The Weyauwega-Fremont School District is one of four area districts ready to begin collaborating as part of a new consortium.
“The concept was to create additional, educational opportunities for students in area school districts in specialized subject areas,” said W-F District Administrator Scott Bleck.
The result is the Wolf River Career Pathway.
In addition to the W-F School District, it includes the Manawa, New London and Shiocton districts.
All four schools are in Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) 6.
CESA 6 is a regional service agency which serves 42 public school districts.
Bleck said the agency presented the idea of creating clusters to offer specialized classes in career and technical readiness.
“It isn’t a new model,” he said.
CESA 6 administrators and leaders visited school districts on the East Coast and toured schools where this model has been in place for some time, Bleck said.
Late last year, the four districts met for the first time to start building a local program, or Centers of Excellence.
“Each district brought its specialized teachers to the meeting to discuss what it could look like,” Bleck said. “Out of the work sessions, we narrowed the scope of what each district will focus on.”
For example, the W-F district is known for its agriscience and family and consumer sciences programs.
Renee Hunkins is the family and consumer sciences teacher at W-F middle and high schools.
Of the four districts in the Wolf River Career Pathway, the W-F district is the only one with a full-time family and consumer sciences instructor, she said.
After the districts put together a model of what a local consortium could look like, they held a joint meeting of their school boards.
That took place last June at Rawhide.
“At the meeting in June, the work that had been compiled was presented to the school boards in a way that showed the potential opportunity,” Bleck said. “We shared the need of career and technical readiness for students.”
They discussed the fact there is a shortage of skilled workers ready to go directly into the workforce and support local industry, he said.
Supporting local industries is the driving force behind the idea, Bleck said.
“It will allow students to earn credit beyond the high school level and certifications, which can jumpstart their careers moving forward,” he said.
In July, the W-F School board adopted a resolution supporting the continued development of the program.
The districts decided to offer Centers of Excellence in:
• Business, Marketing and Information Technology through the Shiocton School District.
• Environmental and Agricultural Systems through the Manawa and W-F school districts.
• Human Services and Resources through the W-F School District.
• Industrial Manufacturing and Engineering through the New London School District.
• Health Services through the New London School District.
This school year, the New London district is piloting its two areas of Centers of Excellence with select students, Bleck said.
“I don’t believe we have any students that are part of that pilot,” he said.
Plans call for other Centers of Excellence to be offered in the 2015-16 school year.
Bleck said the process included a survey of all eighth through eleventh-grade students last spring to find out if they were interested in taking courses at other area schools, either on site, online or a combination of both.
The students overwhelmingly said yes, Bleck said.
“One thing that is critical about the concept and program is that it’s going to attract a select group of students,” he said.
Such students will generally be upperclassmen who have the skill set and readiness to follow through in such a program, Bleck said.
Identifying students will be the job of guidance counselors and principals, who will make sure the students and families are prepared for the commitment, he said.
The W-F district is currently developing its high school course catalog for the 2015-16 school year, identifying the classes to include from the other districts in the consortium.
“For our district, we would look to potentially enroll students for the 2015-16 school year,” he said.
Bleck said districts do not always have certified teachers in key areas.
This model allows them to share resources.
“One of the incentives of working together is to utilize the strengths of our area districts to offer educational opportunities for our students,” he said.
Bleck said it is part of the evolution of delivery education to students.
“I think the Centers of Excellence will be a wonderful opportunity for students in our consortium to take advantage of career and technical classes that were otherwise not available to them,” Hunkins said. “Students will be able to take classes to earn certifications and/or credits through Fox Valley Technical College. This will allow them to be ahead of their peers when they continue their education at the second level or in the workplace.”
Bleck said, “We’re excited about the opportunity to work with other school districts to offer opportunities for students in the career and technical path.”