Walker County Schools, Georgia Northwestern Technical College partner for career training program

Walker County Schools, Georgia Northwestern Technical College partner for career training program

April 25th, 2018 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Walker County Schools' coordinator of innovation Matt Harris talks about the Launch Academy, a new initiative that puts 200 high school juniors and seniors into dual enrollment programs at Georgia Northwestern Technical College.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

ROCK SPRING, Ga. — Walker County Schools will begin a duel enrollment partnership with Georgia Northwestern Technical College this fall.

Interested high school juniors and seniors will take technical courses on the college campus four days a week under the new program, known as the Launch Academy. When they graduate high school, they will have at least one technical certificate and maybe an associate's degree, depending on the intensity of the program they choose.

Walker County Schools' coordinator of innovation Matt Harris talks about the Launch Academy, a new initiative that puts 200 high school juniors and seniors into dual enrollment programs at Georgia Northwestern Technical College.

Walker County Schools' coordinator of innovation Matt Harris...

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

The program will open this fall, with 50 total juniors from LaFayette and Ridgeland high schools. Over the next couple of years, school officials hope to boost enrollment to 200 students at a time. Superintendent Damon Raines said he hopes the program will boost the employment rate among the system's high school graduates.

"This, we think, is going to create that one piece we need to connect our kids and move them into jobs, into business and industry," he told the Walker County Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

Across Georgia, school systems have built career academies, a key policy of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's. The state awards $3 million grants to systems planning the initiatives, which blend traditional classrooms with job training. The local schools have to show they've partnered with employers to qualify for the grant.

In Catoosa County, the school system is pursuing this route. School officials met with a consultant on the issues last year and held a community meeting. In the next two months, schools spokeswoman Marissa Brower said, they hope to form a steering committee with business leaders and hold the group's first meeting.

On Tuesday, Raines told the Chamber that Walker County Schools is taking a cheaper approach. He estimated that building a new academy would cost about $15 million. Instead, he said, GNTC will give the system two classrooms in the 500 building of the Rock Spring campus.

Walker County Schools' coordinator of innovation Matt Harris talks about the Launch Academy, a new initiative that puts 200 high school juniors and seniors into dual enrollment programs at Georgia Northwestern Technical College.

Walker County Schools' coordinator of innovation Matt Harris...

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

"It makes no sense for us to go out and build a traditional career academy," said Walker County Schools Coordinator of Innovation Matt Harris, who is overseeing the initiatives. "It makes much more sense to move students on campus."

He said students will take a test to get into the duel enrollment program. At first, they will choose from seven concentrations: welding, machining, logistics, computer networking, HVAC, automotive or health care. They will take classes with GNTC instructors on campus. School system employees also will provide counseling on campus and teach certain courses students must complete to graduate high school, such as English III, civics and economics.

The school system is also working to launch an online learning program, with current teachers giving extra lectures on camera. Harris said that will help students in the program take any other courses they need. The teachers will get a bonus for participating. He hopes that program will begin in fall 2019.

While the college classes will run Monday through Thursday, Harris said local business leaders will give talks to students on Fridays. Those are aimed at teaching soft skills, such as how to speak with bosses and how to behave during a business lunch, as well as how students should manage their money.

The Georgia Department of Education covers the cost of tuition for a duel enrollment course, Raines said. The local school system would have to cover the cost of supplies for students, such as welding equipment. On average, that cost is about $300 a student. But, Raines added, some of the money will be covered by the program's business partners.

So far, Harris said, the system has partnered with CHI Memorial Hospital Roper Corp. and Shaw Industries. School administrators are recruiting other companies.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.


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