Denia Reese

Superintendent of Schools Denia Reese pitches a new career academy to officials during the Aug. 7 Board of Commissioner’s meeting. / Adam Cook

Catoosa County officials are considering the possibility of building a career academy in town following a pitch Schools Superintendent Denia Reese at the Aug. 7 Board of Commissioner’s meeting.

With preliminary drawings on display and a year of research in hand, Reese explained how much an academy could help prepare students for the workforce, and groom local students to flourish at home in Catoosa County when they become adults.

“This is a concept to enhance the educational opportunities for children in Catoosa County,” Reese said. “Catoosa County Public Schools began exploring the possibility of a college and career academy last year. The graduation task force researched college and career academies as a Graduate Catoosa initiative.”

Reese described the academies as specialized charter high schools with a mission to provide a highly-trained and skilled workforce for the local community.

Students who attend complete high school graduation requirements while taking college classes to earn a technical certificate or associate’s degree at no cost to the student or their parents.

A big part of the system is getting students acquainted with the local workforce.

“Students also participate in internships and apprenticeships with local employers, so students will graduate with the skills they need to enter the workforce and get a good paying job if they choose not to get a four-year degree,” Reese said. “Academies have been proven to increase the graduation rate, as well as prepare students for post-secondary education or a career.”

Reese says she and the school system applied for and received a planning grant from the Technical College System of Georgia. She said Georgia Northwestern Technical College is the school system’s partner, and that together they completed a feasibility study for the project.

Reese says she pitched the idea to commissioners at a recent intergovernmental meeting.

“The response that we’ve had has been overwhelmingly positive from all of our stakeholder groups,” Reese said. “In steering committee meetings with Georgia Northwestern Technical College and business partners, we’ve determined five new pathways to prepare our students for jobs in our area. The pathways are what we call schools to be offered in a college and career academy.

Reese says the five pathways will consist of the School of Building Design and Power, School of Law and Justice, Medicine and Nursing, Early Childhood Education, and a School of Information and Technology.

“This will give students a two-year jumpstart on a four-year degree,” Reese said. “We have an amazing opportunity to give every high school student from all economic backgrounds the opportunity to attend college free.”

Reese said one of the parameters of building the school is having it close to all three of the main high schools.

“The College and Career Academy must be located in a central location in our county equal distance from all three high schools,” Reese explained. “After a year of research, I have determined that there is a perfect location for a college and career academy in Catoosa County. We would like the county to partner with Board of Education to build on the Benton Place Campus.”

Reese pointed out a 4.89 acre parcel next to the amphitheatre as the desired site, and pointed out its proximity to the library and the Colonnade.

“The structure would mirror the architecture of the existing buildings, and be approximately 40,000-square-feet,” Reese said. “We are in the process of applying for the Technical College System of Georgia startup grant. Our plan is to include it as an ESPLOST VI project on the referendum in March of 2021.”

Commissioners seemed intrigued by the idea of being able to use land that’s currently vacant and already paid for.

“So basically, the land you need, we already have,” Commissioner Jim Cutler asked.

“Yes sir,” Reese replied.

“It’s just sitting there unused actually,” Cutler added.

Reese said there would still need to be parking and easement issues to discuss down the road, but opined that the benefits of such a school in the county would be great for local students and the community.

“The students would not only be employable, but be highly skilled for every high-paying job out there,” Reese said. “It’s a great time to make this opportunity available for the children of Catoosa County.”

The board wasn’t required to take any action on the matter, but commissioners did praise Reese for her work and research on presenting the project.

Reese says the one of the most rewarding parts of the school could be grooming homegrown students to be bigger parts of Catoosa County once they finish school.

“We want to steer students into the occupations that we know we need in our county because we want our students to stay here,” Reese said.

Adam Cook is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He has been a reporter since 2009. He can be reached at The Catoosa County News office at 706-935-2621 and by email at acook@npco.com.