Learning academies are a hit

A contingent of Antioch leaders, representing our school, city council, business and community sectors, recently returned from a grant-funded trip to Nashville, Tennessee to see first-hand a city that has come together full-bore for career-based education. Our delegation, which included Superintendent of Schools Dr. Donald Gill and Mayor Jim Davis, toured some of Nashville’s academies and heard details of a successful blueprint from a Mayor who walks the reform talk. He stressed that a city really has three main priorities; education, safety and economic vitality and that engaging youth can affect all three. Good schools keep kids off the streets. They help real estate prices. They attract businesses, industry and the well to do.

The take away was two-fold; we realized that in many ways we are already doing things in Antioch that are ahead of the pack regionally and nationally. We also realized, though, that we can push yet further and broader. Nashville’s model is intriguing and provocative. They have a ‘wall to wall’ concept. There’s is a city-wide alliance of school, council and business partners. They offer no opt out as every student has to elect a pathway. Lest you consider that restricting, consider that this City-County of 600,000 offers an astonishing 49 academy choices. There is, then, literally a seat at the table for every student. The proof, as always, is in the pudding. Strikingly, Nashville test scores, graduation rates, college admissions and attendance all confirm a positive direction.

Obviously, Antioch is not the size of Nashville. We have unique needs and different funding mechanisms than they. Nevertheless, the trip stirred ideas. We here have, of course, come along ways on our current path of what is now called linked education and was, in previous incarnations, called vocational education, career tech and alternate pathways. We have medical, law and criminal justice, performing arts, EDGE (Environmental Design for Green Energy), business and space and science academies.

The exciting thing with these theme-based schools is that we have gone beyond just throwing into the elective mix some vocational class. Firstly, the curriculum at our Academies is rigorous. We are University of California, A-G requirement, driven. Our goal is to prepare all of our students to have the option of either transitioning to college or to entering workforce training.

Also, our curriculum is integrated. For example, a Law and Criminal Justice Academy student might study “To Kill a Mockingbird” in literature; write legal briefs or essays in composition; discuss or debate constitutional law in history; and use algebraic formulas to determine a driver’s speed by the brake marks.

Originally, our intention was to build out to where 50% of our student body could elect academies. Nashville has us thinking, though. It’s a heady venture we’ve been on with the sky the limit. Attendance is up at our academies; the Dozier Libbey Medical Academy hit 820 API last year; and the Delta Performing Arts Academy shot up an incredible 78 points. An emphasis on unstinting expectations, targeted interests and smaller learning environments is working. Of course, this is part of an overall reform movement which emphasizes parent involvement, teacher morale, aggressive staff recruitment, standardized curriculum objectives, early-on interventions, best teaching practices, teacher mentoring, pacing guides and periodic data-driven assessments,

Rigor, relevance and relationship is, after all, the paradigm of the future. This is the information age and critical thinking and collaboration skills are crucial objectives if we are to not lose out to our global competitors. We have been losing ground for decades as places like South Korea, Singapore and Finland outpace us. Thirty percent of our kids drop out. We score 17th for industrialized nations in math-science scores and ninth in overall college readiness. For those lamenting the good old days, remember that even in the ’30s and ’40s 70% of our kids didn’t graduate; in the ’60s our educational crisis bannered ‘Why Johnny Can’t Read?’; in the ’90s a Presidential Commission called us a ‘Nation at Risk’. The problems have been there; it is just higher stakes now.

This is certainly a race we can’t afford to lose – not in Antioch and not in America. The agricultural and factory-based educational system developed in the Henry Ford days, where 10-15% of the students (generally white, male and middle class) were educated for business leadership, the rest for basic citizenship, won’t work in this global, tech-driven economy. It takes a new seed to raise a new crop. Linked education has shown that it can play a major role in that break-through promise. As a unified community, committed to our youth, we can make this happen. Antioch can have parents knocking on the door to get in to our community. We can blossom into a true destination point.

Walter Ruehlig

Vice President, AUSD Board of Trustees

No Comments so far.

Leave a Reply