Smithfield Foods donates $3 million to Smithfield High School

Smithfield High School students will notice a new building on their campus in the coming year that will be home to career-oriented technology, culinary, health sciences and mechatronics labs and more, as a part of a new $10-million education initiative for the school.

Smithfield Foods announced a $3 million contribution for the new programs Thursday morning at the high school. The meat-packing company’s donation will cover the technology lab, a new fieldhouse for the school’s Junior ROTC program, and a multipurpose building for hosting academic ceremonies and community events.

“You have to change, you have to innovate, you have to adapt in education, just as you do in the business world. If you don’t, you will not be successful,” Kenneth M. Sullivan, president and CEO of Smithfield Foods, told students during an assembly in the Smithfield High School gym Thursday.

The other new additions, including the culinary, health sciences, mechatronics and welding labs, will be funded through the school’s budget, specifically the roughly $1 million that was used to send students to the Pruden Center for Industry and Technology in Suffolk. The school system cut ties with Pruden last year, freeing up $950,000 a year. The unused money will fund the new programs at Smithfield High School and similar planned additions to Windsor High School.

Additionally, the School Board will ask the Board of Supervisors to take on $750,000 in debt to help finance the additions and initial costs.

Lynn Briggs, a spokeswoman for Isle of Wight County Schools, said the idea would be for the schools to pay back this loan over a long period of time and not request additional funds from the county to make the payments.

“We are doing this and not costing the taxpayers one penny,” Isle of Wight Schools Superintendent Jim Thornton said during a School Board meeting Thursday evening. “I think that’s a good thing.”

Thornton said the career-type courses will provide opportunities for students who excel in hands-on environments. He also said he will propose a new schedule in the coming years for the career courses that would allow students to attend the courses for a week straight, instead of in 90-minute increments once a day. He will present more detailed plans to the Board of Supervisors in March, he said.

“I don’t care if you do project-based learning, or you hand in a bunch of spreadsheets and do multiple choice — some may do well in that,” Thornton said. “But far too many of our students, they only have one track. It’s time to redesign high school.”

Smith can be reached by phone at 757-510-1663.

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