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Career Academy readies for students
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Newton County's school system may have found its crowned jewel. In fact, when students and teachers return from spring break in two weeks, one of the top secondary education facilities the state will be open for business right here in Covington.

Members of the media took an exclusive tour of the Newton College and Career Academy Thursday and saw firsthand what has been in the works for more than four years. The school, located adjacent to Newton High, will open April 9 and house all students currently enrolled in the Career Technical and Agriculture Education program (CTAE) for the remainder of the year.

Led by CTAE director James Woodard, who will be the career academy's principal and CEO, the tour showcased what students in the CTAE program can expect in the new facility. The 185,000 square-foot building is broken into five main themed areas on three levels with classes laid out accordingly. Programs include culinary arts, manufacturing, early childhood development, automotive, agriculture, graphic design, computer science and repair and business with each classroom setup to accommodate the various types of course work.

"Everybody was really focused on making it as right as possible," Woodard said. "I've been involved with career technical education for 23 years and I've seen a lot of career centers and career programs and I can tell you I don't know of any facility as nice as what we have built here."

The career academy is designed to provide students a pathway to entering the workforce upon graduation. Woodard, who has been instrumental in the layout and design of the facility, has been involved with career-based learning at the state level and made sure the facility provided students a real-world experience.

The curriculum, while needing to adhere to the Georgia high school graduation requirements, will be tailored much like a college major or field of study. Some of the programs go so far as to offering services to the public, much like college programs do. In fact, part of the CTAE program is working with local colleges in dual enrollment. For instance, three courses are currently dual enrollment with six slated as such next year. In some cases, those courses will be taught by professionals from the affiliated colleges. In all, the career academy looks and feels much like a college campus. Some of the programs will even award students professional certification they can take directly into the workplace.

"We're creating a program of study to give students coming out of the eighth grade to say, if you're interested in cosmetology for instance, these are the classes you need to take at your base school," Woodard said. "As tenth graders, we give them what they need to take so they can enroll in dual enrollment in the eleventh grade so they can finish up in the twelfth grade and coming out of school with X amount of hours toward a cosmetology degree."

The CTAE program aims to teach students all the nuances of certain professions. For instance, the cosmetology program has a full-service salon complete with beauty stations for hair and manicures. The cosmetology classroom even has a reception area which will be manned by a student and will take in customers - all in an attempt to give students hands-on experience in running a salon.

Part of the diversity programs includes learning the business side of the trade. In the case of the cosmetology department, students will take business classes as part of the program in order to be versed in handling customers at a front desk.

"Accounting (for instance) is something that's important to all programs. So as we build the programs for study -- cosmetology for example -- we want to back feed accounting as a requirement, and marketing too (for that matter). Some of these programs may not be attractive to kids but you have to give them all the education that's required. It's great if you can do hair but you have to handle the other sides of the business too."

Another example of the full-service experience is the restaurant classroom which resembles the dining area of a retail eatery. Adjacent to the kitchen, which serves the dual purpose as the culinary arts classroom and where staff will prepare meals for students, the restaurant will allow those in the program to experience what it's like working in a restaurant. Woodard said he hopes it can also be a vehicle for teachers to find creative ways to integrate other programs.

"I can only think of so many ideas," he said. "My hope is that teachers will find ways to use their programs with other programs that can help both get a more complete experience."

Woodard said he spent a lot of time learning from the successes of the Rockdale Career Academy and applied a lot of what he found there to Newton's academy. He also learned what Rockdale didn't do that it wish it had and made sure to plan for the future when he left approximately 15,000 square feet of basement space vacant for further expansion.

With the academy complete and ready for students, Woodard now shifts his attention to fully utilizing what the county's newest school has to offer. It's a challenge he knows won't be easy.

"That's mu burden," he said. "This (the facility) isn't where it stops. It has to work internally when the kids get here."

The CTAE program is currently taught at Alcovy High School. Students in the program attend their home school for first period before catching a bus to Alcovy for the remainder of their classes. Beginning April 9, those students will be bused to the career academy.

The NCSS plans to host a grand opening April 17 at 10:30 a.m. where Superintendent Gary Mathews and members of the BOE will tour the school and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle will visit and speak in the auditorium.