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Charter school to aim at jobs, work skills

POSTED: December 2, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Judy Scherer

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On Wednesday, Dr. Judy Scherer, superintendent of Liberty County Schools, met with other area educators from Savannah Technical College to solidify a partnership to bring a charter school called the College and Career Academy to Liberty County.
In attendance were Dr. Reg Hendricks, executive vice president, Terry Oliver, director of Liberty County Campus, and Donna Baker, education and career partnership coordinator.
Modeled after her state-wide acclaimed career academy in Coweta County, Scherer said the CCA will be a charter school that supplies a supplemental educational program in a collaboration between the Liberty County high schools, Savannah Tech and local businesses. The goal is to improve the area workforce while simultaneously giving students the opportunity to get job skills.
“It’s a true community collaborative,” Scherer said.  
She said the program, projected for completion in two years, will be productive for all involved because after a comprehensive county-wide assessment, the BOE will tailor classes to train and educate students for their local workforce’s specific needs.
Scherer said there are many specific desired results: to reduce the drop-out rate, raise standardized test scores, raise the graduation rate, lower unemployment, improve the local workforce, and attract more and better industry to the area.
Mark Whitlock, CEO of Central Education Center, partnered with Scherer nine years ago in the creation of the first career academy in Coweta County and said that all entities involved benefit from the project. He said some of the most significant rewards occur within the student body.

“We’ve seen students even more excited about completing high school. In nine years the dropout rate was cut in half,” he said. “And by incorporating the technical college into the high school experience, you’re getting students prepared much earlier.”
Scherer also agreed that the students of Liberty County, especially those who do not plan on going to college will benefit through the partnership, although college bound students can gain opportunity as well.
“The reality is in the area about 40 percent go to college and 20 percent finish, we’re adding value to the rest of them. Then, they can use the skills down the road for college or with these jobs they can earn a good living. It gives them a real sense of maturity and sense of direction.” Scherer said. “The students will go through certified programs, learn specific skills and be ready to enter the market.”
Both Scherer and Whitlock also said the other major benefactor of the collaboration is business.
“The message for businesses is that changes in the economy require a much more technical workforce,” Whitlock said. “This is the way to develop a workforce at a much younger age.”
Scherer said because each CCA is designed for its specific business community, employers get pre-trained employees who are guaranteed to have the necessary skills for the job. Also, as part of the training, students receive what she calls a work ethic grade in which the students are evaluated on non-skill related traits; attendance, teamwork, appearance, attitude, productivity, cooperation and respect. This ensures employers get well-rounded and dependable employees. In short, she said is elevates the standards for the community’s workforce.
Whitlock said business in his area have seen tremendous growth because of the partnership. One example he said is a large manufacturing plant that decided to take advantage of the partnership and has seen such extensive growth since that it’s currently the largest private employer in the county.
All modeled after Scherer’s original CCA in Coweta and all eager to experience the same level of success, Whitlock said there are now approximately 15 similar programs across the state (some still in planning stages), and recently school systems from other states have caught on.  He is currently working with systems in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Raleigh and even a school in South Dakota.
Scherer said the first step for the Liberty CCA is to assess the community’s workforce and see what jobs are needed. She is asking for support from the business community get this achieved.
Scherer said funding is yet to be fully determined, but will include state grants, money from Savannah Tech and donations.
The CCA will be open to all high school students enrolled in Liberty County, Savannah Technical students, customized business training, and any adults interested. 

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