DeKalb School District Awarded $2 million Tennessee Innovative School Model Grant

April 18, 2023
By: Dwayne Page

The DeKalb County School District has been awarded a Tennessee Innovative School Model Grant totaling two million dollars to enhance programs offered to high school and middle school students through the Career & Technical Education (CTE) Department to boost opportunities for career readiness and student success.

The Innovative School Models grant program expands on the Tennessee Department of Education’s initial ESSER investment of $30 million with an additional $500 million of state funds designed to eliminate structural barriers that exist between middle and high school, workforce, and postsecondary opportunities. These models allow students the ability to seamlessly make connections earlier and graduate high school prepared to successfully complete a postsecondary credential or excel in a career pathway of their choice.

Brad Leach, Career and Technical Education Director at DCHS told WJLE that the grant will fund new equipment for instruction and expansion of the current curriculum.

“We received one million dollars for our high school (DCHS) to use toward this innovative concept. Our middle schools, DeKalb Middle School and DeKalb West School have received $500,000 each to use toward innovation. We will use the grant to help students get to post-secondary through Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) two year or four-year colleges and try to give them some incentive to go onto college to get a degree or some form of technical training. We are also looking for students to be able to earn industry certifications. A lot of industries accept industry certifications which could mean better pay for them (students)” said Leach.

“We’re looking at expanding programs and creating new ones for our students in DeKalb County,” Leach continued. “We are putting in at the high school a new Mechatronics industrial maintenance lab and increasing our industry certifications and equipment in our advanced manufacturing and machining programs as well as our automotive programs. We are also looking at agriculture and some industry certifications there as far as health science. We have already added a new cosmetology program at the high school, and we plan to build on that next year while adding others. Most of the equipment we are buying will be of the virtual reality type with computers that have the capability of allowing students to visualize something and be able to produce it in a 3-D format”.

CTE Programs at DCHS include Auto Mechanics, Agriculture, Residential Carpentry, Advanced Manufacturing (Mechatronics & Machining), Criminal Justice, Cosmetology, Health Science, Teaching as a Profession, Coding, Audio/Video, Culinary Arts, Personal Finance, and Human Studies/Human Services.

A new career exploration program will be introduced at both DeKalb Middle School and DeKalb West School for eighth graders which will work somewhat in unison with STEM there.

“The schools already have a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) program in place and have had for the last few years but this new career exploration course will somewhat take the place of STEM even though a lot of things the students are currently using with STEM will be incorporated into this new career exploration program so it will sort of go hand in hand,” said Leach.

“Through the new Career Exploration initiative, students at DeKalb Middle and DeKalb West School will better be made aware of the course offerings at the high school. We will use a virtual reality company called zSpace which offers a variety of software packages through which students can learn about and explore careers they want to pursue either post-secondary or directly into the workforce,” said Leach.

“We really want to get the eighth graders more in tune to getting a career path ready and we also do career assessments with them through virtual job shadowing which helps them narrow the gap of a possible career they want to pursue. Not every student in the eighth grade knows yet what they want to do as a career before they get to high school, and some don’t until after they get out of high school. We just want to help them get more focused on some careers that we can help them with through courses at the high school”.

By integrating CTE and academic courses, Leach said the Innovative School Model Grant will help strengthen students’ experiences and readiness for the workforce and postsecondary opportunities.

“We are going to be looking at some integration projects especially with English science, and math. When I say science, I mean looking at physics and chemistry because there’s more than just physical science. In the past we have done some integrated CTE academic projects with physics as far as human powered vehicles. We have used our advanced manufacturing and automotive programs, and in the physics course to develop human powered vehicles and before COVID we actually had races out back here. That’s just an example of how we’re looking to show these students that academics and CTE are both important especially if they are going onto post-secondary which we really want these kids to do for them to get a good education and be ready for high skilled in demand jobs,” said Leach.

“Future readiness is the foundation of our entire strategic plan. I’m excited we can continue to build on that foundation and provide our students a variety of opportunities to thrive in life after school,” he added.

Leach is grateful to Director of Schools Patrick Cripps, the Central Office Staff, High School, Middle School, and DeKalb West School Administration and Teachers, Board of Education members, businesses and industries, and post-secondary institutions who have all been strong supporters of the CTE program and this grant opportunity.

“Thanks to the investment of Governor Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly, the Innovative School Models Grant opportunity will provide half a billion dollars to maximize opportunities for students to explore and succeed in high-demand careers, for industry to develop local talent, and for schools to create programs that meet the needs of their communities,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn in a prepared news release. “This opportunity can be a game-changer in helping districts to reimagine the possible and create innovative, high-impact, and meaningful experiences for middle and high school students in Tennessee.”

The state will invest $500 million over the next four years to give all traditional, public middle and high schools the opportunity to establish an Innovative School Model. Funding will be awarded to schools as follows:

•Middle schools serving more than 100 students are eligible for up to $500,000.
•Schools combining both middle and high school grades that serve more than 100 students are eligible for up to $500,000.
•Middle schools and high schools serving less than 100 students are eligible for up to $200,000.
•High schools serving more than 100 students are eligible for up to $1,000,000.

“The future of innovative programs to boost student and workforce readiness in Tennessee is brighter than ever. Through reimagining the high school experience; becoming more strategic about engaging younger students in career exploration; expanding access to courses; improving how data is collected and used; and being even more intentional in how we listen to—and learn from—Tennesseans, we will continue to keep our state’s workforce strong for years to come,” said Commissioner Schwinn.

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