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Schools prepare to start more career-oriented courses
Options include online classes, dual enrollment
Jacy Ramey, 17, a junior, operates a teleprompter Thursday while Jeanna Carter, 17, a senior, looks on during a broadcast video production class at Flowery Branch High School. Under new state legislation, high school students will be required to take some Career, Technical and Agricultural Education classes. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Gone are the days when students just need math, science and English classes for high school credit.

Now legislators also want students to graduate with an idea of what they're going to be when they grow up.

This means students are required to take some Career, Technical and Agricultural Education classes, through which they can possibly get academic credit as well.

There are 16 national CTAE career cluster pathways, which are something like a college major. Some pathways include marketing; health science; hospitality and tourism; architecture and construction; and agriculture, food and natural resources.

Each cluster has several different pathway options.

For example, health science pathways include biotechnology research and development and health informatics. Each pathway has three to four courses needed for completion.

Georgia has curriculum in place for 11 of these clusters. Gainesville High School has eight and Hall County offers 15 in its high schools, using national resources for those with no state curriculum yet.

But with Georgia House Bill 186 in place and an estimated timeline for implementation, the state Department of Education is charged with creating pathways and courses for the five clusters it does not yet offer.

"My concern is that the timeline is aggressive and the state department is going to be overtaxed (to create the new pathways)," Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said. "They already have some in place, but that's still an awful big task for the state department to get those paths developed and those courses put in place before, I think, August of next year. ... It's a Herculean task."

In the case of Gainesville City Schools, everything is going to come down to scheduling. Superintendent Merrianne Dyer believes the system is going to shift from the four existing academies in Gainesville High's charter — ninth grade, arts and sciences, civil international and career — to work within the confines of the bill's requirements.

"Right now we've got two semesters of blocks and some full-year options. Most of them are in two semesters and we have summer school for additional credit recovery," Dyer said. "What we see happening is students will come from eighth grade with a program of study. We may have to go to three semester blocks, like fall, winter, summer."

Other options are more online classes, symposium classes similar to college, dual credit from enrolling in college courses or testing out of classes early.

"We've been putting pieces of this legislation in place that made sense for our students, but we had not been rushing to implement and do a lot of planning for shifting rapidly," Dyer said.

"Hopefully we'll have full implementation in the 2013 to 2014 year but move that way next year. But if the rest of the state moves, we move."

The high school course catalog for Hall County schools is given to students in January, meaning whatever changes are made at the state level for career courses must be reflected in the catalog by then.

"That's a fast track. It depends on what all they're changing as far as realigning the pathways to the national clusters. If they do a lot of course changing that's going to be pretty quick for us to get all that," said Rhonda Samples, CTAE director for Hall County Schools.

Schofield said he believes HB 186 will be phased in with incoming ninth-grade classes over the next four years.

The main thing Hall County will need to change is making sure all students have access to all career pathways, which likely will require additional transportation.

"For example, we have a world class trade and tourism program but that's in conjunction with Lake Lanier Islands and several other local businesses. We can't offer it at every school, so we offer it at Lanier Charter Career Academy and we have shuttles that go back and forth so students from any high school can take those classes," Schofield said.

The same goes for other programs at Lanier Charter, such as the culinary arts and digital media pathways. With HB 186, students might be able to shuttle to other high schools to work in their chosen pathway. Transportation, for example, is only offered at East Hall High School and the metals pathway only at North Hall High.

"This isn't going to be a major shift for us," Schofield said.

Hall County schools already offer summer courses and "zero period" classes, where students come to school at 7 a.m. to take an extra course. And like Dyer, Schofield sees more online classes in the future.

"If a kid says, ‘Hey, I want to take my world history online so that I can take advanced culinary arts,' we need to give them that opportunity," Schofield said.

Less popular career pathways will be phased out of Hall County to avoid hiring numerous faculty members. Historically, these pathways are in agriculture or family and consumer science. New pathways to take their place include veterinary science, also under agriculture, and digital and broadcast media.

Dyer said the city school board is not looking to transition Gainesville High School to a career academy like Lanier Charter. She sees the different classes being implemented together.

"One thing I realized from training counselors and teachers ... they're still trying to get the structure in place," said Markita Grant, manager of the marketing and training division of the Georgia Career Information Center.

CTAE teachers, counselors or administrators can do reporting, but it's up to the individual school to make that decision.

And if a school does not have CTAE teachers and their other employees are already wearing many hats, "they have to figure something out," Grant said. The reporting has to be done.

"The data demands are mind-boggling," Dyer said. "That is a legitimate concern about all of this. ... You're laying this level of work on systems that have already cut back on staff and furloughed people. I'll be honest, we are swimming as fast as we can trying to keep our head above water."

Moore, who at the moment is in charge of data reporting for the Gainesville school system, said hopefully most of the data will be handled by personnel at the state level, but if too many agencies get involved and don't communicate, there could be issues.

"Our danger is this word called DRIP — data rich, information poor," said Jamey Moore, director of curriculum and instruction for Gainesville City Schools. "If we just spend all of our time gathering data and completing the compliance side of it, we never dig into it and get the instructional side."