The Athens Community Career Academy is refocusing on its original mission of vocational education and could nearly double in size next year, CEO Lawrence Harris told Clarke County Board of Education members at a work session last week.
Many students had enrolled in the career academy to take college-level core classes that could transfer to any public college or university in Georgia, but those students could be taking Advanced Placement classes that serve the same purpose, according to Superintendent Demond Means, who said last year that he wanted to renew emphasis on job training. The career academy is “here to train our students to meet our local and regional workforce needs,” Harris said.
The academy is a program, not a school; students who take classes there graduate from Cedar Shoals, Clarke Central or Classic City. It is governed by a board of directors representing industries like manufacturing, hospitality, health care and cosmetology who provide input on what “pathways” it should be offering.
For example, the academy started a program in mechatronics (a field in engineering) when Caterpillar arrived in 2012, but now Caterpillar needs workers skilled in robotics and welding, so the academy is creating a curriculum for those fields. It’s also working with Athens Tech and Piedmont College, which has a new hospitality program, to prepare students to work at the Classic Center and local hotels. Clarke County public school students can attend Piedmont for free, thanks to a scholarship fund set up by the late former mayor Upshaw Bentley.
After a slow start, enrollment at the academy shot up to 296 three years ago. This year, it fell to 216, probably because of stricter admission standards and because core college classes have been de-emphasized, Harris said. But 650 students applied, an all-time high. Harris said his goal is to enroll 400 students next year.
That would create a space crunch, though. The career academy currently shares the H.T. Edwards building with the district’s central office. And students often drive between that building and their home high school, so parking is an issue, Means said. “We need this building and then some,” ACCA board member Christy Terrell of Georgia Power told the school board.
Former superintendent Philip Lanoue sold the district’s Mitchell Street headquarters in 2015 and had planned to renovate the vacant West Broad School into administrative offices, but that plan is in limbo because it called for paving over the Athens Land Trust’s community garden on the property. A subsequent study on space needs ordered by Means found that the West Broad School is too small to house the entire central office, anyway. (Some administrators are located at Whitehead Elementary.) Means has proposed using the building for pre-K and Early Head Start classrooms, while the land trust and Athens-Clarke County want to partner on a community resource center.
While the space problem is still unresolved, board members said the presentation provided clarity on what the career academy does. “I really felt the razor focus tonight,” Sarah Ellis said. “There is no question in my mind.”
The board also briefly discussed a policy allowing CCSD employees to send their children to any school in the district—raising the question of whether that will contribute to overcrowding at some schools. Associate Superintendent Dawn Myers described it as a benefit for teachers and other staff members who want their kids to attend the school where they work. It’s already the unofficial policy, according to board President Jared Bybee. The policy is scheduled for a vote at the Thursday, Sept. 13 board meeting.
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