“This is the future,” state Sen. Jack Hill said as a crowd ready to welcome Effingham County’s newest school gathered.
With help from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the Effingham County Board of Education cut the ribbon on the new Effingham Career Academy. That the gleaming new structure is located right next to the Effingham campus of the Savannah Technical College is no accident.
It’s a beautiful, spacious building, built to accommodate the needs and wants of students looking to forge a career. How it came to be is a paradigm of dedication and perseverance.
Students who complete a career academy are dually successful. They’ve completed a high school curriculum and they have a skill. “They’re a marketable commodity,” Hill said.
Students at the Career Academy aren’t just students — they’re team members. And it was a team effort, Lt. Gov. Cagle pointed out, that led to the Career Academy opening its doors.
“You see a turtle on a fence post, it didn’t get there by itself,” Hill said. “You see a building like this building, it didn’t get there by itself. It got there by a lot of hard work by a lot of people.”
Effingham school system worked with Savannah Technical College and Technical College System of Georgia officials to make sure their building and programs fit in with what was transpiring just a few feet away. Superintendent Randy Shearouse said they wanted “a seamless transition.”
“We wanted our facility to complement their facility,” he said.
The Career Academy is seen as an opportunity, especially for those team members who will be receiving instruction. Cagle told the story of a young man who was a NASCAR fan and wanted to get involved with auto racing. He went to a career academy, got an internship at TNT and wound up as the youngest producer at the network.
Said Cagle: “It all started with this dream, with something he was motivated and challenged by. It changed not just his life, but it changed generations to come. That’s why we’ve invested the money that we have to create these career academies.”
The career academies, now more than 20, have 98 percent graduation rates and 100 percent placement rates for those who complete their course work there. The career academies have been a big focus for Cagle. “This probably means more to me than anything I’ve done as lieutenant governor,” he said. “You are partnering education with a workforce. I’m excited about not only the beautiful building but (also) what is going to happen over the years to come because of the investment and the vision.”
The career academy pattern is being copied across the state and Cagle believes it will spread across the nation, too.
It was several years ago when Shearouse broached the idea of a career academy for Effingham. The school board jumped on board, as did the local legislative delegation. With $3.2 million from the lieutenant governor’s initiative, special purpose local option sales tax money and other grant money, the school will be paid for upon completion.
“Even in very difficult times,” Shearouse said, “we found a way to make it work.”
And they hope they’re not done yet.
“We want this program to be so successful that we have to make a decision about expanding in a couple of years,” Shearouse said.
So far, it’s been a resounding success, and they deserve congratulations for their labors coming to fruition.