County Commissioner Chairman Ricky Wolfe discussed how the creation of a career academy could benefit Troup County schools, students and industries Wednesday at the LaGrange Rotary meeting.
Rotarian and Daily News Publisher John Clark introduced Wolfe to the members of the club. Wolfe started his presentation by quoting some statistics.
“I am starting by giving you some statistics, not very exciting and some of them are not very good, but this will end on a positive note,” Wolf said.
Wolfe said that the average yearly family income in Troup County is $25,000 and that the county has a 9.5 percent unemployment rate. He pointed out that the unemployment figure is misleading because it does not include individuals who are not presently receiving benefits or who have simply given up on trying to be part of the workforce. Wolfe said that most experts say that the real unemployment number should be an additional 50 percent higher than what is reported.
“Twenty percent of our residents are living in poverty. That is a consistent number of individuals who are living in pain,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe then said that only 68 percent of high school students actually graduate in Georgia. New Mexico and Nevada are the only two states that have a lower percentage of graduates than Georgia. In Troup County, that graduation rate goes down to only 64 percent.
“The solution is not money, but over the past years Troup County School System has been underfunded,” Wolfe said. “School systems receive funding from the Basic Quality Educational Grant, the Equalization Grant and the Transportation Grant. Troup County has been underfunded in all of the above.”
Wolfe pointed out that with 70 percent of the school system’s population are receiving free or reduced lunch and with all of the new requirements that the schools need to meet, this is an especially difficult time to be underfunded.
Wolfe said that he wasn’t being critical of the state of Georgia but the educational story is not as “pretty” as Kia’s or Caterpillar’s stories.
Jobs are being created in the area but the industrial administration is saying that they can not find qualified applicants to fill them.
“I am told that they can not find good people. The people who are looking for jobs do not have the skill sets to match up with what is needed. They do not have the personal skills and they know nothing about how the job affects the business,” Wolfe said.
The idea of an academic academy is not to compete with the schools, but rather to offer students the additional training that they need to be successful in the business world. In seventh and eighth grade, students would start to be exposed to the personal and professional skills that are needed to be successful in a variety of jobs. In ninth grade the student would then have a choice to spend a portion of their school day at the career academy learning more specific skills for an area of their own choosing.
Wolfe said that there are already 28 such career academies in Georgia. In Connors, where their school system is comparable to the Troup County School System, their academy is making a big difference in the lives of the students and that their graduation rate has drastically increased.
The Troup County School Board has approved the exploration of designing such an academy and Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia has already promised to donate $3 million to the project. Wolfe said that the first thing that must be done is an assessment has to be made of what skills the local companies are looking for. Once the assessment is finished, curriculum for the different courses can then be designed.
Wolfe said that the first thing everyone usually asks is where the academy would be located. He stressed that a lot has to take place before that decision is made and the school board will have to approve everything before the project could be realized.
Wolfe said that the career academy is a place that kids want to go because they feel that they have a skill that they want to continue to develop. With the creation of a career academy, Wolfe sees more of Troup County students graduating, being prepared to be successful in obtaining, and keeping, jobs that will make a difference in their lives.
Wolfe ended his presentation with a short question and answer period.