Credit: Credit: Albemarle County Public Schools

At its meeting last evening, the Albemarle County School Board approved a pilot transportation plan that will expand opportunities for high school students in all areas of the county to attend the school division’s STEM academies. While students have always been able to apply to attend any of the division’s three academies, students were required to provide their own transportation if they attended a program that was not located at their base high school.

The pilot service will begin next August, with the commencement of the 2018-19 school year and is designed to operate for two years. After the first year, the division will evaluate its effectiveness to help inform its value beyond the pilot phase.

This year, there are 556 students enrolled in the three academies, including the Math, Engineering & Science Academy (MESA) at Albemarle High School; Monticello High School’s Health and Medical Sciences Academy (HMSA); and the Environmental Studies Academy (ESA) at Western Albemarle High School. Currently, 113 students attend an academy not located at their base school.

“This is an important equity and access issue for our high school students,” said Dr. Matthew Haas, the school division’s deputy superintendent. “We know that providing their own transportation can be difficult for some students who would like to apply to an academy that is housed at a different school than the one they attend. By removing this barrier, more students will have an opportunity to attend the program of their choice,” he added.

Dr. Haas noted that the change will be consistent with the future direction of the high school curriculum, known as High School 2022.

“The operating principle behind High School 2022 is to give students more choice in their selection of studies and to expand real-world learning experiences. The academies are doing that now by matching students with project work, increasing their interaction with professionals in the field, and creating internship and mentoring opportunities that support their career planning,” he said.

Under the plan approved by the School Board, the transportation department will move three school buses from its reserve pool to its operating fleet. Satellite bus stops will be added to the division’s three feeder patterns. Current Albemarle High School students will be able to board a bus at Albemarle that will transport them to either HMSA or ESA. Students enrolled at Monticello will be able to board a bus at their school that will take them to either MESA or ESA. In the western feeder pattern, Western Albemarle students will board a bus at Henley Middle School that will take them to either MESA or HMSA.

Each of the three academies is now accepting applications from current eighth-grade students who are interested in attending one of the academies. Also, students who will be juniors next year can apply to attend MESA. The deadline for all academy applications is January 26, 2018. For more information on each of the three academies, students and their families should visit:

“When students fill out their online registration for next year’s classes, they will be able to indicate if they will need to take advantage of this new service,” said James Foley, the school division’s Director of Transportation. “We are expecting that the average bus ride for these students will be an hour or less, which is well within the current time frame for high school students. We will be finalizing our route schedules closer to the start of the new school year and we may be able to improve upon that,” he added.