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Denia Reese, Superintendent for Catoosa County Schools, announces a homestead tax exemption on property taxes for seniors in Catoosa County Thursday at the Catoosa County Board of Education. Standing from left are, Catoosa Commissioner Jeff Long, Catoosa County Commission Chairman Steven Henry, Reese and Catoosa County Schools Board Chairman Don Dycus. / Staff photo by Tim Barber

Catoosa County's high school students soon will be able to take high school and college-level courses in a brand new college and career academy.

The Technical College System of Georgia awarded Catoosa County a $3 million grant to establish the Catoosa County From Here to Career Academy. The grant will be used with some of the county's Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue to build the academy.

County commissioners donated property on the Benton Place Campus to build the school, which school officials believe will be a perfect location. It's close to the three Catoosa County public high schools and Georgia Northwest Technical College's campus.

Catoosa County already has a career technical pathways program, and the new academy will be an addition to those classes offered at the three high schools.

County Schools Superintendent Denia Reese said the academy will provide new career pathways through the programs available for high school juniors and seniors.

Marissa Brower, spokeswoman for Catoosa County Schools, said the new academy will have its own faculty and will bring in business leaders, educators and other members of community, as well.

Georgia College and Career Academies are specialized charter high schools that prepare students for careers in a more workforce-focused way. They also are intended to improve graduation rates among high school students.

In 2007, newly elected Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle established Georgia's College and Career Academy Network to offer high school students access to accredited college-level courses and technical certification programs.

College and Career Academies in Georgia act as a partnership among local school systems, post-secondary institutions, local government and the private sector.

Career clusters

*A steering committee formed by Catoosa County Schools and leaders in the community reviewed data from the public and surveyed regional businesses to find out what “career clusters” would fit well at Catoosa County’s new career academy.
*Here are the ones chosen:

  • The School of Nursing, Sports Medicine, and Therapeutic Services
  • The School of Information Technology and Cybersecurity
  • The School of Architecture and Construction
  • The School of Welding and Machine Tool Technology
  • The School of Education
  • The School of Logistics, Distribution, and Supply Chain Management
  • The School of Industrial Systems Technology, Robotics, and Mechatronics

 

The Catoosa County school board received 95 letters of support and $560,000 in financial commitments over five years from the private sector. Support also came from businesses in Catoosa, Walker, Whitfield and Hamilton counties.

Statewide, more than 30,000 students are enrolled in Georgia's 39 College and Career Academies, and more are being built.

Catoosa County was one of two school districts that received funding this year. Muscogee County was the other.

How it got done

Reese said Catoosa County Schools officials started thinking about adding a specialized charter school in 2017.

"The Catoosa Board of Education became aware of the middle-skill gap and determined we should identify a way to prepare our students for these careers," Reese said. "The board of education felt a responsibility to our students, and our region's employers, to prepare students with skills to be successful in these highly skilled and highly paying careers."

Middle-skill jobs are those that require some college but not necessarily a four-year degree.

The school board formed a committee in 2017 to study the career academy model and conduct a feasibility study to determine if businesses and community members supported the initiative.

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Catoosa County Public Schools Superintendent Denia Reese says the school system, and others across Georgia, face major financial challenges in the coming year. Officials have tried to bolster reserves to help fend off cuts, she says. / Staff photo by Ben Benton

Reese said more than 60 business and community members stepped up to volunteer for the committee, ensuring the board there was support for the idea.

The overwhelming community support helped Catoosa County post the highest application score the state has seen in the 13 years the program has been around, she said.

Leaders in Catoosa County knew there was a need by looking at industry reports and asking what American business leaders and employers needed.

Reese said one thing that stuck out to the committee was the soft skills gap.

"We listened to our industry partners, and we are going to specifically address the gap between employers' expectations and our students' soft skills," she said.

Students in the academy will benefit from a talent development specialist and will learn both life and career technical skills on their way to graduation and beyond.

Students who attend academies participate in dual enrollment with local technical colleges or University System of Georgia schools, and through industry partnerships they earn real-world experience during internships and apprenticeships.

"Students who attend the academy will graduate high school with college credit and industry credentials," Reese said. "They will be highly prepared to continue their post-secondary education and highly skilled to begin an excellent career."

A timeline for when the academy will be built is still to be determined. Reese has met with an architect and plans are being made.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.

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