Schools partner on career education

  • This map provided by Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corp. shows how many smaller area communities combine to become part of a bigger market.
    This map provided by Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corp. shows how many smaller area communities combine to become part of a bigger market.

Murphy – A partnership ignoring state lines plans to bring more opportunities to students across the region.

Cherokee County Schools is partnering with Union County (Ga.) Schools to allow students to take advantage of courses available at the Union County College & Career Academy, which is opening in August.

Union County applied for and received a $3 million grant to fund the college and career academy. Superintendent John Hill said the mountains define the economic region, and he wants to serve all students in the region.

The partnership isn’t one-way. Cherokee County’s career and technical education program will benefit Union County students when the Schools of Innovation opens in 2022. The two programs will complement each other and allow the two districts to combine their resources, Superintendent Jeana Conley said.

“It truly is a joint partnership,” she said.

“They are all our kids,” Hill added. “They are the same mountain kids.”

Cherokee County students who decide to take courses at the academy will continue to be enrolled at their school, then will be bussed to Blairsville, Ga., when they have courses to take on that campus. Students will get the comparable North Carolina credit for courses taken in Georgia. Hill said plans are to use virtual learning, when possible, and bring students on campus for hands-on lab work.

“The kids won’t have to be on campus five days a week for these courses.,” Hill said.

Conley said counselors will start talking to students in grades 8-11 soon about career readiness options.

Hill said his team began talking with local employers, including Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corp., Snap-On, Moog Industries, Union General Hospital and Jacky Jones Ford about the skills needed. The program will develop those skills to make students employable locally. 

“We’re thinking about economic development,” Hill said. “If it doesn’t thrive, our kids can’t thrive.”

Conley said a concern in the area is that students either don’t have the skills needed by local employers or they can’t find jobs locally that meet their skills. She thinks this partnership will help keep kids here after graduation. Hill added that it will allow students to see what opportunities are available locally and could end the cycle of poverty in families.

Programs Union County can offer include agriculture, automotive, computer science, construction, engineering, nursing, sports medicine, welding, entrepreneurship and manufacturing. Hill said his students could benefit from aviation, allied health science, public safety and military science courses that are offered or will be offered in Cherokee County.

“This is such a win for them to open these courses for us before we can reciprocate,” Conley said.

Both superintendents said the cost savings of running duplicate programs far outweigh the costs associated with bussing students 20 minutes to each other’s campus. Union County is also working with Towns County Schools and Mountain Education Charter High School in Blairsville.