Guilford County will use $6 million in left over construction funds to convert or build six high schools into academies for career and technical education. Some will become manufacturing or engineering labs.
(TNS) — Two high schools would get additions for new career academies and four others would get renovations under a plan to use money left over from other Guilford County Schools projects that came in under budget.
The Guilford County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to approve moving more than $7 million to renovate six high schools to house new career academies. Smith and Western high schools would get the additions, according to Julius Monk, the school system’s director of facilities.
The school board is asking the Guilford County Board of Commissioners to also give its necessary approval to transfer the money.
The preliminary budget shared by school staff calls for the majority of the money to be spent at Smith ($4 million) and Western ($1.2 million). Northeast High would see $250,000 in work with $373,000 at Kearns Academy, $460,000 at Academy at Smith (which is not part of the Smith High School campus), and about $880,000 at Southeast High School.
Monk said before the meeting that after consulting with a designer, officials realized that Smith and Western lacked the type of spaces needed, such as high ceilings for manufacturing and transportation labs, for the programs they want to house.
At Smith, school system officials want to build a new Career and Technical Education, or CTE, building that would include: one advanced manufacturing classroom/lab, one engineering classroom/lab, six core subject classrooms, one collaboration area and faculty office space.
Smith and Southeast High are set to house new academies of advanced manufacturing and engineering.
Students in the new career academies are expected to take core subject classes such as English or math together, according to Kathleen Dawson, the school system’s chief innovation officer. Under the academy model, she said, core subject teachers work with the career and tech teachers to make sure their classes are relevant to and tie into each other. Students who are not part of the academies could fill any empty seats in the core classes.
Smith Principal Donevin Hoskins spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s school board meeting, along with a couple of the school’s staff members and a parent. They spoke in favor of the new career academy and building addition.
“I want to thank the superintendent for believing now is the right time and Smith is the right place,” Hoskins said.
Career Development Coordinator Cynthia Miller said the academy could set up living wage jobs after high school graduation to Smith students who are qualifying for free or reduced price lunch because of parents’ low incomes.
At Western, the school system wants to build a new diesel technology lab where students could work on large diesel engine vehicles. That addition is expected to be smaller than the one at Smith, Monk said, because it is just one lab. Otherwise, the rest of the money would be spent on renovations of existing spaces.
Western is set to be home to the school system’s only Academy of Transportation, Distribution and Logistics.
Monk said he would hope to get the work done on the CTE projects within the next couple of years, but does not expect that work to be completed by August when the new academies first start. He said his understanding is that rising ninth-graders who will begin the programs would start with introductory classes, so they would not need to have these labs ready for them yet.
The money for these career tech renovations would come out of the budgets of 17 other capital improvement projects from around the school system. Most of those, Monk said, are completed, with just small amounts of leftover money. The school system is using the academy work as an opportunity to close out those accounts. Renovation work is still taking place at High Point Central High School and Western Guilford Middle School. However, Monk said those projects also are under budget, and he does not expect transferring most of the remaining money will affect the ability to finish the work at those sites.
During Tuesday’s meeting, school board member Anita Sharpe said something along similar lines. It’s important, she said, for members of the High Point Central school community to understand that renovations there also benefitted from leftover funds at other projects, and about $1.3 million would remain in the account to cover any unexpected issues or change orders. The community should not expect to be shortchanged on the High Point Central work because of this move, Sharpe said.
Several school board members said they are hearing excitement from their constituents about the new career academies, as well as hope for what they could bring to students.
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