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Clayton schools adding new programs

By Greg Gelpi

Tired of long-winded classroom lectures?

Transforming the existing campus of Jonesboro Middle School, Clayton County will offer nontraditional educational opportunities to high school students in the fall of 2005.

The Clayton County Board of Education approved the creation of the Open Campus/Career Center last week.

"One of our goals is for students to assume responsibility for their own educational outcomes," Judy Johnston, the chairwoman of a committee overseeing the project, said.

Although the two programs are separate, they will operate under one administration and function together, Johnston said.

Jack Hinson, the director of technology and career education for the school system, said many students take technical classes in high schools currently and are interested in learning more. The Career Center will address that desire to learn more and train students for work after high school.

The Career Center will tentatively teach classes on automotive services technology, business information technology, construction technology, early childhood education, healthcare science technology, information technology, mechanics and engineering science, technology education and engineering, drawing and design.

The system conducted a needs assessment, surveying about 200 local businesses and 2,000 students, Hinson said. The system then drafted a list of classes based on the assessment.

The curriculum will focus on hands-on learning, he said.

"It will be project-based problem solving courses," Hinson said. "We will be dealing with traditional lectures at a minimum."

A stepping stone between high school and technical college, the Career Center will allow students to concentrate their studies on a trade and receive dual credit for high school and technical colleges.

Students at the Career Center will be able to take their core classes at the Open Campus.

Students who dropped out of school can return to complete their education at the Open Campus, while students in school can graduate more quickly by earning their last remaining credit or two there, Johnston said.

She explained that there is a difference between an alternative school and the Open Campus. The alternative school is a punishment, while the Open Campus is an opportunity.

Included in the opportunity, students will use virtual learning labs, classes where students take courses online, Johnston said. For instance, several different levels of math may be taught in one room with the same content teacher.

Although the board approved establishing the schools, details are still being worked out, Johnston said. For instance, the committee is still working on entry requirements. The special schools will probably be limited to juniors and seniors, but other requirements may be considered as well.

"Our system is unique in putting the two together," Johnston said.

Students attending the Career Center or the Open Campus will still be considered students at their home schools. This allows students to participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports or clubs, which the new programs will not offer. They will also graduate from their home schools.

"We don't want to make it so restrictive that no one qualifies," Hinson said. "We're looking for students who are pretty well focused and have chosen a career path."

Other programs which may be included at the new campus are adult literacy, a program for out of school youth and classes to update adults on skills.

The county is using the campus of Jonesboro Middle for the two new programs, John Ramage, the school system's assistant superintendent of facilities, construction and purchasing, said.

He presented artist renderings of the outsides of the campus to a committee of the school board last month.

"We're finishing the schematics and we're getting close, but we're not ready yet to turn them loose," Ramage said.

Using special purpose local option sales tax revenue, Ramage said he hopes to open bids for the project by Jan. 1, begin construction in the spring and open the schools for the fall of 2005.