Second in a series about new Georgia start-up public charter schools.
By Mike Klein
No Georgia economic development initiative has been more stunningly successful over the past decade than the 2,200-acre KIA Motors Manufacturing plant at West Point in Troup County. The region added more than 11,700 jobs directly because of KIA. That created a special challenge.
“When KIA came into the LaGrange – Troup County area one of the things that the community realized is that they really didn’t have the workforce,” said Kathy Carlisle.“They began a lot of discussions about how do we have the workforce to support KIA and their suppliers as well as other industries.” KIA opened in 2010 and the region continues a rapid expansion.
Carlisle is Chief Executive Officer at Troup County’s new THINC College and Career Academy. Note; she is not principal. Carlisle is CEO. This charter school looks like, acts like and thinks like the business models from which it sprang. KIA has pledged $3 million; Georgia Power is a benefactor; there are many other creative regional business and higher education relationships.
“Everything we do, our culture, our vision, everything is business-driven and business-oriented,” said Carlisle. “The core of everything we do is soft skills and producing future leaders. A lot of people think soft skills is pull your pants up, take your hat off, get to work on time.
“We want to instill leadership characteristics and qualities as well as entrepreneurship thinking so students graduate understanding what business is about and what it takes to be successful in business as far as earning and producing profit. This will be embedded in our culture.”
Important initial groundwork was done with the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education and Georgia Tech as Troup County focused on how to prepare workers for new high-tech careers. The region had long roots in agriculture and some manufacturing but nothing like KIA technology.
More than 100 community members participated in a steering committee that identified challenges: One-size-fits all high school educations were not working. Graduates were not college or career ready. The group found a disconnect between what high schools and colleges were teaching and what employers needed. Too much trained talent was leaving Troup County. Equally important, the committee determined that local business was willing to become part of the solution. Everyone’s future was at stake.
Beginning this new school year THINC will focus on matching 100 work / study high school students to jobs that are consistent with their career goals. Next year – when the model expands to 500 students – Carlisle said the goal is for every student to have an employer sponsor who is aligned with their career path.
“We are different. Our focus is high-tech jobs, healthcare, a real strong focus in those areas,” said Carlisle. Next year THINC will move into a 50,000 square foot facility on the West Georgia Technical College. THINC dual enrollment students will attend West Georgia tuition-free. Other dual enrollment options will be available with LaGrange College and Point University. All three schools have worked together to help launch THINC.
THINC faculty will be anything but traditional. “Teacher certification is not going to be the most important thing,” Carlisle said. “We want teachers that can teach in a hands-on learning environment, very innovative, creative, meeting the standards but at the same time teaching and inspiring youth to learn in a different way, no boring lectures allowed.”
Carlisle said launching THINC is different from her 14 years at Columbus State University and four years working at a non-profit. “Public education has its own way of doing everything,” she said. “In this position you’re working with the community, their expectations; government, their expectations; public education, their expectations, the technical colleges, the private colleges.
“It really is taking a lot of different organizations, different organisms and trying to bring them together to birth this incredible machine that we are trying to start. Negotiating, compromising, navigating, communicating with so many different people.”
Friday: Academy for Classical Education in Macon
As an employer, and a parent and a graduate of Georgia public schools, I am pleased that the Foundation has undertaken this project. (The report card) provides an excellent tool for parents and educators to objectively evaluate our public high schools. It will further serve a useful purpose as a benchmark for the future to measure our schools’ progress.