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JEFF MEADORS: Area school systems prepping students for STEM careers

Local school systems are committed to workforce development, but can they improve current educational practice by coming together, crossing county lines, exploring transfer of FTE, seeking approval of creative collaboration on allotments, pooling resources (including human ones), and crafting intergovernmental agreements to build an eastern region of massive intellectual capital in the STEM areas, ensuring not only student success but jobs for the future?

It’s possible and it’s time.

Jasper County High has created a biotech pathway. Referencing the new initiative in his fall 2013 superintendent notes, Mike Newton names teacher leaders involved in the implementation of a new biotech pathway at Jasper County High.

“Although the pathway has officially begun,” notes Superintendent Newton, “we have much planning and preparation for the very intense lab courses that will be introduced during the 14-15 school year.”

I visited the school last week and learned how facilities will be created to support this new pathway, a program tailor-made to deliver trainable graduates bound for jobs as production engineers, quality associates, project analysts, chilled water technicians, bio specialists, and lab and maintenance techs at sites like Baxter, just 23 miles from Jasper High.

According to Baxter’s Covington plant website, “The Baxter products that will be manufactured at the Covington facility include immunoglobulin therapy for patients with immune deficiencies and albumin products, which are primarily used as plasma-volume replacement therapy in critical care, trauma and burn patients.”

I listened to Baxter representatives early this month. Students in Jasper’s biotech pathway will definitely have options.

Rockdale Career Academy has skin in the game. In fiscal year 2012 RCA had 509 CTAE (Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education) concentrators stand for EOPAs (End of Pathway Assessments). RCA’s legacy of high academic standards and college-readiness is widely known. CEO Miki Edwards credits much of the success of Rockdale’s powerhouse of workforce development to the feeder schools and highly effective teachers — many who come from industry through charter flexibility.

More than 300 attended a recent college fair at the academy — double the number of attendees in 2013. The program is housed on Culpepper Drive in Conyers, just 21 miles from Baxter’s Covington plant.

I highlighted Newton County’s STEM 55 cohort last April.

Flanked by high profile initial partners Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and Emory, the Newton STEM diploma requires five math credits, to include AP statistics and calculus, a fifth science credit, to include at least one AP science, and four additional pathway credits. Students participate in dual enrollment as juniors and seniors.

And the state is upping its game.

Starting with the class of 2015 HOPE dollars will be tied to courses deemed “rigorous.” Students must take them if they want HOPE money. Core dual enrollment courses taken at University System of Georgia institutions like Georgia Perimeter College count for rigor.

I visited Putnam County, a charter system, last week also. A feasibility study presented to the Putnam BOE last fall revealed plans to move forward on a new 10,800-square-foot structure to Putnam’s College & Career Academy, just 26 miles from Baxter International.

The eastern stretch to Columbia County on Interstate 20 is changing the workforce game, building Georgia, and it looks nothing like grandpa’s shop class.

Columnist Jeff Meadors may be reached at pjeffreymeadors@gmail.com