RINGGOLD, Ga. — Calling it a triple win for the community, Catoosa County Schools' superintendent Thursday celebrated the opening of an 80,000-square-foot facility for a career academy.
Superintendent Chance Nix said students win because they graduate prepared for the job market or post-secondary education; parents win because students graduate with up to 30 hours of college credit; and employers win because graduates are trained to fill entry-level jobs.
"From Here to Career is more than the celebration of a new school in our system," Nix said in a welcome video played at a launch event for the new facility. "Our goal is for every student to understand how their K-12 education helps them progress from here, in a Catoosa County school, to a great career in the future."
Business leaders and elected officials were invited to tour the From Here to Career College and Career Academy on Thursday and see the classrooms where high school juniors and seniors are being trained in high-demand skills like welding, teaching, health sciences and law enforcement.
About 250 attended a luncheon at the Collonade before the career academy tour. The event was hosted by the Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce, and chamber board chair Mike Key said the luncheon was the biggest ever.
Attendees including local business representatives and employers were shown the equipment used in training and allowed to ask questions of instructors.
In an interview, Nix said the facility cost about $30 million to build. The career academy program began in 2018.
Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk said the law enforcement pathway classroom has up-to-date equipment to train 911 operators as well as a simulator for driving and use-of-force scenarios for law enforcement officers. The classroom is big enough for self-defense training, he said while conducting a tour.
Sisk told the tour group that he recently hired five graduates of the law enforcement program to work in the county's jail.
Keith Jones, a professional skills development teacher with the academy, said while logistics isn't a well-known field, it's very important to manage shipping goods. More than 50% of the nation's freight comes through the Chattanooga region, he said.
"There's a huge need for us locally," Jones said standing outside a classroom. "And it's growing."
All ninth-grade students are required to take a From Here to Career class, Nix said, to determine their aptitude and professional interests. Those students also develop a high school and post-secondary plan that can include classes at the College and Career Academy for some juniors and seniors.
Based on feedback from the business community, Jones said students in the career academy also learn basic professional skills to prepare them for the workplace as well as job skills. He said students learn about interpersonal communication between generations and the emotional intelligence and personal financial skills required for success.
The career pathways taught at the college academy are welding, machine tool technology, construction, health science, criminal justice, information technology and cybersecurity, teaching and mechatronics — the skills needed to work with advanced manufacturing systems.
Sitting in the lobby of the new facility as the tours were wrapping up, Nix said it was named after Jack Sims, a longtime principal in the school system and personal mentor. Nix said Sims was the first person he talked to about switching careers from law enforcement to teaching, a path that eventually led him to being appointed superintendent in late 2021.
If any area businesses want to get involved with the career academy, Nix said they should contact program CEO and district spokesperson Marissa Brower at email@example.com.