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Career training: Marion schools dubbed ‘Innovative District’

March 30, 2018

OCALA, Fla. (AP) — A local push to provide more vocational and career opportunities for high school students has landed Marion County Public Schools in the national spotlight. It recently received an “Innovative District” designation from the prestigious International Center for Leadership in Education.

The district was one of only 10 nationwide to be selected. The honor means the local district was asked to be a presenter in June at the Model Schools Conference in Orlando. The Model Schools Conference is the nation’s premier event for rapidly improving K-12 schools and districts. Marion was chosen to share details about the district’s growing vocational program.

Marion is the only public school district in Florida invited to be a presenter. Local school leaders will present a session called “Implementing a Career Pathway Model.”

In August, the district launched its first two career academies — both called Logistics and based at West Port and Lake Weir high schools -- for this school year. The district will add many more for 2018-19 at several other high schools.

Thanks in part to funding from the 1 mill school tax referendum passed in 2014, the district launched a full retooling of vocational programs. The voters passed the tax, which generates $15 million annually, to bolster vocational programs and restore music, art and physical education.

The invitation to the conference gives the district national recognition and exposure, allowing Marion to showcase the many ways the district links the worlds of education and business.

The International Center for Leadership in Education is a nonprofit that challenges, inspires and equips today’s educators to prepare students for lifelong success, according to a press release.

Innovative Districts are selected annually based on criteria that include: validated year-over-year program growth; showing evidence that there is a strong culture of putting students at the center of learning; and dedication to transforming instruction to meet the needs and demands of the future.

“This year, we celebrate 26 years of empowering educators to implement effective best practices rooted in rigor, relevance, and relationships,” Willard R. Daggett, founder and chairman of the International Center for Leadership in Education, said in a prepared statement released by the district. “At the Model School Conference, Marion County Public Schools will have the unique opportunity to share inspiring ideas for innovating and transforming teaching and learning to better prepare students for the world in which they will work and live.”

Mark Vianello, the district’s executive director of Career and Technical Education (CTE), said the district is honored to have been selected to be a presenter this year. He noted the district team is ready to “embrace the opportunity to share on a national level how our (CTE) programs are connecting with business and industry.”

“Our focus on student choice and relevancy enables us to help meet the community’s workforce demands and economic development needs by creating a strong talent pipeline,” Vianello noted in an email statement. “Such partnerships are worthy of attention and replication.”

Partnering with workforce organizations also results in career awareness and the development of training that’s targeted to industry and specific skills, Vianello noted.

One such program is Pathways 2 Prosperity, which was created six years ago by Sara LeFils, then a College of Central Florida employee wanting to find ways to better reach high school students about the importance of choosing a career and financial planning. The program kicked off in 2012 with 33 students from North Marion High School. Students went on six field trips during the school year to visit an array of industries in the community.

LeFils was soon hired by the local school district and brought her program with her. The program is now at all eight mainstream high schools, including Marion Technical Institute. The program now links 240 students to the business community in hopes they stay local after graduation.

“Pathways 2 Prosperity is a shining example of how education and business are partnering to expose students to potential career paths right here in our community helping to keep our young talent local,” Vianello said in a recent interview.

LeFils still oversees Pathways 2 Prosperity program, which is nicknamed P-Squared. She said Wednesday each high school can select 30 juniors to participate in the program. Those students must have a good behavior record and are enrolled in a vocational program.

LeFils said the students go on field trips and other activities. On Wednesday, several businesses sent representatives to Belleview High School to give the students a chance to practice their job interview skills and to learn about financial literacy. When they become seniors, the district offers reminder events about choosing careers.

“Think about your future every day,” said LeFils of one of many of the program’s mottos. “How are you preparing for the rest of your life. Those are just some of the messages.”

Ethan Baumes, 17, a Belleview High junior, said he was honored late last year that he was chosen to be in the program. He said he like the field trips to Marion Technical College and College of Central Florida. He now wants to take business administration courses.

“Their (school district officials) development of career path programs exemplifies their commitment and dedication to responding to, and supporting, the skill needs of Marion County’s business community,” said Rusty Skinner, chief executive officer of CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion, in a statement released by the district. “We congratulate them on their selection.”

Kevin Sheilley, president and CEO of the Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership, has told the Star-Banner in many interviews that he believes Marion County is now listening to the business community about needs.

“Talent development is one of our signature missions,” Sheilley said in a prepared statement. “We have partnered with Marion County Public Schools to help them relaunch innovative and meaningful CTE programs. These pathways allow us to retain our best talent right here at home. The district’s hands-on approach is certainly worthy of this recognition.”

Over the past 26 years, the Model Schools Conference has attracted thousands of educators who come to learn about exemplary elementary, middle, high schools, and districts.

“We are proud to honor and showcase this future-focused district for implementing a rigorous and relevant curriculum that engages and challenges students to think beyond the classroom to solve real-world problems,” Daggett noted in a statement.

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Information from: Ocala (Fla.) Star-Banner, http://www.starbanner.com/

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