ROBERTSDALE — Driving along Highway 59 through Loxley, you'll notice the approximately 70 acres currently being cleared and prepped. Soon, a groundbreaking will take place on the property as Baldwin County Public School system moves forward with the construction of a stand-alone career tech high school.
"It's a beautiful piece of property, and high visibility," said Eddie Tyler, system superintendent. "We've got some big plans coming."
During the Board of Education's April work session, Kendall Mowdy, principal at South Baldwin Center for Technology, updated the school board on the future career tech high school. He said the team is looking at a combined middle school, high school and college concept. Students who attend will receive all of their core classes, while getting on-the-job training in the industry of their choice.
"What we have found in our travels is that we see a lot of schools throughout the country where high school students are able to obtain their associate degree while they're still in high school," Mowdy said. "Now in our three-year plan, tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade, we feel like we're going to be able to get close to that if a student starts with us in the tenth grade and if they do a couple of courses throughout the summer. Which we hope that this is going to be year-round. Not the traditional year-round school, but a truly open community school so that students work their schedules, and we meet them where they are."
The new campus will have dual enrollment for career tech courses and core classes and will be designed to simulate going to work and industry as much as possible, Mowdy said.
"It gives the students those, what we used to call soft skills that are now, according to industry, those essential skills," he said. "That's showing up to work, showing up on time, being able to pass a drug test. Students as they enter the building, they're going to clock in. Students will have industry recognized uniforms based on the program pathway that they are following. There will be weekly team meetings."
Mowdy said currently it is difficult to schedule team meetings due to bus arrival times not being in sync. In the new facility, students will be in charge of scheduling and attending the weekly meetings, which can include topics such as safety, future planning, innovation of upcoming projects and how to improve as a workforce.
"Collaboration, we all know, and we all hear it. Students, and others for that matter, we do so much on social media that we're losing the ability to communicate," Mowdy said. "We find out from employers that students go in for a job interview and they're just not used to talking to adults, they're not used to talking to each other since we do so much texting, and employers feel like they're missing some good candidates just because that interview process."
The new facility will be designed with multiple collaboration spaces, allowing students to leave the shop and classroom areas and meet to collaborate. Mowdy said students will develop problem-solving skills while still under supervision.
The facility design also features multiple POD learning spaces, large, open spaces where students can learn core lessons and teachers will be on hand as needed. The POD spaces will feature the ability to transform into a traditional classroom at the teachers' discretion.
A large part of the new campus will be to bring industry stakeholders into the school to work with the students. Mowdy would like to see industry stakeholders come to the school weekly to build a relationship with the students while teaching specialized courses.
New programs that have been proposed for the campus include cybersecurity, engineering, aviation, Baldwin County Teacher Cadet Academy and logistics and distribution. Core classes, such as English, math and history will be taught in an applied manner, relating the subject materials to industry and careers. Mowdy said students will be able to learn core lessons and then walk down the hall to a shop class and put what they've learned into practice.
All these lessons will lead up to senior year, when, Mowdy said, they want students out in industry as much as possible.
"We've floated the idea of a flex Friday, so if for the week you are at where you need to be in your core classes, then when Friday comes around, we will leave it up to those core teachers to say, 'Okay, you're doing great, so on Friday you don't have to come to campus unless you just want to come for your career tech class,'" said Mowdy. "But what we want them to do is we want them out in business and industry, either doing a job shadow, interning, meeting with people. I know that's a little tricky to make it happen and it's a little far-reaching, but we've got to get these partnerships built between our students and business and industry."
The team is currently working on branding, naming the facility and public relations. Soon, Mowdy said, the team will start industry stakeholder meetings. More announcements for the career tech high school are expected to come in May. The new campus is estimated to open in August 2024.