The Northwest Georgia College & Career Academy has been named Georgia's College and Career Academy of the Year for 2021 by the Technical College System of Georgia and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan.

"We've been proud of this place a long time and feel it could be the college and career academy of the year every year, but it's great to have things like this to celebrate," said Brian Cooksey, chairman of the academy's board of directors. There are now more than 50 college and career academies in the state, so "this honor is something we can all be proud of."

"The partnerships we've built over the years are really what makes this school tick," as well as faculty and staff that "go above and beyond," said Cooksey, who is the director of workforce development for Shaw Industries. "This team is amazing, and they inspire me every day I'm here."

"The entire team is focused on supporting the workforce needs of our community and providing the individualized support needed for each student to achieve their personal and career goals," Cooksey added. "Our industry and community are blessed to have a great educational partnership like (the academy) to help develop and inspire the next generation of talent."

Everyone at the academy is dedicated to the mission of developing a 21st century workforce through world-class career, technical and agricultural education, said David Moeller, the academy's CEO. "We work this mission all the time, and we're aligned with this community's needs."

When Judy Gilreath became superintendent of Whitfield County Schools in 2013, she had several goals for the academy, including providing a solid workforce for industry, preparing students for whatever they wanted to do after their time at the academy, making learning "focused and relevant," and "keeping students in school," she said. The academy can "hook kids not turned on by traditional high school."

"We are an extension" of Whitfield County Schools' high schools, not "duplicating services," said the academy's principal, Sherri Travisano. "This is the best staff I've ever worked with, and they bring curriculum to life; they take the curriculum and put it into practice."

The academy is accomplishing Gilreath's goals, and "we are celebrating the best college and career academy in the state," Gilreath said. It is "a wonderful school, (and) I'm so excited about this."

The academy "is at the forefront of innovation in workforce development and education and is an invaluable asset to (the) community,” Duncan stated in a press release.

The academy was lauded for the continued growth of its healthcare programs, a high Perkins graduation rate — loans made through the Federal Perkins Loan Program, often called Perkins loans, are low-interest federal student loans for undergraduate and graduate students with exceptional financial need — for students in Career, Technical and Agriculture Education (CTAE) programs, commendable math and science academic scores, exceptional business and industry partnerships, and expansion of manufacturing pathways to support workforce needs, according to Whitfield County Schools.

The academy was created 15 years ago to help high school students "achieve success through an individualized program of rigorous and relevant instruction in academic and career/ technical courses, planned and structured work-based learning opportunities, and a seamless transition to post-secondary education and the workforce."

The academy "has really come a long way, and they've worked so hard," said Carolyn Weaver, a member of the Whitfield County Board of Education. "We're so proud of that school."

The academy's classrooms and labs are "where the work happens, (and) we received this award because our teachers take responsibility for their programs," said Moeller, who is also the CTAE director for Whitfield County Schools. "Our entire staff works to ensure students have what they need for their next step in whatever career they choose."

"Continuous improvement, it never ends, and we are always looking for ways to get better," Moeller said. Toward that goal, the academy will start working with local high school freshmen next school year to prompt them to begin thinking about — and planning for — their future earlier.

"We've got to make sure we're putting kids on the path to get the job and keep the job," he said. "We need to get kids interested in programs that will benefit them in the long run and benefit the community."

More information about the academy can be found online at https://www.wcsga.net/ngca.

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