Each February, Cuyahoga Falls schools hosts a career awareness night for high school sophomores, their parents and about 70 area businesses.
Parents learn about college classes offered in high school at a fraction of the college cost, while students contemplate college and meet with potential employers.
Superintendent Todd Nichols has come to learn an eye-opening fact about his students through the process.
“We had students going up to those professionals, saying, ‘I want to be a doctor or a lawyer or a CPA.’ But they had absolutely no clue what it took to get there or what that person does,” he said.
And so Nichols and his colleagues are shaking things up a bit in the district.
He’s constructing four new schools of thought, but not in the traditional sense. Each school would require no additional bricks, classrooms, teachers or money, he vows.
The new schools would, instead, require the district to retrain teachers based on their interests and not necessarily just earning diplomas.
Ninth- and 10th-graders in the 2014-15 school year would identify an area of study from a short list of categories. At the moment, that tentative list includes business, health, art and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
Students would then take the usual dose of social studies, English, math and science classes “but through the lens of their interests,” Nichols said. Each required class would be tailored to one of the four disciplines, providing a career and college launch pad fueled by specialized coursework.
With the state’s adamant focus on employment and degree attainment, the ultimate goal is to avert remediation in college and produce a generation of prepared high school graduates.
“Much of what is happening in our world right now is because too many students are not prepared,” Nichols said.
Cuyahoga Falls educators and administrators have spent the last year taking advisement from stakeholders, including the local chamber of commerce, the rotary club, a business advisory group and PTAs from each of the districts’ nine buildings.
There had been little resistance until about a week ago, when rumors spread that the new “school-within-a-school model” would limit opportunities for students.
Nichols spent two hours at a meeting April 15 dispelling those rumors, which focused on converting the music program into an extracurricular activity outside of normal school offerings.
To the contrary, Nichols said the new model would strive to emulate programs like the marching band, where students share a common interest, work together to accomplish a single purpose and rely on each other to succeed.
“Those same qualities make your career technical programs what they are,” Nichols said, adding that no programs would be cut through the inception of an early college. “It’s not loss of opportunity. It’s greater opportunity.”
The program is modeled after a similar effort in Reynoldsburg City Schools near Columbus. Nichols and other educators plan to make a third trip to Reynoldsburg this summer before finalizing the program’s four disciplines in the early fall.
From there, he would fill an administrative position vacated through attrition with a deputy of college and career readiness, who would oversee program implementation and curriculum development over the course of the 2013-14 school year.
When the program launches in the 2014-15 school year, Nichols hopes to simultaneously open an “innovation academy” designed to identify student interests for seventh- and eighth-graders prior to high school entrance.
Junior and seniors currently nearing graduation would not be affected by the overhaul of a curriculum shift under the anticipated program.
The school district will host a public meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the auditorium to address any concerns.
Representatives of EDWorks, a Cincinnati-based education research firm, will be in attendance. EDWorks has partnered with districts like Reynoldsburg and Cuyahoga Falls in seven states to develop early college and career programs in high schools.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com.