August 1, 2006
The New College Institute (NCI) finished the final leg of its journey from local vision to state sponsorship on Monday, when the institution's 11-member board of directors was sworn in at its first official meeting.
"This is an historic day," said Martinsville Mayor and board secretary Kimble Reynolds Jr. "I can't help but look back to a couple of years ago, when all this (NCI) was essentially just a dream."
Despite the milestone, though, Monday's meeting was short on celebration and long on labor. Following a brief round of comments commemorating the event, the board delved into an involved agenda designed to formally establish NCI's oversight body.
Lacking elected leaders of their own - the number, terms and selection of which would be guided by the board's yet-to-be approved bylaws - the group at first was led by state Secretary of Education Dr. Thomas Morris.
But once Morris led them through the discussion and adoption of those rules, which also encompass NCI's mission statement, the board's powers and the makeup of board committees, members set about choosing leadership of their own.
After they barred General Assembly appointees from offices and set term limits at two years at the suggestion of Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, the board turned to its predecessor organization, the New College Institute Planning Commission, electing Rob Spilman, Elizabeth Haskell and Reynolds to reprise their roles as chairman, vice chairman and secretary, respectively.
"It certainly hits home that this is a reality," Spilman said of the meeting, "but it also underscores the amount of work we have to do, which is momentous."
Despite the long road ahead, there was a palpable optimism among board members on Monday that NCI's goal of providing increased access to and demand for higher education in Henry County and Martinsville would be met.
That confidence came through during the discussion of the board's bylaws, when Haskell suggested striking the word "attempt" from a phrase in the institution's mission statement.
"I don't think we're going to attempt to increase the college-going rate - I think we're going to do it," she said.
Dr. Barry Dorsey, whom the board formally appointed executive director of NCI, gave Haskell good reason for that sentiment when he presented to the board a summary of the work that has been done since he arrived in Martinsville in January.
"It will be for history to judge whether or not we are successful, but in six and half months," much has been accomplished, Dorsey said.
Among the college's achievements, he said, was the passage of NCI's enabling legislation; the securing of $1.25 million in state funding for the 2006-07 fiscal year; the development of a seven-program pilot project to begin this fall; the appointment of the first faculty-in-residence, Longwood University teacher education instructor Dr. Gary T. Nelson; and the near-completion of renovations to the Shumate-Jessie Building, which will house NCI's first classes.
"Barry is doing a really aggressive job at getting this thing off to a good start," said Spilman. "This is going to take us a while - people need to be patient with us - but Barry is moving full steam ahead."
That was evident after the board's meeting, when members donned hard hats and toured NCI's classroom facility - heretofore known as the "NCI classroom building on courthouse square."
Since June, the 6,000-square-foot building's reception area, student lounge, faculty offices and three classrooms have taken shape, with its once-skeletal walls covered with Sheetrock.
Renovations to the building, which owners Dr. Mervyn and Virginia King leased to NCI at 1 percent of the construction costs per month (about $2,500), are scheduled to be completed by the end of August.
That will make the building ready for NCI's first classes, a master's of education program offered through Averett University, expected to begin in September.
Though the first courses - other pilot programs will begin later in the fall and early in 2007 - might be small, Dorsey said NCI's beginning will be a sign of bigger things to come.
"I hope no one will look at the first program, which will be very small, and say NCI is not successful," he said. "I hope you would look at enrollment for the entire first year ... Measure us on the future."