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Perspective: Insights gained at national conference on academies

The Jefferson City Public School district was fortunate to have representatives attend the annual conference of the National Career Academy Coalition (NCAC) in October.

The group of attendees included teachers, school and district leaders, and community members.

Expenses for the conference were provided by the school district. (By law, Missouri schools must budget funds each year for professional development).

The group heard presentations from schools around the country who have established career-oriented high school academies. Individuals were there from schools in a number of states, including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont.

Some districts are in the beginning stages of implementing high school academies, as we are in Jefferson City. Other school districts have had academies for five, six, seven, or eight years.

The conference included several noteworthy insights.

First, the planning and implementation of academies is an ongoing process that requires months of dialogue in both the school and the community. In Jefferson City it continues to be an evolving process. Several different vantage points serve to shape how Jefferson City High School academies will look and we welcome community involvement in this process.

Second, business partnerships are crucial. Business and community involvement in the planning and delivery of student instruction tends to make the entire learning experience more enriching, engaging and relevant.

The business connection is vital. If we as educators get together and devise a new school model, in some ways we’ll come up with something that we already have. On the other hand, if we utilize the perspective of those in the business community, we will all benefit tremendously.

Third, to make learning relevant and meaningful to students, teachers must utilize approaches that are different from what has traditionally been done in American schools. Collaboration among teachers, teaching life skills to students, integrating learning efforts across the curriculum, making focused decisions based upon student data, and the inclusion of business partners will enable schools to provide a much more rewarding and beneficial learning experience.

Finally, the conference was a strong reminder that the idea of high school academies is not something being done in a few isolated areas. It is being embraced around the country as an exciting and viable model for schools with valuable learning opportunities for students.

The efforts in Jefferson City are organized with the intention of having as much community input as possible. Business partners can help in a number of ways, including offering their perspective in planning, by providing suggestions for the curriculum, by hosting field trips and possible student internships, by reviewing student presentations, or by being guest speakers in classrooms.

We are involved in a great undertaking in the JCPS district with the implementation of high school academies. It is not one that can be done — nor should it be done — without community guidance. Anyone with questions may contact the district office or any 9-12 building administrator. Or if you wish, talk to any teacher affiliated with academy development.

Dr. Jay Steele, chief academic officer for Nashville Public Schools, spoke with great conviction at the conference about the importance of high school academies.

“It is a moral and economic imperative,” he said, “that every kid should be in an academy. Every student should have this opportunity.”

David Wilson, EdD., is one of the assistant principals at Jefferson City High School. You may e-mail him at david.wilson@jcschools.us.

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