Caddo Schools to pilot debt-free program for students to earn career skills, college credits

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BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) — School systems, colleges, and employers in northwest Louisiana have partnered to pilot alternative graduation models that enable select Caddo Parish students to earn career skills and credit toward a college degree.

The two new pilots, known as “Extension Academies,” were approved this week by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Louisiana Board of Regents at a joint meeting.

Each three-year pilot will launch in the 2020-2021 school year and serve up to 25 students in the first year.

Northwest Consortium

The Extension Academy pilot in the northwest region of the state, known as the “Northwest Consortium,” will bring together 12 public schools in Caddo Parish and regional industry partners to provide students hands-on opportunities to acquire workplace skills and training in automotive, HVAC, pharmacy, medicine, and cyber programs.

The accredited higher education partners, which will provide accelerated dual enrollment college experiences, include Ayers Career College and Bossier Parish Community College.

Executive Director of High School Performance for Caddo Parish Public Schools Victor Mainiero said, “What an exciting opportunity for graduating students in the Northwest Consortium that don’t meet TOPS or TOPS Tech to have an additional year toward an associate’s degree or a statewide industry-based credential. “With no tuition cost to the student, eligible participants in the Extension Academy will be full-time students on either Bossier Parish Community College’s campus or Ayers Career College campus. Eligible students also have an opportunity to complete a statewide IBC at Caddo’s Career and Technology Center. This effort will not only enhance what we are able to provide students to assist them as they pursue their desired programs, but also support the work of our school system to ensure all students are prepared for the next step.”

Northwest Consortium includes the following school systems, colleges, and employers Caddo Parish area:

  • Higher Education Partners – Ayers Career College, Bossier Parish Community College
  • Industry/Economic Partners – General Dynamics Information Technology, Storer Services, Holmes Honda,
  • North Louisiana Economic Partnership
  • Culminating Experiences – Advanced IBC Medical Assistant, Cyber Programs, HVAC, Automotive, Technical Diploma HVAC, Pharmacy Tech
  • Transitional Support Partners – Ayers Career Services support including career planning, job search services, employee interviews, and job placement. Support from the Career Exploration Center at BPCC
  • Maximum Enrollment – Year 1: 25 students Year 2: TBD Year 3: TBD
  • Participating Schools – C.E. Byrd, Caddo Magnet, Captain Shreve, Green Oaks Performing Arts, Huntington, North Caddo, Northwood, Ombudsman, Pathways in Education, Southwood, Booker T. Washington, Woodlawn

Learn more about the Northwest Consortium.

State Superintendent John White said, “The question we used to ask ourselves was how high we could raise our graduation rate and how low we could push our dropout rate. Now we are compelled to ask what happens to our graduates and whether they risk dropping out of work and the economy even after they graduate from high school. If this is the case, even with a small number of students, we must rise to meet this new dropout challenge.”

Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said, “We applaud our partners in education and business for joining together to embrace the opportunity to positively impact these young people at a critical point in their lives. We also look forward to monitoring the results of these pilots as we work collectively to increase talent development in our state.”

Extension Academies are designed to specifically support students who are positioned to graduate from high school but have yet to earn Taylor Opportunity Program for Students scholarships to fund their post-secondary pursuits or to acquire high-value, post-secondary credentials.

In 2018, for example, about 15,000 students in Louisiana who graduated on a TOPS University Diploma pathway were not eligible for TOPS scholarships to fund higher education, and about 3,200 students who graduated on a Jump Start TOPS Tech Career Diploma were not on track to earn an advanced industry-based credential and were not eligible for TOPS Tech scholarships to fund further training.

In their applications, the partners from the northwest and southwest region outlined how they will provide eligible students a debt-free one-year opportunity to:

  • Achieve significant progress toward a state-recognized associate’s degree through accelerated dual enrollment college experiences;
  • Complete a registered pre-apprenticeship; and/or
  • Earn an advanced industry-based credential.

The applicants also detailed the types of support and post-secondary transitional coaching that will be available to the participating students as they complete their extended high school experience.

The program will also be offered in Calcasieu Parish in southwest Louisiana.

The newly approved pilots join the state’s first and only Extension Academy in New Orleans, which launched at the start of the 2019-2020 school year. Currently, 17 eligible students there are building skills and achieving credentials focused on construction crafts, graphic design, video editing, and software development.

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