Akron Public Schools to launch College and Career Academies this fall

Editor’s note (March 5, 2020): On March 4, David Skelly was removed from his classroom. According to Akron Public Schools, he has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

The investigation follows the publication of a video on YouTube. The video’s creators say that the man they filmed was planning to meet a boy who he knew to be underage for sex.

APS said in a statement that the district “began an immediate investigation upon learning of a video circulating on the internet. The video is cause for concern.”

APS’s statement said the district has “been in contact with our families and students at the school to offer information, counseling and4 answer questions.”  

We are leaving this story online because we believe the information it contains about the APS College and Career Academies model is valuable. We will update further as the investigation proceeds.

words and photos by Noor Hindi

Growing up, Ricardo Deanda loved watching his father cook. Mexican dishes like tacos and quesadillas were staples in his home, and recipes passed down from his grandmother informed his passion for the culinary arts.

Today, the Kenmore-Garfield High School student is working towards his goal of going to culinary school and becoming a chef.

“I love everything about it,” Deanda says. “It’s really fun to be in the kitchen and be active and on your feet.”

At Kenmore-Garfield High School, junior Deanda has spent the last two years exploring his career goal through the help of the Culinary Arts Pathway, and his teacher, Chef David Skelly.

Inside their classroom is a full kitchen where the students prep for catering opportunities within and outside their school. There’s a dining room with a working restaurant where students serve lunch for teachers, staff and the community. There’s also a traditional classroom with a chalkboard and desks.

Over the last year, the students have catered events for the Summit County Historical Society, United Way, Akron Promise and Stark State, Ward 7 councilman Donnie Kammer, as well as meetings for Akron Public Schools. They’ve prepared food for crowds as large as 250 people.

“The more that we can do and the more experience the kids get, the more they’re going to have a competitive advantage when they go out into the real world,” Skelly says.

The goal of the three-year program is to give students real-world experience in a field they feel passionate about. By the time they graduate, the students will have a minimum of two years of practice in the kitchen, as well as opportunities to complete college courses and get their ServSafe certification, which is a food and beverage safety training program that will allow them to go on to become managers.

“I tell the kids from their first time they meet me that I don’t cook. I don’t clean. I instruct,” Skelly says. “If I do all the cooking, they’re not going to get the experience. So they need to create and they need to be the ones that are behind using their passions to get what they need.”

The students’ weeks are split between classroom time, where they go over chapters in textbooks at the college freshman or sophomore level to prepare them for college, and time in the kitchen where students learn how to use equipment and prepare for their catering events. 

The majority of the sophomore year is spent learning basic kitchen safety techniques before taking that knowledge into the kitchen during junior and senior years.

This program is part of a larger project APS is initiating starting Fall 2019. Beginning in August, all eight APS high schools will offer mandatory academies, each of which contain pathways. Students will commit to pathways in middle school. 

For example, Ellet High School will be in charge of three academies: Applied Engineering, Community Health and Safety and Global Marketing and Media. Under those are various pathways such as construction, animal studies and marketing.

There are roughly 16 academies to choose from and more than 50 pathways. 

Academies were chosen based on research compiled for the project surrounding high-demand jobs, student interests, family feedback and high-wage jobs.

College and Career Academies Director Rachel Tecca says there are three benefits to this program: A sense of belonging, experiential learning outside the program and college and career readiness.

“The first and foremost is making sure [students] understand that it’s important that people are there for them and it matters to everybody that they’re in school and invested in their own education,” Tecca says. “The second is experiences outside the classroom. That whole idea of learning both in the classroom and out of the classroom. Our kids are taking these amazing field trips and job shadowing experiences and spending time in the community, learning where that content in class is applied in life.”She continued, “The third is our goal is for our kids to graduate with a plan — a future for themselves that they can envision in a career that they’re interested in with an educational plan.”

How College and Career Academies Works

The College and Careers Pathways Program was initiated by superintendent David James, who launched the program after studying the Academies of Nashville program at the Metro Nashville Public Schools.

In 2015, while Tecca was principal at North High School, James sent a team of people from North High School to Nashville for a study visit. 

Metro Nashville Public Schools has practiced the college and career academies program for 13 years. According to Donna Gilley, the director of Academies for Metro Nashville Public Schools, the graduation rate for the district was at 58% in 2006 and even gave students five years to graduate. 

Today, Gilley says the graduation rate is at 80% to 82%. 

“Largely we were failing our young people,” Gilley says. “When we started this work, it truly was not to provide a pipeline to the workplace. It was to get students involved and engaged to want to come to school. That was our No. 1 priority. And, obviously, to increase attendance, decrease disciplinary issues and increase the academic performance.”

Within a few years of implementing the program, Gilley says attendance increased and disciplinary issues went down. 

The APS program was designed after the trip Tecca took to Nashville, and it was tweaked to fit Akron’s needs. Before the College and Career Academies Program, only 20% of APS students took part in career technical education. Now, it’s going to be 100%. 

APS is the first school district in Ohio to implement this kind of program on such a large scale.

In order to ensure that students in eighth grade choose the right high school, students complete two semester-long courses called Academy Prep 101 and Academy Prep 201 in middle school. In those classes, students start to explore potential careers and have conversations about their goals. 

As high school freshmen, students take Freshman Seminar, which is focused on financial readiness, educational planning and career research.

“We really focus on the fact that this experience is absolutely exploratory, and focused on transferable skills,” Tecca says. “We don’t expect 15-year-old young people to pick their careers for the rest of their life. What we do expect is that they’re building those transferable skills, like collaboration, critical thinking, communication, professional skills that they can use wherever it is they choose to go right after high school.” 

Tecca says students can switch pathways within their academy. They can also switch their academy at the end of 10th grade, but this isn’t encouraged because the students may be missing out on the credentials and benefits of the program if they’re not in it for three full years.

If a student chooses a school outside of their neighborhood, APS has partnered with Akron Metro to provide all students with a free, year-round Metro bus pass. This is similar to Metro Nashville Public Schools. According to Gilley, only 10% to 15% of students at Metro Nashville Public Schools transfer to different schools, but Gilley still sees the program as a success. 

“In Nashville, while there are some similarities, there are also differences,” Gilley says. “We don’t replicate the same pathways in every school. So there’s some uniqueness. If you were a student that wanted to learn how to fly an airplane, there’s only one school that has aviation flight. But 10 of our 12 schools have healthcare because that’s the most in-demand from both student interest and aptitude and also workforce numbers. So that is available in many of our schools.”

Tecca says this project is not only an APS transformation, but a community transformation. Right now, 14 of the 16 academies have community partners that are committed to ensuring the success of the students in the program. Some of the named partners include the University of Akron, Kent State University, Summa Health, Akron Children’s Hospital, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Bridgestone and KeyBank.

Tim Burke, president for Northeast Ohio’s KeyBank, says they’re excited to partner with APS. They’ve installed a financial center at East Community Learning Center and give students “Key cash” they can use to purchase tickets for games and dances, as well as items at the school store. The environment of the financial center will be similar to a bank to get students comfortable with interacting with financial institutions. 

“We think there’s a gap in what kids are learning today in school versus what they need to prepare for the real world in terms of financial wellness,” Burke says. 

Aside from the larger partners, more than 250 business partners are helping students in smaller ways, like making class visits or attending career expositions.

“Our business partners are involved in a really big way to support our students and their educational experiences, but also to build relationships and network for opportunities after graduation,” Tecca says. “They’re saying, ‘We’ll get you down to the hospital and you can observe a surgery.’ You can meet with an orthopedic surgeon to talk about curvature of the spine for the geometry teacher. That applied learning, that relevant learning, the business partners have committed to providing that.”

The Larger Impact

Although APS is taking a leap by implementing College and Career Academies in such a big way, Tecca says she’s excited to see the curriculum transform from a classroom-based learning approach to experiential learning. 

“The entire world is different than when I went to high school, but the high school experience right now is the same as when my grandparents went to school,” Tecca says. “But the world is very different. So this transformation is really preparing our students in a different way so they graduate with the skills and competencies necessary to pursue their goals and dreams.”

If the large-scale program looks anything like the success of the Kenmore-Garfield High School Culinary Arts pathway, students are expected to graduate with ample experience and tons of “good memories,” says Makayla Carter, a junior in the program.

“When all of us are in the kitchen, we joke around and cook. It’s really fun,” Carter says. “I feel like I get a lot of cooking experience and I meet a lot of people.”

For more information about College and Career Academies, visit ccaa.akronschools.com. 

To visit the Kenmore-Garfield High School restaurant, call 330-848-5208. 

Noor Hindi is The Devil Strip’s Senior Reporter. Email her at noor@thedevilstrip.com.