Preparing our future work force

Mike Ewton

A core element of our vision at Whitfield County Schools is to prepare students for success in a global community. Success may be defined differently for every student based on their interests, aptitudes and circumstances but our goal is to ensure that our graduates are college and/or career ready when they leave us.

Many students will pursue academic attainment through the university system while others will seek additional training in the technical college system, and some will go directly into the workforce or military. It is incumbent upon us to ensure that all students are prepared for whichever path they may choose.

Our career technical and agricultural education (CTAE) program is designed to provide opportunities for all of these students. Our CTAE program currently offers over 35 career pathways ranging from business technology and mechatronics/engineering to marketing, construction, healthcare, agriculture and public safety. Students who complete at least three courses in their selected career pathway are designated as pathway completers on their official transcripts. This designation can help them attain better employment opportunities and also aid them in pursuing advanced education and training at the university or technical college level.

It is now possible for high school students to acquire industry certification in various fields even before graduation. Examples include the Level One Siemens Mechatronics Certification, Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), and certification in Basic Maintenance and Light Repair through the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).

Our work-based learning program affords students the additional opportunity to earn a paycheck while learning job skills in the real work environments. One third of our 300 work-based learning students are currently employed in jobs related to their career pathways.

The Northwest Georgia College and Career Academy is the flagship facility for our CTAE program and was named the 2021 College and Career Academy of the Year by the Technical College System of Georgia and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. First opening in 2005, our Career Academy was one of the first of such programs in Georgia. The career technical programming at the academy has evolved significantly over the last 16 years. Partnerships with local industry leaders and our local higher educational institutions have been and remain a key element in identifying the workforce needs of industry in our area. Once these needs are identified, the partners work together to meet them by enhancing the educational capabilities at the Career Academy and the CTAE program throughout Whitfield County Schools.

The Career Academy’s advisory board is made up of educators from our school system as well as Georgia Northwestern Technical College, industry leaders from various companies and organizations in our area, as well as other community organizations such as the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce. This valuable cross-functional collaboration helps to ensure constant alignment with workforce and economic development needs in our area.

Evidence of this partnership can be seen in the facilities available to our students. In recent years, Georgia Northwestern’s Whitfield-Murray Campus has been constructed on property adjoining our Career Academy. Additionally, industry partners recently funded an Advanced Manufacturing Lab space inside the Career Academy. The result is that our students have more learning opportunities available to them than ever before. Dual enrollment courses allow high school students to simultaneously acquire both high school and college credits. The partnership also allows for a smooth transition between high school graduation and the advanced programs available through the technical college system.

For those of us who have reached a certain age, we may have memories of vocational training programs in our high schools where the teaching of valuable trade skills enabled generations of students to begin trade careers when they left high school. Today’s career technical and agricultural training programs take these training opportunities to a whole new level for our students. I am grateful to live in a community that places such a high priority on supporting the needs of all of our students.

Mike Ewton is superintendent of Whitfield County Schools.

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