The Warren County Board of Education has hit the jackpot, but it didn't come from the Georgia lottery. Instead, the big bucks came from Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and the State Board of the Technical College System of Georgia.
"I got a phone call that we were awarded the Career Academy Grant, which would be somewhere around $3 million," Warren School Superintendent Carole Jean Carey said Monday in a telephone interview. "We are just real thrilled, to say the least."
A Charter System Act and Career Academy Act were spearheaded by Lt. Gov. Cagle and approved by the senate in 2007. Warren County received notice earlier this year that they are the first Charter System in the state. As a result of being a charter system, the high school became eligible to have a career academy, in which high school students can jointly enroll with a technical college for classes that focus on training in a certain career field.
The Warren County High School Career Academy will be run by Sandersville Tech, which already teaches welding and early childhood education classes at the high school. Warren school officials met Tuesday with Sandersville Tech officials to specify which programs will be offered first at the career academy. Mrs. Carey said it should include classes like plumbing, carpentry, electrical work and computer programming, but the list is not finalized yet.
The old high school will be remodeled into the career academy, which Mrs. Carey said should open by next January.
"Right now, the bond market is bad, and that is what will pay for this," she explained. "So that has pushed our timeline back. We had hoped to start in August, but now we are looking at January."
School officials will meet with city and county officials and architects next week to finalize the plans. Mrs. Carey said the grant will pay for remodeling the building, outfitting the rooms and supplies. Sandersville Tech will provide the teachers, and the school system will supply a director.
"It'll be a joint effort," the superintendent said. "Now, we'll be able to offer the students a lot more, and it will be like a college environment for them."
Mrs. Carey said the academy will improve the graduation rate in Warren County, because research has shown the hands-on programs provide relevancy and value to encourage the students to stay in school. Businesses also partner with the academy to ensure a highly-trained work force, which leads to employment opportunities for the students.
And the high school students aren't the only ones who will benefit. Members of the community will be able to use the Hope Scholarship to attend classes at the career academy through Sandersville Tech, which will bring people from areas around Warrenton into the city.
"I think it's great news for our local economy," said O.B. McCorkle, the president of the Warren County Chamber of Commerce. "We haven't heard a lot of good news about the overall economy lately. But to hear this locally is just great, great news."
A number of eateries and other Warren County businesses could profit from the new Career Academy, Mrs. McCorkle said.
Five other Georgia school systems were included in the total $16.7 million grant for career academies, according to a press release from Lt. Gov. Cagle last week. These include Clark, Douglas, Houston, Hall and Toombs/Vidalia/Montgomery/Treutlen counties.