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Career Academy looms in Clayton schools' future

By Trina TriceClayton County's Magnet Career Academy is getting closer to becoming a reality.

Board members Barbara Wells and Linda Crummy took a tour of the Central Educational Center in Coweta County Tuesday to learn how Clayton County's Magnet Career Academy might operate once it's built.

Dwayne Hobbs, coordinator of School to Work/Youth Apprenticeship for Clayton County Schools, encouraged board members to take the tour.

"We've had some board members that had not seen this kind of facility before," he said. "(The CEC) is basically similar to what we're trying to do" in Clayton County.

The Academy, like the CEC, would act as a technical training facility for Clayton County high school juniors and seniors.

The CEC provides course offerings in computers, health sciences, graphic arts, and engineering.

Clayton County representatives visited rooms that contained a simulated manufacturing factory and dental and medical training equipment.

"I think the county is begging for something of this nature," Crummy said. "Some children are not ready for the workplace or they're not ready for post-secondary (education)."

All of Clayton County's high schools currently have vocational buildings that house technical classes for its students, unlike Coweta County's high schools. However, Clayton County school administrators believe the academy will provide more opportunity for students to take more in-depth courses that would get them more prepared to continue training at technical schools or make an immediate entrance into the workforce upon graduating from high school.

A quality, technical education could help reach two kinds of students, Hobbs said.

Mark Whitlock, CEO of the CEC, led the tour. Whitlock explained to Wells and Crummy the need for such a facility.

"Education isn't keeping up with pace of the economy," he said. "It's not anyone's fault. The world is just changing rapidly. We've heard from some people that education only prepares students for the next level of education."

Teaching students how to apply the knowledge they learn is most beneficial to them in the long-term, Whitlock said. Technical education gives students hands-on experience in different subjects which gives them something to take with them following their high school graduation, Wells suggested.

Based on recommendations from an assessment study conducted by an outsourced consultant, the courses that could be offered at the Academy would include computer applications, skills in customer service and life, and government.

From a survey of the most desired job categories that was included in the assessment, local business leaders would like to see students offered courses in business operations, construction, information systems, "medical," and auto service.

Plans for the building and the concept began in the late 1990s and financing for it is included in the 1999 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, SPLOST.

The building will be constructed from the ground up near Jonesboro Middle School on Lee Street that will be moved and will turn into the Open High School.

The Academy will be 100,000 square feet, approximately the size of an elementary school, and could accommodate between 500 and 600 students, said John Ramage, assistant superintendent of Facilities and Maintenance for Clayton County Schools.

A bid for construction of the Academy could be obtained before November.

Ramage and other school administrators want people to know the Academy will be a lot more than another vocational building.

"This is a step above that, this is the connection to the next level," Ramage said. "We are well into this. We are full speed ahead."