Eight D.C. schools receive planning grants to establish career academies

September 4, 2013

The District has allocated $2.8 million to help city high schools plan for nine new “career academies” meant to help students gain the skills they will need to enter the workforce after graduation, Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced Wednesday.

City officials hope to open the academies to students in the fall of 2014. They will offer internships and training in one of three career tracks: hospitality, engineering and information technology. All three are areas in which the District needs workers, officials said.

“Our goal is to be able to get people to work and reduce our unemployment levels over time,” said Gray (D), speaking to a crowd of high school principals and other D.C. education officials at Cardozo Education Campus, one of the grant recipients.

Like many D.C. high schools, Cardozo offers some career and technical education through academies. But there has been a broad call to beef up such training to ensure that students can leave high school ready to work.

A 2012 law required the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education to convene a task force dedicated to reimagining the city’s vocational education. The career academy planning grants emerged from that task force.

Most of the money will go to eight schools — six traditional and two charter — to each hire at least two administrators, tasked this school year with developing and planning for the academy. Each academy will also receive $85,000 for staff training and marketing to students.

About $239,000 will go to the National Academy Foundation — which helps schools across the country establish career academies — to provide D.C. schools with technical assistance.

The funds are good through fiscal 2014, and future funding will depend on annual budget cycles.

The other grant recipients include Columbia Heights Education Campus, Dunbar High, Phelps ACE, Wilson High and McKinley Technology High, which won grants for two academies. The two charter recipients are Friendship Collegiate Academy and Friendship Tech Prep.

Donald Hense, chief executive of the Friendship school network, welcomed the initiative as “a sign of a more serious focus on things that are important to careers in Washington.”

D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), who has been Education Committee chairman since January, is pushing a bill to increase per-pupil funding for students enrolled in certified vocational education programs. Catania called the career academy initiative “anemic” compared with the number of young people who have either dropped out of high school or are unemployed.

“If this city can find $150 million to build a soccer stadium, we can certainly find money to make a commensurate investment in our young people,” Catania said, criticizing Gray for not moving to improve career education until the third year of his term.

“Mr. Catania has been a council member for 15 years. Where has he been on education?” Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said, describing the academies as “a small component of a much larger system” of career education opportunities. Ribeiro called Catania’s criticism “artificial controversy.”

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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