Published Friday, January 11, 2013
By REBECCA LEFTWICH
Ryan Knott is a senior at Newnan High School, but he doesn't attend school there.
Knott is among a growing number of students enrolled in Coweta County's base high schools – East Coweta, Newnan and Northgate – who earn part or all of their academic credits on the Central Educational Center campus. Because of Knott's intended career path – working with computers in the mission field – he is one of many Coweta high-schoolers whose academic needs are best served by CEC.
"I consider myself a CEC student," said Knott, who is in his fourth semester at CEC and currently enrolled full-time.
In place for more than a decade, CEC – a public, non-profit college and career academy formed through a partnership between local business and industry, the Coweta County School System and West Georgia Technical College – offers students opportunities for work-based learning and dual enrollment that allows students to earn college credit while completing high school.
Mercer University and Brewton-Parker College also offer academic coursework at CEC, and WGTC's new full-service Coweta campus is set to open in fall of 2013 while maintaining its presence at CEC.
Half of the Coweta County School System's 2012 graduates took one or more classes at CEC at some point during their high school careers – up from 48 percent in 2011 – according to Assistant Superintendent Marc Guy, who presented an update on CEC at the Coweta County Board of Education's Tuesday meeting.
"The reach of the program is up to one out of every two students who graduates from a Coweta County high school," said Mark Whitlock, CEO of the academy. "We're seeing an upward trend in that, and that's obviously the right direction. The more students you can reach, the more students can make even better choices about their career and their college experience, to get those opportunities they wouldn't otherwise get."
Distribution of enrollment at CEC now correlates with enrollment at base high schools, Guy told the school board, and no longer reflects the distance from CEC. East Coweta has the largest student population in the county and the largest presence at CEC; Newnan, the second-largest Coweta high school, has the second-largest number of students attending CEC; and Northgate, the smallest of the three base schools, has the third-largest number of students completing coursework at CEC.
"That says that we've gotten alingment with all of our high schools so that distance from CEC is no longer a predominant reason students will or will not attend CEC," Whitlock said. "It's critical that we have got that kind of alingment going on, and it's a real tribute to the principals and staff at high schools. They're not territorial about that – they want to do what's best for the student."
Expanding student opportunities at CEC is a priority for Coweta school officials, who put into place a pilot program for the 2012-13 school year in which 54 students representing all six of the county's middle schools will complete their entire academic year at CEC. The Eighth Grade Charter College and Career Academy allows students to take courses in math, English, science and social studies as well as career tech classes such as aviation, computer science, construction, forensics, graphic arts, music technology and robotics.
"It's a key initiative," Whitlock said. "It helps us grow that participation rate when they are in high school. More students will know what CEC is even before they get into high school, so that they're more likely to take advantage of the opportunities offered."
Dual enrollment in WGTC classes by CEC students is on pace to jump 50 percent in 2013 from just a year ago, according to Guy's report, partly because of the addition of ACCEL classes to existing college career tech programs. Most core classes offered by WGTC now transfer to University System of Georgia schools, and weighted classes – similar to the base high schools' Advanced Placement courses – have increased interest and participation in the dual enrollment program.
The proposed virtual learning pilot introduced by Superintendent Steve Barker at Tuesday's school board meeting and expanded services offered by WGTC's Coweta campus helps create the seamlessness originally envisioned by CEC's steering committee when it formed in the late 1990s.
Whitlock said the late Dr. Joe Harless was famous for saying the key to helping citizens adapt and become more productive is to simulate the workforce environment in education as closely as possible.
"One of the difficulties found in education over the past 30 years is the difficulty in transition," Whitlock said. "How to go from high school to college to the workplace, and what is your purpose in going for post-secondary education. The CEC partnership is all about how you can use education to make yourself more economically viable, and that's to create a seamless environment in which the partners work hard and organize in different way to prepare for 21st century workforce."