College Planning Program & School Culture Initiatives

Rationale and Goals of the Program
GSST students have unique needs for information about applying to competitive colleges and to specialized math and science programs. The College Planning Program aims to integrate a comprehensive college planning curriculum into students' Governor's School day as well as to enrich the knowledge of their parents and teachers.

Program Developer and Instructor
Dr. Ellen Fithian, an independent educational consultant with Hampton Roads Educational Consulting, LLC, developed the program and provides instruction for GSST students, faculty, and parents. Dr. Fithian earned a Ph.D. in gifted education at the College of William and Mary and served as the Director of Precollegiate Learner Programs at the Center for Gifted Education. As a graduate student, she also completed a semester-long internship in the William and Mary admissions office and has provided college planning services to numerous local families. Her educational and professional background, along with her personal experience as the mother of four former GSST students, make her uniquely qualified to speak about the challenges facing gifted high school students and their parents in today's competitive academic environment.

College Planning Program Components

  • Comprehensive in-school seminars for students engage students in the key activities involved in preparing for college, searching for colleges that are a good academic and extracurricular match for the student, understanding and finding financial aid, and completing college applications.
  • College Day brings representatives of top colleges to the Governor's School on a Saturday to participate in a panel discussion and meet with students and parents. In addition, an informational seminar on college planning is provided.
  • Staff Development for faculty: Governor's School faculty are kept abreast of updated information on competitive college admissions.
  • Online Curriculum for Parents: Governor's School parents have consistently expressed a desire for college planning information, but the demands of work, family, and the extracurricular commitments of their teens have made it difficult for parents to attend evening seminars. Accordingly, Dr. Fithian has increasingly moved in the direction of providing online resources.
  • College Planning Minutes is a monthly e-newsletter covering timely topics of interest to parents of college bound students. To subscribe, go to and click on College Planning Minutes.
  • New: Dr. Fithian's free informational website for parents - The Sidelines: Parent Guide to College Admissions. The site features a step-by-step guide with articles on the major college planning milestones, a blog, and discussion forum.It's located at

School Culture Initiatives: Creating a Student-Centered School
High school students who aspire to competitive colleges today face unprecedented challenges to excel in extracurricular and service activities, standardized testing, and rigorous course work. In recognition of this, Dr. Fithian is collaborating with Ms. Wismer, the Governor's School Director, and the GSST faculty to find ways to support students and reduce their stress. Initiatives include:

  • Efforts by the faculty to develop a shared, school-wide calendar that will allow teachers to avoid scheduling a due date for a major test or project on the same date as another test or project.
  • New: A summer program to help incoming juniors prepare for Governor's School math courses. 99% of incoming juniors accepted an invitation to participate in a structured summer program to review the math concepts necessary for their fall math course. The program incorporated student's home use of adaptive, online math software coupled with virtual office hours, regular monitoring of student progress, and e-mail encouragement by GSST facilitators. The goal of this initiative was to provide math review that made the most efficient use of student's time. Results of an anonymous student survey about the program were very positive, and 83% of students rated it better (28%) or much better (55%) than a traditional summer packet.
  • New: Efforts to incorporate preparation for SAT Subject tests in math and the sciences into the GSST curriculum. Students will be provided with access to a different software product during the school year to assist them in preparing for their SAT Subject Tests.
  • New: An initiative to promote positive student collaboration and deter cheating. To promote a culture of academic integrity, Dr. Fithian worked with GSST faculty to develop strategies to clarify acceptable behavior at the GSST and in general.

The GSST profile provides information about the school to colleges. Students are advised to request a GSST transcript and profile from the registrar to send with their college applications. Click here to see the GSST Profile.