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System breaks ground on educational programs

By Greg Gelpi

Ground has been broken on one campus and two new educational programs for the Clayton County school system.

While students pack the halls of the new Jonesboro Middle School, bulldozers and backhoes clear the land and disassemble the buildings of the old Jonesboro Middle School.

Cleaning out the out buildings, the construction and renovation clears the way for the school system's Open Campus/Career Academy. The two programs will be housed in separate wings of the old Jonesboro Middle campus and share a common administration building.

Using hands-on education, the innovative programs will provide an alternative to the traditional high school.

The Open Campus portion of the facility will allow high school dropouts to return to complete their education, while also providing education for adults, county residents who speak English as a second language and traditional students looking to graduate early.

The Career Academy will provide in-depth courses of study for students interested in technical skills.

The school system is still working on admission requirements to get into the special programs, as well as dual credit for students, said Jack Hinson, the director of technical education. With dual credits, students could earn credits toward a college degree while still in high school.

Students enrolled in the special programs will still be considered students at their home schools, which would allow them to participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports.

The "seamless education" makes sense, Hinson said. It isn't feasible to offer specialized programs to small groups of students at each high school, but it is feasible to consolidate students interested in these programs at a central academy.

The concept for the Open Campus/Career Academy is based on the Central Education Center in Newnan.

"The advice I would give is to make sure the business community is part of the planning," said Russ Moore, the chief executive officer of the Central Education Center. "The people who should drive the job are the ones who will hire the students. We make no apologies for that."

The center erased the barriers between the classroom and the business community and brought together high school and college classrooms, Moore said. Students as young as 16 can receive college credit through the "outrageously popular" center.

The center has more than doubled its enrollment since opening in 2000, and school systems from across the country and from 14 other countries have visited the campus to model it, he said.

"That attests to the popularity of the program," Moore said.

James Conard, the school system's director of maintenance, said the construction is on schedule and should be completed by January 2006.

The asbestos abatement is finished, and crews are in the midst of tearing down the gymnasium and the backs of classrooms to make way for expansion, Conard said.

Crews are also leveling the land and laying drainage pipes on the grounds of the campus, he said.