LAND O'LAKES — Mitchell High School assistant principal Cindy Miller and teachers Aschell Glaves and Melanie Gorsira did not have to spend the past week laboring over how to set up a career academy at their school.
Mitchell already has a successful health professions academy, so it doesn't need another to meet state rules. Other schools with academies in place didn't come to the planning session.
But it was the very success of Mitchell's first career academy that encouraged the three educators to attend. The reason is simple, Miller said: Such efforts work for kids.
"We definitely feel like the little engine that could," she said of their fledgling attempt to create a business management academy. "We weren't supposed to be here. We bullied our way in."
Their enthusiasm was contagious among the teachers and administrators from Land O'Lakes, Wesley Chapel, Pasco, River Ridge and Hudson high schools who also took time to put together action plans to have career academies operating no later than August 2009.
"We keep telling kids they need to study, study, study. They say, 'What for?' " said Wesley Chapel High principal Andy Frelick. "We're giving them motivation."
This effort to place a career academy at every Pasco County high school by 2010 stems from a legislative mandate. Even without that directive, educators increasingly have seen the idea as a sensible way to reduce dropout rates by giving students an alternative to the strictly academic general education traditionally offered.
It does not diminish the rigor of coursework, they stress, but simply adds more relevance and provides training that could help students enter college or the work force.
A newly released national study brings home the point. The Manpower Demonstration Research Corp. evaluated nine career academies across the country and found that students who attended an academy had significantly higher wages and employment eight years later than their peers in a control group.
"Is it the answer for all our students in Pasco County? No, it's not," said School Board member Allen Altman, who has led the district's effort to add more career academies. "But there are students who have a different type of drive."
Here's what each of the participating schools has in store.
• Land O'Lakes High expects to open its culinary arts/natural resources academy for freshmen entering in 2009. Certifications are likely to include hotel and restaurant management, and agricultural mechanics.
"Marrying the two programs is a bit of a challenge. We see it as two parallels," said teacher Robert Smith, who will oversee the agribusiness side.
The school already has some partners, including Bern's Steak House and Johnson & Wales University. It needs updated facilities.
• Hudson High plans to launch its e-commerce academy with a small number of selected students in August. It will offer a series of certifications for students to earn over four years.
"With e-commerce a lot of these students will go on to become entrepreneurs," career specialist Rick Casey said. "For many of these students, it's going to be whatever they choose."
The school is working out agreements with Pasco-Hernando Community College. It also is looking for teachers.
• Wesley Chapel High intends to begin its automotive technology academy in 2009. It already has business partners in some of the many car dealerships sprouting up along State Road 54 near Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
The planning year will allow the school to find qualified instructors and to work out details such as where the students actually will do the hands-on work. Wesley Chapel High does not have a car repair garage.
Because the certification program involves 900 hours of classroom instruction, the advisory team also will have to find ways to combine it and some of the general education requirements, such as a second year of a foreign language.
"We're going to have some hurdles to overcome," teacher Brian Cullum said.
• River Ridge High is working to get an engineering academy prepared for 2009. It hasn't picked a specific focus yet.
Educators from the high school are also working to see how the academy might connect with River Ridge Middle's vocational courses.
• Pasco High will have two career academies, one in health occupations and one in construction. Educators are still working out all the details.
• Mitchell High is trying to persuade the district administration to allow it to open a business management academy, focused on the skills that many community leaders say that teens entering the work force lack, such as business principles.
Miller said the school wants to find ways to include all levels of students, from those with autism to those in honors courses.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.