The Hillsborough County school district will overhaul its network of career centers, beginning with the severely underutilized D.W. Waters and Bowers-Whitley schools.
Waters, off Columbus Drive in West Tampa, is operating at 9 percent capacity with 42 students. Bowers-Whitley, part of a sprawling university-area property that includes Muller Elementary School, is at 11 percent capacity with 51 students.
No more, superintendent Addison Davis said Wednesday at a news conference on the grounds of Bowers-Whitley. Using funds from the federal Build Back Better Act and the state’s Workforce Development program, he said he will convert Waters into a medical academy and Bowers-Whitley into a construction trades academy.
“We will take this to the finish line,” Davis said.
No cost estimates were given, beyond an initial $247,000 that will come from existing capital funds. District leaders are now in the process of determining course and equipment needs in collaboration with industry leaders and preparing to seek the government funding.
“We plan to expand and build on this as the needs grow,” said Kim Bays, the school district’s chief of innovation. “This is absolutely a work in progress.”
The goals of the career center expansion are twofold: To enhance the earning potential of students who might not attend college immediately after graduation and provide labor to fuel Tampa’s fast-growing economy.
Statewide private-sector employment grew by 6.4 percent this past year, with thousands of new jobs in leisure and hospitality, construction, education and health services, and manufacturing, according to district statistics.
The fastest-growing occupations paying $52,000 and more include respiratory therapists, physical therapists, registered nurses and construction managers.
To attract more students to its career centers, the district is launching a marketing campaign centered around 40 promotional videos called “Forty for the Future.” The videos, produced in the district’s communications office, will air in middle and high schools.
“Our responsibility is to create stackable credentials,” Davis said. He explained that term, saying students can prepare for careers while taking part in dual enrollment programs that also give them college credit. “There’s money to be made in workforce now,” he said.
The redesigned Waters and Bowers-Whitley schools will open in fall of 2023. Brewster Technical College, which is located near Waters, will reopen in 2024 as a medical technical college, designed to take students who wish to continue on after Waters.
The Waters school now has students learning other trades, such as barbering, plumbing and cosmetology. Those students will be assisted in finding other locations where they can finish their studies while the school is closed for remodeling.
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At Bowers-Whitley, students in the automotive and construction industry programs will remain during the renovation, but no new students will be admitted until 2023.
Long-term, the district is also exploring options for a distribution and logistics center closer to the Interstate-4 corridor.