In 2017, Catoosa County Public Schools began to consider establishing a college and career academy to address “the middle-skill gap” — skills that require some college but not a four-year degree.

“Middle-skill jobs,” says Schools Superintendent Denia Reese, “account for 53% of the jobs in America, but only 43% of the country’s workers are trained with these skills. The Board of Education felt a responsibility to our students and our region’s employers to prepare students with skills to be successful in these highly-skilled and highly-paying careers.”

The county Board of Commissioners donated land for the academy, a board of directors was established and programs that will be offered to students outlined. In 2018, CCPS applied for a grant from the Technical College System of Georgia for the “From HERE to CAREER! Academy,” as the local academy that will draw students from all three Catoosa high schools has been named.

On Dec. 9, TCSG announced that CCPS had been awarded a $3 million grant, one of only two college and career academy grants awarded this school year.

“When we asked for volunteers for the Steering Committee in 2017,” says Reese, “over 60 business and community members responded. When we asked steering committee members to serve on the board of directors, everyone we asked said yes. This year, our board of directors has met monthly, and they have served on numerous committees. With their participation and input, our 2019 application received the highest score in the thirteen years of the TCSG grant program.”

The grant money will be combined with ESPLOST money to build the academy.

In the process of pursuing the TCSG grant, board members secured 95 letters of recommendation.

They have also secured $560,000 in promised funds from local businesses to go toward the academy over the next five years to “provide targeted professional skills training, lab equipment and materials, and real-world experiences for students to develop and apply technical and professional skills.”

The first From HERE to CAREER! Academy class of 16 students is already in training at the Catoosa Campus of Georgia Northwestern Technical College.

When the announcement of the TCSG grant hit Facebook, the response was quick and enthusiastic, including 91 people sharing the initial post and one mother commenting: “My son is in the mechatronics program this year and is loving it! I’m so excited about what these programs are going to do for the students of Catoosa County.”

The programs that will be offered by From HERE to CAREER! Academy, according to the most recent press release from CCPS, are:

♦ The School of Nursing, Sports Medicine, and Therapeutic Services, addressing a national shortage of healthcare professionals

♦ The School of Information Technology and Cybersecurity, addressing software and IT needs in every career cluster in the Academy

♦ The School of Architecture and Construction, teaching skilled trades that are in high demand in the region, including electricians and plumbers

♦ The School of Welding and Machine Tool Technology, addressing a significant national and local need for welders and machinists

♦ The School of Education, providing the opportunity for the school system to grow its own teachers

♦ The School of Logistics, Distribution, and Supply Chain Management, very important in this region.

A Thrive 55 study found that 80% of the nation’s freight travels through Chattanooga, so there is a significant need for this pathway.

♦ The School of Industrial Systems Technology, Robotics, and Mechatronics, addressing the region’s deficit of skilled workers in engineering, manufacturing, and production

Reese says that Academy pathways will be in addition to the current career technical programs offered at the county’s three high schools.

“We plan to keep current career programs in our high schools. The Academy will provide career pathways not currently offered, and the programs will be accessible for 11th and 12th grade students from all three high schools.”

Tamara Wolk is a reporter for The Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.

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