San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

December 17th, 2009
School district ponders high school academies

smcisd121709The San Marcos CISD Trustees hear a presentation from San Marcos High School Principal Michelle Darling (far right). Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

San Marcos CISD Trustees are considering whether to include career academies, specialized fields of study, within San Marcos High School. The board is aiming for a decision in February.

The board will consider whether to allot about $500,000 to fund the academies – clusters of occupation-related courses taught by teachers from specific disciplines. As proposed during a presentation given Tuesday night by San Marcos High School Principal Michelle Darling, sophomores through seniors would be able to enroll in one of four fields of study – academies – yet to be determined. Academies Darling tentatively proposed included business/finance technology, communication and arts, health and human services, and architecture/construction/engineering.

“We’re talking about small learning communities that create groups of students and teachers,” said Darling. “Career academies also integrate the college preparatory academic program and elective program within a career theme – having students experience who and what they may want to be when they grow up, right there in the high school. And finally, career academies partner, consciously, continuously, with colleges and the community to bring resources – both people resources and work experiences and world experiences – to student learning.”

Darling said implementing the career academy concept she proposes would entail hiring two clerks, one counselor and eight teachers, which SMCISD Assistant Superintendent Mike Abild roughly estimated would cost the district approximately $500,000.

SMCISD’s adopted 2010 budget includes projected revenues of $56,727,273 for the general fund, $3,443,645 for the special revenue fund and $10,893,105 for the debt service fund. The district projects $57,084,248 in general fund expenditures, $3,443,645 in special revenue fund expenditures and $10,685,240 in debt service fund expenditures.

In the 2010 budget, SMCISD  budgeted the special revenue fund expenditures for only two items – the National Breakfast & Lunch Program ($3,407,645) and plant maintenance & operations ($36,000). SMCISD budgeted $32,344,177 for instruction (the largest allocation), $672,223 for instructional resources and media services, $796,383 for curriculum and staff development and $808,027 for instructional leadership.

“We have the teachers, we have the staff and we have the willingness to do this,” said Trustee and former San Marcos Mayor David Chiu, speaking in favor of creating career academies.

SMCISD Trustees President Judy Allen said she is excited by the proposed career academies concept.

“I think it certainly is worth us examining very closely,” Allen said. “I think it’s got a lot of pluses at this point.”

SMCISD  Trustee Margie T. Villalpando (District 2) said she has not decided whether to support the addition of career academies at San Marcos High School.

“I really want to look at what other schools are doing, and I look forward to having these conversations in the future,” Villalpando said.

During her presentation, Darling said 21 percent of United States high schools – about 4,800 – are career academy high schools.

“Locally, in Central Texas, we have Pflugerville-Connally (High School) and the Round Rock ISD – all high schools (there) have an academy or two,” Darling said. “For the next school year, they’ll be implementing what’s called ‘wall-to-wall academies,’ where every student belongs to an academy. Research shows that because of the smaller, predictable relationships between teachers and students, the deeper teacher collaboration around curricula and their students, and the integration of academic skill acquisition with career themes, a number of things happen. Attendance increases, college enrollment increases, earnings for students beyond high school increases, and dropouts reduce.”

Connally High School currently has academies in the categories of Academy of Natural Sciences and Medicine, Academy of Engineering and Technical Systems, Academy of Business and Information Technology and Academy of Arts, Education, and Service. In 2011, Round Rock Independent School District (RRISD) will include the new Law, Safety, and Security Academy in each of its five regular high schools in addition to the district’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Academy, Business, Finance, and Marketing Academy, and the Human Services Academy.

SMCISD Board Trustee Peter Baen (District 5) said he supports the addition of academies to San Marcos High School. Baen said the board has work to do in fleshing-out the skeleton of Darling’s proposed academy concept.

“Some of the issues that we will deal with are budgetary in nature, but we are so blessed to have the support of (Texas State) University, ACC (Austin Community College), San Marcos Education Foundation – the integration of the vocational training resources at Gary Job Corps,” Baen said.

Darling said San Marcos High School has one academy for ninth graders and another in the Phoenix Learning Center. The ninth grade academy is not career-themed, but is intended, said Darling, to facilitate student transitioning to high school and beyond, “self-exploration of interests and strengths,” and building self-confidence. Phoenix Learning Center is the result of a merger of PRIDE High School and the Pathfinder Learning Center, both of which served as alternative schools for at-risk students who struggle academically and have learning styles divergent from the norm.

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