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Coweta County Board of Education Recognized with GSBA “Leading Edge” Award for Innovation

Receiving the award were several school board members and community partners including, left to right, front row, Mark Whitlock (CEO, Central Educational Center), Justin Haight (Manager, Skills Initiative, German-American Chamber of Commerce of Southern US), Beth barnett (Vice-Chair, Coweta County Board of Education), Sue Brown (Coweta County Board of Education); second row, Larry Alford (Area Manager Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute, Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership), Steve Cromer (Senior Director, Advanced Manufacturing, West Georgia Technical College), Winston Dowdell (Coweta County Board of Education), Amy Dees (Chairman, Coweta County Board of Education), Frank Farmer (Coweta County Board of Education) and Steve Barker (Coweta County Superintendent).

The Coweta County Board of Education was recognized on Thursday with a GSBA “Leading Edge” award, at the Georgia School Board Association’s 2019 annual conference in Atlanta.

The award recognizes school boards for local innovative school board leadership and “out of the box,” practices by school districts. 

The award was given in recognition of the development of the German Apprenticeship Program in Coweta County, which involves several local partners including the Coweta County School System and Board of Education, the Central Educational Center and its Board, West Georgia Technical College, the German American Chamber of Commerce and its Georgia Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (GA CATT), Georgia Tech’s Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership, local manufacturers (including German, American, Canadian, and Japanese businesses) and other state and local educational and business partners.

“This award really recognizes not only the current Board of Education and its visionary efforts, but the boards of education that many years ago initiated our college and career academy, and continued to support the work at the Central Educational Center through a number of innovative partnerships,” said Coweta County Superintendent of Schools Steve Barker.

According to GSBA, the Leading Edge Awardis intended “to highlight school districts who are leading the way in ensuring students are competitive in an ever-changing global market.” The award recognizes innovative programs and practices begun by local boards of education.

 “Coweta was the first place, in America, that offered this to students beginning in the sophomore year (age 15), according to the German American Chamber of Commerce,” said Mark Whitlock, CEO of the Central Educational Center.

The program formally began in 2016, when several Coweta County manufacturers signed agreements with 10 high school sophomores to launch the first German-style apprenticeship program cohort. The program allows students to begin their apprenticeships in 10th grade with a combination of traditional high school classes, college-level manufacturing courses and apprenticeship modules that pay them an hourly wage and earn them credit toward high school graduation, technical college graduation and international certification.

“The Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program that we use here is one of 350 different occupational programs designed in the German system, and it is one of their most rigorous programs,” said Whitlock.

By the 12th grade, students in the program spend the majority of their time learning at the manufacturing site while earning a higher hourly wage. The program saw its first Coweta graduates in 2019. The current 3-year cohort of local apprentices working under the model includes 23 students working with seven local manufacturers. The Coweta/Georgia GA CATT was recently named as one of the 11 best practices in the world by the organization that oversees German apprenticeship world-wide.

Whitlock said that the apprenticeship program actually began 8 years ago, when Coweta Superintendent Steve Barker asked business leaders at the Grenzebach Corporation ”what do you really need the school system to do?”

“The response was ‘we need real German apprenticeship – we don’t have a pipeline for the skilled talent we need to succeed.’”   A host of collaborative meetings and formal agreements followed, leading to the establishment of the program in Coweta, and now to its expansion to other Georgia communities.

Whitlock said that the Coweta County Board of Education’s willingness to forge partnerships with local businesses and other educational organizations was a key component of the program’s establishment and the basis of the Board’s recognition by GSBA Thursday in the category of Teaching and Learning Resources.

“Our school system applied in that category because of the multiple organizations that had to be involved to make this work. It’s an excellent example of our Board of Education’s willingness and use of flexibility to bring in multiple partners to create new opportunities for students,” said Whitlock.  “Because of the Board of Education’s willingness to utilize and apply flexibility, and the work allowed amongst the partners by that flexibility, we were able to take the gold standard in apprenticeship programs – the German apprenticeship model – and apply it in America to the benefit of Coweta students and local companies.”

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