BROOKSVILLE — Dark times create opportunities.
That's the theme guiding the next generation of career academies in Hernando County schools, as officials seek paths for graduates venturing into an uncommonly harsh job market.
Under state law, each district must offer at least one high school program designed to provide industry certification in a sector with good job prospects. Hernando County already offers four academies, in Web design, international business and marketing, veterinary sciences, and health sciences.
Springstead High School is developing a sports and entertainment marketing program, said curriculum specialist David Schoelles. Central High is focusing on early childhood education, while Nature Coast Tech is working to add culinary arts, manufacturing and engineering to its growing collection of programs. And Hernando High will unveil a career academy in mass communications and journalism.
With layoffs and a stagnant advertising market, journalism doesn't seem to compare to the thriving health care sector as a hot jobs category, Schoelles acknowledged. But call it communications and add plenty of computer skills, and the program might just position students for the jobs of the future.
"Much of what we're doing is preparing kids not for information technology jobs, but the IT skills that go with almost every job that's available now," he said.
That could mean eventually offering a version of Microsoft professional certification in all four of the district's high schools, each with a different slant. Springstead might specialize in network management, while Nature Coast focuses on the rapidly growing medical information technology angle for its health programs.
"They need people who have those skills, because all the (medical) charts are being done electronically now," Schoelles said.
About 20 students have taken advantage of the district's offer to switch high schools in order to attend a career academy, and more are expected to do so next year.
But officials say that model will be modified, with new academies open to cross-district enrollment only after an in-house trial at the sponsoring school.
And much depends on continued state funding for the career academies model. If that money disappears, the district will have to beat the bushes for additional money to pay for the industry certification exams, which cost $40 to $200 per test.
"Somebody has to pay for that somehow," Schoelles said.
But such support will only help the state emerge from its economic slump, he added.
"That's why I don't think you'll see it disappear."
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.
Hear about new career paths
Tonight the Hernando County school district plans to unveil at least four new career paths at a forum scheduled for 7 p.m. for students and parents at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics.