and career technical education offerings.

The group Friends of the Renaissance Academy hosted a forum all about the latter at South Middle School.

Mon Schools Superintendent Eddie Campbell Jr. was on the panel, along Russ Rogerson, who heads the Morgantown Area Partnership.

They were joined by David Goldberg, the president and CEO of Mon Health System; and Dr. Vinay Badwhar, a cardiothoracic surgery specialist and executive chair of the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute.

Their respective medical networks are the county’s two largest employers.

Brian Donnelly, an architect with the DLR Group, the firm that designed the academy, was also part of the discussion, which was moderated Elizabeth Vitullo, an assistant vice president of Economic Innovation at WVU.

Then there was Summer, who also had a seat at the table. She’s a Morgantown High senior and soon-to-be-completer at the Monongalia Couunty Technical Edcuation Center.

Summer is currently finishing her coursework in building and maintenance operations at MTEC and constructed a bit of ad-libbed comedy during her remarks.

“I can work circles around the boys — just sayin’,” the student ventured, when asked about the time-honored vocational-technical models of certain students taking certain education tracks in high school.

While Summer puts in her work at MHS and gets good grades in traditional classrooms there, she’s most engaged when she’s at MTEC.

And that’s the point of The Renaissance Academy, Campbell said.

“The Renaissance Academy isn’t going to replace what we currently do,” he said. “It’s going to enhance it.”

Mon’s school system might be more progessive than some of its neighbors, but there is a separation, that — like it or not, the superintendent said — is also tradition.

That is, students still have to choose sometimes, he said.

Advanced Placement courses in Mon’s three public high schools, for example, occasionally conflict with the hands-on offerings at MTEC.

The academy isn’t either-or, Campbell said. With the flexible schedules and integrated courses on its schedule, it’s both.

Goldberg and Badhwar talked about the diversity of jobs in their health systems, from technicians to physicians to culinary service workers — and Rogerson said the academy would also be in the workforce business.

“It’s that integration,” he said, adding that any business operation being recruited to any locale always asks about local applicants, first.

Like an electrical circuit, the academy would keep that current flowing.

Donnelly, the architect, lauded the accessibility and expansiveness of the design, where a culinary student might also take automotive technology, in order to maintain the food truck at the restaurant he or she wants to start.

Summer, who is already entertaining 13 job offers and would like to forge a professional partnership with the academy, had the last word of the afternoon.

“I say, ‘Build it.’”