School board to send letter of intent for career academy

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Dougherty County Board of Education made good on their interest in establishing a career academy when they opted to send a letter of intent to state officials Wednesday.

The decision was made at the board's mid-monthly meeting at Alice Coachman Elementary School.

"It's not just the Dougherty County School System; there are other entities involved," said Superintendent Joshua Murfree. "To me, it makes sense."

In order to move forward, a letter of intent was to be in place by Feb. 1.

While the letter does not obligate the school system to actually open a career academy, it formally expresses interest in the idea to education officials on the state level.

While it is still very early in the developmental stages, the board is enthusiastic about it.

"I was impressed initially," said Carol Tharin. "I think it might be a good economic tool."

David Maschke, while still supportive of the idea, remains concerned about where the money will come from.

"I think it is an excellent idea," he said Wednesday. "I'm just waiting for someone to explain to me how it will work. Sooner rather than later, we will need to determine where the money will come from."

In his final days as board chairman, Maschke sent out an e-mail, the contents of which were published in the Jan. 5 edition of The Albany Herald, suggesting that closing one of the county's high schools and consolidating down to three high schools might loosen funds in order to make a career academy financially doable.

Officials with the school system, including the superintendent, have since come out publicly stating that they do not intend on closing any schools. In an informational session earlier this month, board members were advised that career academies are usually established by a school system renovating an existing facility to accommodate students from area "feeder" schools.

Sending the letter sets off a sequence of events that will ultimately determine if Dougherty County fits the bill for a career academy, which would eventually require the support of local businesses.

"I think a determination can't be made until Ms. (Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Dianne) Daniels and her staff looks into it and reports to the superintendent," said the Rev. James Bush, the board's chairman. "Anything that (helps) retention rates and drop-out rates is good.

"I feel real good about it."

The career academy system in Georgia is the brainchild of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, and is designed to give post-secondary education to high school students -- thereby making them more competitive on a global level, officials say.

"It's is a true blend of a high school, a technical college and a university," said Jenny Williams, director of partnerships with the Technical College System of Georgia, at the informational session held earlier this month. "They walk out of a high school with credentials rather than just a diploma.

"It's really transforming how we teach students."

There are more than a dozen career academies currently operating in the state. In the past four years, 23 grants have been awarded through Georgia's technical college system to establish career academies.

The grants, typically close to the amount of $3 million, are designed to cover the facility's operational costs. School systems that pursue career academies are expected to obtain charter status, or amend an existing charter to allow for a career academy with local and state board approval. After that, an application process takes place.

On another note, Murfree made some remarks at the meeting regarding the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test investigation still ongoing in Dougherty County.

"We are in a critical period of time," he said. "Teachers and parents are taking home with them what has happened. We have been open and honest and believe we have done nothing wrong.

"I would propose a sense of urgency. If we continue with these investigations, I'm concerned it will disrupt the classroom setting."

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has been involved since late last year when then-Gov. Sonny Perdue issued an executive order allowing them to assist. Since then, agents have been conducting investigations in Dougherty as well as in the Atlanta Public Schools system regarding an abnormal amount of erasures on the districts' 2009 tests.