Elgin-area school leaders are focusing on getting more students on the path to pursuing a career after high school.
An expansion of Elgin Area School District U-46's high school career academies is envisioned to provide students more access to the specialized and career-oriented learning.
New academies could be established as early as the freshman class of 2019-2020, but no later than the 2020-21 school year, officials said.
"We know the academies work. We want to expand access to small, focused learning communities that help students identify and shape their career interests and skills," said Terri Lozier, U-46 assistant superintendent of secondary schools instruction and equity.
U-46 currently offers subject-specific academies at each of its five high schools. Those programs are expected to continue at least through 2021. They are: the Broadcast Education and Communication Networks (BEACON) Academy at South Elgin High; Gifted and Talented Academy at Elgin High; Science, Engineering and High Technology Academy at Bartlett High; Visual and Performing Arts Academy at Larkin High in Elgin; and World Languages and International Studies Academy at Streamwood High.
Among the district's 11,467 high school students, 1,358 were enrolled in the five academies combined for the school year that just ended.
Any new high school programming would be implemented gradually with a year-by-year "roll-up" of programs, and possibly, a gradual year-by-year "rollout" of current academy options. Freshmen entering the five current academies this fall can expect to be enrolled in those programs through graduation in 2021. But what will happen to those academies in future is unclear.
"We can honestly say we don't know," Lozier said. "What we hope to do (is) ... look at our current academy structures as we move to a wall-to-wall academy structure ... we don't know what it's going to look like. We are not closing things down. We are merely exploring and looking for efficiencies."
Giving students choice
Officials say having multiple career academies will get more students on a career path earlier and on track to graduate high school, while consolidating resources.
"We really don't need to have five automotive shops in U-46," Chief Executive Officer Tony Sanders said. "We maybe need to have one or two good ones and make that a choice school for students."
That's also the idea behind a U-46 proposal for starting an accredited regional welding program in partnership with neighboring school districts.
Several parents at last week's school board meeting spoke against expanding the academies and making all students choose a career pathway.
"I'm not sure it's right for everyone," said Beverly Jaszczurowski, who has a freshman son in the BEACON Academy and an eighth-grader and sixth-grader in the district. "I think part of high school is you get to have some fun. You get to try new things. All kids being enrolled is different than making it available to all kids."
Academies could help catch struggling students before they fall through the cracks.
Lozier said two U-46 high schools are below the state average of 84 percent for ninth-grade students on track to graduate, and two high schools are below the state average of 86 percent for high school graduation. All five high schools have high percentages of students who require remediation in college -- each higher than the state average of 49 percent, she added.
"We have roughly 300 students each year that drop out of U-46 schools," Lozier said. "Each year we have another 100 students who are on track to graduate as seniors who don't graduate. We are losing these kids. And they don't have the opportunities that other students get."
U-46 will be offering dual-credit classes for the first time this fall, while other area school districts have been offering dual-credit for some time.