By Dr. Holly A. Robinson
Imagine a high school where students learn real-world work skills – and are prepared for real jobs in real, local businesses. Imagine a school where bank presidents and corporate board members come to speak to students. Where youngsters get lessons tailored to fit the needs of local industry. Where businesses team up with educators. Where students full of enthusiasm and hope triumphantly receive the first A’s they’ve ever gotten in their lives. Where civic leaders, business execs, school officials – even the local technical college, band together to ensure that a school – a charter school – helps to meet the needs of local businesses and local young people seeking jobs and careers.
Impossible? Pie-in-the-sky? A figment of some business exec’s imaginings? Not at all. The school, Central Educational Center, already exists in Newnan, and it’s the kind of business-education partnership that needs to be replicated in every community in this state.
The concept behind Central Ed is simple: If the community can provide a school that prepares youngsters and adults for jobs – industry will remain and expand, and so will Newnan’s young citizens.
Already, the plan appears to be working. In the first year more than 650 students attended CEC. This year more than 1,300 students attend classes at the school. In one year, 100 students earned a technical college certificate in addition to their high-school diploma.
Those with new jobs and skills are staying in Newnan – and so is industry. Coweta County officials say CEC was instrumental in keeping Yamaha Manufacturing Corp. there. Yamaha is a key CEC business partner, and the company helped build the school’s manufacturing laboratory.
Central Ed is a high school, technical college and adult educational center all wrapped into one. High school students can enroll while remaining involved and a part of their neighborhood high schools. Adults can receive new technical-skill training or work toward a GED.
Job skills tailored to local industry, however, is what makes this charter school unique. Students can earn CISCO certification in computer networking, computer repair and graphic design. There’s a pre-engineering technology program, and students can become certified manufacturing specialists.
A manufacturing lab is complete with robot technology. In the health and medical field, patient care and dental assisting are offered. In human services, a West Georgia Technical College certificate in childcare provides knowledge, skills and techniques. Foods management and hospitality prepares team members – students aren’t mere pupils at this school; they’re “team members” – for careers in the food industry.
CEC is using the resources of Georgia’s technical colleges to educate high school students, leveraging the advantages of a seamless education system. They believe all students can learn, and this is demonstrated by improved attendance, tardy rates and grades. It was important to businesses that students learn the importance of a strong work ethic, and CEC has made it a part of their mission.
The school’s forward-looking, 21st-century mission comes from its close association with local businesses, but also from the school’s CEO, Mark Whitlock. Whitlock was a banker for 18 years; he brings real-world experience to the task of educating young people.
Gov. Roy Barnes has been a strong supporter of Central Ed. “If they plan it right, students can graduate from high school on Friday, graduate with a technical college certificate on Saturday, and begin work on Monday in a job that has been waiting for them… This is exactly what we need all over Georgia.”
It is what we need all over Georgia. Currently, high schools are preparing students for one of two extremes: college, or unskilled work. Between the two lay vast opportunities for young people. It’s tremendously important we develop schools that expose them to those opportunities, because more than 60 percent of Georgia’s high school graduates don’t go to college.
Georgia cannot afford to keep turning out students ill prepared for the workforce. In every community across our state there ought to be a Central Ed preparing students for work in local industry and in emerging technologies. Our ability to retain and attract technology-based industry depends on it, and so does our ability to ensure that Georgians are trained for the jobs of the future.
Dr. Holly A. Robinson, an education authority, is senior vice-president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a nonpartisan, member-supported research and education organization based in Atlanta, Georgia, that promotes free markets, limited government and individual responsibility. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (January 15, 2002). Permission is hereby given to reprint this article, with appropriate credit given.