Bibb County school system lands $3 million grant

The Bibb County school system has been awarded a $3.11 million grant to help renovate the Promise Center and prepare for an expanded vocational program there.

The funding will be used to bolster Hutchings College and Career Academy’s partnership with Central Georgia Technical College and create a satellite program at the Anthony Road center.

The Thursday grant award, from the state board of the Technical College System of Georgia, will help with that transition.

“An awful lot of hard work went into this” with officials from Central Georgia Tech, said Steve Smith, the school system’s interim superintendent.

Bibb County was one of four districts to get the Georgia College and Career Academy Grant, said Cassandra Miller-Washington, the district’s director of Career, Technological and Agricultural Education.

The academy’s renovations and equipment must be aligned to meet industry standards, she said, and when finished “will allow students to work in a real world atmosphere.”

The partnership “will allow us to fully prepare students for college and career ... (and) allow us to have a workplace environment along with the rigor that is in college to ensure that students are ready for the emerging workforce.”

Miller-Washington said the district aims to have the renovated center open by Aug. 15, when the next academic year begins. Work is expected to start in January or February.

Some of the courses the CTAE program already offers include automotive service technology, culinary arts, health care, architectural drawing and design, and graphic communications. The initiative will allow the district to offer more “career pathways” and dual enrollment opportunities for students, according to the district.

The district works with Central Georgia Tech, which will look to expand the number of dual education opportunities for Bibb County students in areas such as engineering technology, said Jeff Scruggs, CGTC’s executive vice president.

The dual education system allows high school students to receive college credits for courses taken in conjunction with CGTC.

“Central Georgia Technical College is proud to strengthen our partnership with the Bibb County school system,” Scruggs said. “This was done after months of planning with the school board, Superintendent Smith and the school system staff. The new career academy will signify new opportunities for all the students of Bibb County.”

There are 33 college and career academies in Georgia. Students from different academies across the state have graduation rates in the high 90th percentile and 100 percent postsecondary or job placement rates, according to a statement from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

Scruggs said even with improvements to the Promise Center, some students will take classes on the CGTC campus for courses that involve lab work that is technical, such as for a biotechnical associate degree.

“We’re going to make use of all the facilities,” he said. “The program we’re offering is true dual college credits.”

Now, CGTC offers such courses to about 700 high school students across 11 counties. About 68 Bibb County students are involved in the program, but Scruggs said that number should increase substantially next year.

By comparison, he said, Houston County, which got the same grant a few years ago, has about 250 students in the program.

“It’s a true partnership,” Miller-Washington said. “This really allows students to walk away with stackable credits.”

Classes at Hutchings have been organized as small learning communities, combining academic and technical curricula around specific career themes and establishing partnerships with local employers to provide work-based learning opportunities. Students have the option of receiving a high school diploma, technical certification, an associate degree and industry credentials.

For now, there are no plans to close the Hutchings building on Riverside Drive, said school spokeswoman Stephanie Hartley.

The Promise Center, one of the cornerstones of Macon’s Promise Neighborhood initiative, has received its fair share of criticism in the past. The Anthony Road property was originally sold off for $220,000 after the school system declared it surplus property, only to have the district sign a lease for $575,000 a year for 10 years as part of the Promise Neighborhood initiative.

At a school board meeting in June, the board voted to terminate a memorandum of understanding to pay for operations at the center, opting instead to use district resources for maintenance and upkeep.