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Career Academy ready for business
graphix room
The graphics room at the Effingham Career Academy. - photo by Photo by Calli Arnold

An Effingham education dream three years in the making is finally coming to fruition as furniture and equipment are installed, lights blink their first illuminations and the Effingham Career Academy becomes a reality.

Located next to the Savannah Technical College’s Effingham campus, the Career Academy offers students from both high schools new and innovative opportunities for hands-on training for the workforce with the highest technology available.

The first of its kind
This 42,000 square foot facility is incomparable to any other school in the system. In addition to the seven spacious labs custom built around each program, there is a bistro and a small dining room. The 3,000 square foot commons space — with its 7,000 watt projector, blackout shades and 18-foot screen — is distinct within the county and will be available for conferences and banquets.

“You can get a great education in a less than perfect building. But we think that our students will really enjoy the opportunity to go to school in this brand new facility with state-of-the-art equipment, large labs (and) the proximity to the technical college,” said Evonne Mobley, who will serve as the administrator of the Career Academy and has worked closely with the project since its inception as the system CTAE coordinator. “The whole feel will be something that I think will promote learning in a positive way.”

Primary architect Frank Neagle of James W. Buckley and Associates Inc. worked closely with instructors in each of the programs to create an environment conducive to their needs throughout a year of drawing up plans.

Built by Lavender and Associates of Statesboro, this will be the first facility in the county to be LEED certified energy efficient. The “green” building was oriented to capture the most natural light and will eventually have solar panels on the roof (with federal grant funding). Also, during construction, great effort was made to recycle all waste materials.

Another first, it will be the only building in the county that is completely wireless, thanks to Mike Cale. He is the information technology support man who selected and coordinated the operational systems, as well as all the multimedia throughout the Career Academy.

Where it all started
In 2007, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle initiated a program with the Technical College System of Georgia to build career academies throughout the state, setting aside $16 million in grants. Earlier that year, Mobley and Assistant Superintendent Greg Arnsdorff visited a career academy in Newnan, where students study everything from broadcast journalism to welding.  

“They were all just programs that students were really engaged in, and when you engage a student in what they’re doing, they can learn from it,” Mobley said.

With the positive feedback and the benefits of consolidating expensive programs at both high schools into one, Superintendent Randy Shearouse expressed a desire to replicate Newnan in Effingham.

Before long, the Effingham Career Academy was approved as a charter school and the district became one of the first five systems awarded grants, receiving $3.2 million. Grant funds were matched with $3 million in education-special local option sales tax reserves for the facility.
Surveys were sent out to businesses asking what they look for in employees, and programs were selected and based on their responses and popularity within the student body.

A different feel
For the most part, the 400 students enrolled at ECA this fall will spend half the day at their home high school. But once they make their way to the Career Academy — either by bus or driving themselves — they will be referred to as “team members” rather than students and will be taught by “directors,” not teachers.

“We want it to be more of a college setting, business type environment and we hope the students — the new team members — will adjust to that environment,” Mobley said. “We feel like if we treat them as an employer would, that will benefit them in learning how to respond to us.”

ECA will house upper level classes in these areas: architecture, business and computer science, graphic communications, culinary arts, engineering and technology, health care science, marketing, sales and service, and transportation.

The only new teaching position is in culinary arts. A former Sand Hill Elementary nurse will teach the health care classes. The rest of the directors taught their subject at one of the high schools. Their counterparts from the other high school will shuttle between Effingham County and South Effingham high schools teaching the foundational courses.

One of the biggest differences in the curriculum of these programs is that team members will be graded on work ethic as well as performance.

“By giving them this work ethic grade, they will become used to knowing what industry and business expect,” Mobley said.

Upon completion in one of the 15 career pathways, students will be prepared to join the workforce immediately or pursue post-secondary education.

“When you think that 80 percent of the current jobs out there do not require a four-year college degree, but they do require some kind of post-secondary training, we’re preparing our students to be able to do both,” Mobley said.

Students will learn to collaborate as they work with each other in class and/or with other programs toward a common goal. For example, marketing, culinary arts and graphic communications will be operating, merchandising and advertising the ECA school store and bistro.

“There will be a lot of interwoven, working together. It goes back to building teams, the ability to work in teams, the ability to work alone and make your own decisions,” Mobley said.

A bright future
The Career Academy will host an open house Aug. 5, with Lt. Gov. Cagle on-site to see the newest product of his program.

On Aug. 9, the real work will start.

Mobley, who was once a middle school principal, counselor and math teacher in system, expects a lot of bugs to be worked out this first term.

“I’m looking forward to it, and I hope I can make a difference; and I got a good staff to do it with,” she said.

The atmosphere is ripe for Effingham students to have the same or greater success as the Newnan school, which inspired this project.
Mobley said: “Students like being creative. If you give them that little bit of freedom to do that, you’d be amazed at where they can go.”