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

July 13th, 2010
School board could approve high school academies next week


San Marcos CISD Superintendent Patty Shafer, left, and Trustee David Chiu, right, at the last month’s meeting of the San Marcos CISD Trustees. Photo by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

San Marcos CISD trustees gave an unofficial nod to the idea of spending an additional $493,000, beginning in fall 2011, to create four career academies at the high school.

The four proposed academies and their career fields include: 1) AACME — agriculture, automotive, construction, military and engineering; 2) FACT — fine arts, communication and technology; 3) H3 — healthcare, hospitality and human services; and 4) MLB — marketing, law, and business.

Trustees agreed to put the matter of career academies on their July 19 meeting agenda for discussion and possible action. If the trustees give an official green light to academies, teacher training would begin fall 2010 and the academies might be implemented in fall 2011.

San Marcos High School (SMHS) Principal Michelle Darling went before the school board last December to propose that they fund career academies for about $500,000. Darling made another presentation before the board at its June 24 meeting, where it reacted favorably to her idea.

“I really feel supported,” said Darling to trustees. “I really appreciate the support and personalization and just want to you know I’m confident. Thank you.”

Darling said the $493,000 required for the academies is for one administrator position, one counselor, a half-time clerk, one instructional coach and seven teachers. If trustees opt to move forward with academies, they would authorize some funds for teacher training in the school district’s 2010-2011 budget, and allocate $493,000 in the 2011-2012 budget for the additional staff positions.

Darling said all of the elective courses proposed for the four academies currently exist at the high school. Darling said the district would survey students more than once to determine where their interests lie and would need to make parents aware of the new program.

“Becoming an academy high school is to chunk those 2,000 (students) in 400, and I survey kids, and I find the 400 that are interested in architecture or manufacturing or engineering, and I put them together in an academy so that they’re in English classes with other kids that are interested in the same thing,” Darling said.

The career academy structure is intended to allow teams of teachers to tailor their curricula to groups of students interested in related fields, enable closer, more predictable relationships between teachers and students, and increase collaboration amongst instructors. Darling said academies cause increases in attendance, college enrollment, and income for people after they graduate from high school.

Darling said San Marcos High School already has one academy for ninth graders, though it is not career-themed. The ninth grade academy is intended to facilitate student transitioning to high school and beyond through self-exploration of students’ interests and strengths, and building their self-confidence. Darling said a recent survey of every ninth grader indicated they were highly satisfied with peer and teacher relationships and their standardized test scores had increased.

“What we know is that when kids feel connected to an adult at school, their likeliness to stay in school and do well increases,” Darling said.

San Marcos CISD Superintendent Patty Shafer said implementing the four academies at the high school may reduce or eliminate the need for institutions like Phoenix Academy, which serves as an alternative for students more likely to drop out of high school.

“(Phoenix Academy) is like a rescue,” Shafer said. “It’s like almost after we’ve failed the students, then we take them to Phoenix and try to fix things and get them through high school. We’re really trying to do a program so we don’t have that many students in that situation.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Digest of Education Statistics, four percent of grade 9-12 students dropped out in the 2006-2007 San Marcos CISD school year, compared to 4.4 percent of students nationwide. According to a Texas Education Agency (TEA) report, 4.8 percent of San Marcos CISD grade 9-12 students dropped out of school in the 2006-2007 school year, compared to the state rate of 3.9 percent. According to the TEA report, 5.1 percent of grade 9-12 San Marcos CISD students dropped out in the 2007-2008 school year, compared to the state rate of 3.2 percent.

Darling said the high school will begin an hour “block lunch” schedule, whereby the entire population of the school would take an hour break at the same time. Darling said the block lunch would help school staff to be more interdependent, which, she said, may facilitate the organizational re-structuring needed before academies can be successfully implemented. Darling said block lunch also would afford students an opportunity to practice making sound choices.

“Sometimes, we give kids limited choice and then when they get some choice, we expect them to use it well,” Darling said. “Sometimes, we don’t give kids choice until they graduate from high school. So, it’s no wonder they don’t use it well in their initial years in college. So, this allows students structured choice to develop … their clubs and organizations and to get them help they need in terms of tutorials.”

(Editor’s note: The above has been revised to say that the $493,000 expenditure for academies also will fund seven teachers.)

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0 thoughts on “School board could approve high school academies next week

  1. $493,000 for 4 employees?
    Half a million dollars for FOUR employees?
    If the entire school is divided into academies, then what are the job descriptions of all the other administrators, counselors, clerks and “learning coaches”?

  2. Cathy, that is a very sound point. $493K for 3 full-time and 1 part-time, is way too much money for personnel. Surely there are other expenditures (beyond just personnel) that they forgot to tell us about?

  3. Wait – let me get this straight. The classes being offered will be classes that are *already offered* at the High School… that means that they want to spend an extra HALF MILLION dollars to continue to give students something they already get?!?!?

    But hey, it sounds like they’ll be able to sit next to people who share their interests in these new classes! That’s worth a half million dollars per year, right?

    And let’s not forget the economic impact of adding what sounds like 4 VERY high-paying jobs to the local work force!

  4. Thanks, Cathy, good catch, I apologize for the omission — the $493,000 is also for seven new teacher positions, specifically, two math teachers, one “at risk” teacher for the ninth grade academy, two science teachers, one career and technical education (CTE) instructor, and a special education teacher.

  5. We still have X number of students, X number of teachers, same classes already in place, now we’re just dividing what we have in 4. I still don’t see the need to spend half a million dollars for what’s already in place — where will the 7 employees replaced by the new hires go — Lamar….? It’s gettin kind of tight in there already……………….

  6. Ah, it is wonderful to remember being a “stoont,” having been one for so very long, back when. Also great to recall all the many vocational aspirations I embraces, then kissed away when I found something new–like the bizarre switch just before I exited college, from Math, Science, and Technical to Liberal Arts. Or earlier, from Chemical Engineering to Psychology. It was wonderful that I got to play across the field, because when I was young I had ZERO idea of what choices might lie outside my own rather limited experience. I could have stayed an oilfield roughneck or truck driver.

    Then I think about several years teaching adults “non-traditional students,” many of whom came from the military, disappeared jobs, or some long-ago educational background back to college. Most came because they were in transition from one phase of life to another, and had “no idea what they wanted to be when they grew up.” One aid we used was a series of interest, aptitude, and other tests. Then we proceeded to explore the official US job description manual, “The Dictionary of Occupational Titles,” put out by the Army and the Department of Defense. Back in the early ’80’s, it listed half a million job titles and summary descriptions. The Grand Smorgasbord! The most amazing decisions and new career choices came from this deliberate process.

    It astonishes me to imagine that there are actually people out there who believe, in today’s frenetic economy and job market, that we could divine and/or instruct/guide our 15-19 year-olds to give them a lifetime course and a definable destiny. I wish I knew the stats on how many of my fellow Liberal Arts students are now in bidness, especially IT. And how many would-be biologists have found a home in real estate or finance (Yes, I can name a few locally, who have done quite well.).

    Long and short: Lord only knows if the Academy proposal will do anything outside of providing a PR tool (sounds really academic, you know). I say, to heck with the Education Monolith (Industry?). It should ALL be about the students and their caring teachers and their role/life models. If this Brave New Idea is, then fine. It will start to prove up in three years or so–or until a new fad makes its way into and through the belly of the Beast, which averages 2-5 years.

    Do we really want to believe in “No (fill in the blanks) Left Behind? Then we should address our youth as young PEOPLE, not babies or morons or Beanie Babies. As a group, they are not at all stupid. They just need a system they cannot see through like last year’s undies (Doubters, listen to them talk among trusted friends about school.).

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