Are academies, and not charter schools, the answer to concentrated, innovative educational programs to get Sun Prairie students focused on careers?

Sun Prairie High School will launch at least two academies beginning in the fall of 2020, and the Sun Prairie School Board learned last week that planning is proceeding on schedule.

According to a report by Stephanie Leonard-Witte, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching, Learning & Equity for the Sun Prairie Area School District (SPASD), faculty members at Sun Prairie High School have been collaborating and even touring similar instructional academies to launch academies in Agriculture/Sustainability and Business/Marketing in the fall of 2020.

“One of the things teachers have been doing is re-imagining careers,” commented SPASD Superintendent Brad Saron. He introduced SPHS Principal Keith Nerby, who discussed the academies already under way with Krist Kvalheim, the FFA Advisor and teacher for agriculture and sustainability at SPHS.

Kvalheim said three sections of food science are now offered at SPHS, and the department is looking for a way to expand those offerings to students by expanding it to the areas of Global Food and Sustainability.

Nerby said the Business and Marketing Academy will take the classes already in place at SPHS and expand them by working with local businesses to get students hands-on experiences, doing business plans and working with colleges and universities to get students credits towards degrees.

“We’ve really talked about a lot of different options,” Nerby told the board and audience attending the June 10 Sun Prairie School Board meeting held at the SPASD office on South Bird Street.

Nerby also said that offerings for building trades and biomedical careers could be expanded.

“Again, this isn’t for every student,” Nerby said, explaining that students seeking to enroll in the academy areas will want focused course offerings on those fields.

But it also does not prevent students not interested in those fields from taking individual course offerings at the academies.

SPASD Director of Digital Media, Innovation and Strategy Curt Mould explained the offerings are a way to improve the educational experience in the Sun Prairie Schools. Summer curriculum work is happening this summer, and some course modifications will occur as early as this fall.

The district has identified other partner districts to look to as examples, but many other districts are doing the same work right now, according to Mould.

“We’re also looking to expand the Academy Planning Team,” Mould said. Among the fields being explored for academies are Engineering, Art, Economics and Business, Computer Science, and Future Educator programs. Mould said there are teachers interested in doing the work.

“At what point do we innovate so much that we think about a charter school?” asked Sun Prairie School Board member Dave Hoekstra. “Or can this be done without a charter?”

Janet Rosseter, SPASD Assistant Superintendent of Operations, said it can be done without a charter, but also without the charter start-up funds. She said the board could discuss the structure, but the academies allow for board supervision.

“I’m confident that we don’t have to go to a charter,” Mould said.

Board member Caren Diedrich asked what will happen to comprehensive high school for the student who does not know where they want to go?

Students who want to take some of these courses will still be able to take them, Nerby said, but it will enable students to get deeper into their career areas.

Other students not in the academies will still have the option of trying certain classes.

Conversely, Nerby said, it will allow academy students to continue to take classes outside of the career emphasis areas. “We’re not envisioning barriers,” Nerby added.

Although the board took no action, and the report was for informational purposes, the planning process for academies will continue up to the 2020-21 school year when the two new academies are added to the existing Building Trades and Biomedical academies.

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