The leadership team at the Akron Public Schools understands well the important role the district must play if the city is going to achieve the goals it has set. Without the district raising its overall performance, the city will have a tough time halting its population slide, let alone adding residents. It also will be difficult to overcome the dismaying pattern of black exclusion from local economic opportunity.
If the district rates at the top or near the top among the large urban school systems in the state, that isn’t good enough. The moment requires something better, and that explains the design and implementation of college and career academies across the district, now well on the way and continuing. It goes to the grant announced this week by the GAR Foundation, routing $529,000 to the district during the next three years, most of the money going to teacher training and development.
Students and families aren’t alone in needing to make adjustments. Teachers also must adopt new approaches, their part in learning indispensable to student success.
The point isn’t to see 13-year-olds and 14-year-olds choosing pathways for their lifetimes. Rather, the academy approach builds on the interests of students, following the logic that a more engaged student is better positioned to learn. More, it does encourage students to see there is a purpose in all this schooling — as preparation for the real world.
Which gets to part of the challenge for teachers and the significance of the GAR grant. The academies still hold to the state’s academic standards. There are the likes of biology, math, literature and history to be taught and learned. What teachers must do is craft ways to link traditional subjects to the declared interest of the student.
That may be easier when the subject is math and the interest is engineering or automotive work. Or harder when the interest leans toward health care and the subject is literature. The GAR grant is designed to see that teachers have a foundation upon which to enhance the required skills. The training covers a range of teacher tasks, from lesson planning to integrated teaching. Collaboration will receive priority, say, a group of teachers coordinating to focus on students acquiring a skill that applies across several subjects.
It follows, too, that through the grant money, teachers will spend two days at local businesses, larger and smaller, gaining exposure to the operations and thus insights into how they will promote learning through what the district calls a “career-themed lens.”
At an early juncture, school officials worried that businesses would not come forward to support the academies by opening their doors to students seeking hands-on experience. As it is, companies have answered the call. And now GAR has invested in teachers as part of ensuring the necessary return. If the district knows that the academy model has produced strong academic results in Nashville and elsewhere, there still is much risk in what the city schools propose. So it matters that the community is rising to the occasion. Wouldn't it be grand if the state did as well?
It also matters that the district communicate effectively what the academies involve and how they are doing. And that is another part of the GAR grant, supporting the implementation of a strategic external communications plan, among other things, to make clear the city schools have a wide range of options for students and families. So, it is about where Akron and surroundings will be in 10 years or 20 years. All of us have a stake in seeing the city schools succeed with the college and career academies.