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A proposal to create career academies in each of Pulaski County's four school districts gained the approval of the North Little Rock School Board on Thursday, meaning the plan can proceed to its next phase.

The North Little Rock board voted to accept a memorandum of understanding under which the district will join the Little Rock, Pulaski County Special and Jacksonville/North Pulaski districts in a cooperative effort to help prepare students for careers and higher education.

The effort is spearheaded by the Little Rock Regional Chamber to carry out the Ford Next Generation Learning model of career academies in the four districts.

Ford Next Generation Learning, supported by the Ford Motor Co. Fund, has assisted about 35 communities -- including Nashville, Tenn., and Louisville, Ky. -- for more than a dozen years to establish the high school career academies.

A career academy pairs traditional academics with project-based learning and real-world problem-solving in different career fields such as medical professions, building trades, or the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The Ford Next Generation Learning career academy model calls for each participating campus to start with freshman introductory academies, then add more specific career academies that are ideally made up of 200 to 250 students each.

"This process started a year ago," said Jay Chesshir, president and CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. "It started as a very inclusive process with all of our counterparts across the county for one specific purpose, that is to educate all students in Pulaski County in all four school districts in a way unlike we've ever had the opportunity to do so."

A delegation went to Nashville, Tenn., to observe the program and returned with a desire to duplicate the program in Arkansas.

"The amazing results that they've had," Chesshir said, "not only in achievement of all students, but closing the achievement gap, having students prepared for careers and for college, workforce development training, the amazing process certainly continues there."

James Reddish, executive vice president of the chamber, gave North Little Rock board members an overview of how the program is designed and the progress thus far.

Reddish outlined how the estimated costs of $566,000 over five years would be funded and what the major cost categories would be.

The proposal, split into five phases over five years, has completed Phase 1 at a cost of $52,000, which Reddish said was funded by Entergy Arkansas. Phase 1 consisted of meetings with district, school and elected officials and other community stakeholders to assess community readiness, Reddish said.

The initial portion of Phase 2, Reddish said, which produced the memorandum of understanding, was accomplished at a cost of $30,000, which would be split among the four districts according to student enrollment.

The remainder of Phase 2, scheduled to take place during the 2019-20 school year, is intended to produce a master plan, implement professional development and freshman academy implementation support, at a cost of $219,000.

Implementation of the plan is set for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years at a cost of $185,000, with evaluation and adjustment of the plan to occur during the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years, at a cost of $80,000.

Additional costs would likely be incurred as the master plan is written and implemented, Reddish said.

"Many of the costs involved in this are difficult for us to articulate," he said. "They aren't yet written. We don't yet have a plan."

"Where would this money come from, I mean, in our budget?" asked Taniesha Richardson-Wiley.

"When we do our budget, we'll have to manipulate the budget to bid it if the board approves us moving forward," said Superintendent Bobby Acklin.

"That brings up the question of what's the latest we can decide so that we can do the budget first?" said Richardson-Wiley.

"What we're asking for today is agreement on the MOU so that we can move forward together. We're not asking for action to be taken on the dollars," said Reddish. "None of the boards have taken formal action on the cost itself."

"The money still has to be paid," said Acklin. "So we've got to start planning where it's coming from."

"Will there be a payment plan option for this, or will it be one lump sum?" asked Natalie Wankum.

Reddish said payments would be spread out over the year as each phase reached milestones of completion.

Information for this article was contributed by Cynthia Howell of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

State Desk on 07/19/2019

Print Headline: NLR School Board gives OK on proposed career academies

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