School board gets lesson in needs for academies

The success of Jefferson City High School’s seven proposed career academies will rise and fall on the strength of the bonds forged between the business community and the schools, the Board of Education learned Monday night.

In other business Monday, the board also selected Ken Theroff, president and CEO of Jefferson Bank, to fill the open school board seat vacated by Marie Peoples, who took a new position in Flagstaff, Ariz. With a unanimous vote, the board selected Theroff over Steve M. Bruce.

Theroff did not attend Monday’s meeting, but board president Tami Turner explained the decision by saying: “Both candidates are equally qualified … but Ken has been extremely involved in committee work. He’s served on several board and show true leadership.” She also noted that his business acumen would be an asset to the board.

After the decision, all the board members in the hallway congregated in the hall to thank Bruce for submitting his resume, suggesting they hope he continues to remain involved in the district’s work.

“I don’t envy your decision,” Bruce told them.

Ken Enloe, an executive with the IT firm, Huber & Associates, has been active on the Academies Planning Committee and recently was one of several Jefferson Citians who attended a conference hosted by the National Career Academy Coalition in Phoenix.

While he is supportive of the ideas of the academies in general, Enlioe notede he was really able to get a “better understanding” of how the relationship between the business community and the high school ought to be forged after attending that conference.

He came away with the meeting with the conviction that the district needs to have an “Executive Leadership Council,” lead by the local business community. As envisioned, he said Superintendent Brian Mitchell should be a member — but not the leader — of that group. He also suggested it ought to meet quarterly, starting in the first quarter of next year.

He also said it’s important for teachers to be the first to be educated on the academies.

“We can’t afford to have teachers hear about it” last, he said. “It’s important that everyone understand that they are expected to get on board with this, at every level. If I hear a teacher bad-mouthing it, that’s going to erode our credibility.”

Enloe also said the district needs to cultivate one key business partner for each academy — a company willing to agree to a two or three-year partnership.

Monday’s presentation on the academies also included presentations from several educators in the district.

Brittany Meador, an English teacher at Simonsen 9th Grade Center, talked about her experiences team-teaching a hybrid English-Government class at the school.

Asked if she feels she’s been able to cover all the material she’d cover in a typical English class, she said she feels she’s getting closer to that goal.

“Next year it will be more efficient, but we’re not going to leave out anything that they need,” she said. “We have to problem-solve just like our students have to problem-solve.”

When asked, Meador admitted not all veteran teachers support the move to academies.

Board member Joy Sweeney — who has been supportive of academies — said that she has been receiving letters from parents who are concerned that implementing academies means that some classes, like Honors English, may be pushed out and others are worried their kids are guinea pigs until the program is perfected.

Secondary School Assistant Superintendent Myron Graber said that creating academies is a scheduling challenge for courses like the honors sections. “It becomes very difficult,” he said.

But he said that the material in the classes can still be weighted on a scale that rewards harder-working students who want to challenge themselves.

“So all students have the opportunity to reach that 4.0 level,” he noted.

Terry Walker — one of Simonsen’s newest instructors who formerly taught in the Air Force — talked about his experiences transitioning to teaching 14-year-olds.

Walker is teaching two new courses: Introduction to Computational Thinking and Introduction to Engineering Design. The first covers problem solving, website design, communications and a little bit of basic programming. The second is a comprehensive demonstration of the design process, he said.

He said he thinks the first course would benefit all students. The second — which would probably be taught as part of the “Industrial Engineering and Technology Academy” — is fairly challenging for the freshmen, he said. “I think it would fit well for the tenth graders,” he suggested.

In other business, the board:

• Introduced a proposed school calendar for the 2014-15 school year that likely will be approved at the December board meeting.

• Heard a financial report that indicated while the district’s finances are “stable,” there are some revenue challenges in the months ahead.

• Met in closed session.

• Proposed Dec. 17-Jan. 21 as board filing dates for the April 8 election.

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