Academies Model is Transforming Teaching and Learning

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J. Alvin Wilbanks, CEO/Superintendent                                                                     
Gwinnett County Public Schools

A current strategic initiative for Gwinnett County Public Schools calls for us to transform teaching and learning in our classrooms. One of the major ways we are striving to do that is through the institution of the “academies model” in several high schools.

We began in 2014-2015, with the launch of academies at Central Gwinnett, Lanier, Meadowcreek, Shiloh, and South Gwinnett high schools. The academies give students a preview of potential careers as they learn core subjects through the lens of an academic or career theme. Within each school are four or five academies that include multiple pathways from which students choose the course of study that interests them. The academies cover a variety of careers including health sciences, law, STEM, communication/multimedia, business and entrepreneurship, public service, and arts and entertainment.  

The purpose of the academies is to promote on-time graduation and student engagement through the four R’s – readiness, rigor, relevance, and relationships. Educators have long known the importance of these factors in producing successful high school graduates. The academies are an especially effective way to align instruction, resources, and the school setting to ensure all four are evident in our classrooms. Common to each of the academies are three strands for success:  transforming teaching and learning, redesigning high schools around smaller learning communities, and sustaining change through business and civic leadership.

The results from year one of the academies have been encouraging. Through job-shadowing, internships, and project-based learning, students benefit from hands-on educational experiences and collaboration with their peers. The school district has seen an increase in business engagement with our schools, by way of the student internships and advisory boards that serve each academy. Teachers are engaged in new learning, too, with nearly 450 of them enrolled in summer staff development geared toward the college and career academy models.

Additionally, the academies have led to stronger partnership opportunities between GCPS and Georgia Gwinnett College and Gwinnett Technical College. They also encourage students to consider dual enrollment to provide a more seamless transition to postsecondary options.

In 2015-2016, Berkmar High School and Discovery High School will join the academies family.  Transforming teaching and learning is challenging work, but the successful launch of the academies inspires us to keep moving it forward!

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