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'Talent Pipeline'

Samantha Goalen
Samantha Goalen is in her high school’s Design Services Academy. “I plan to open my own sewing shop,” she says.

Nine years ago, the Escambia School District launched the West Florida High School of Advanced Technology, consisting of 21 career academies for students eager to meld learning into earning. This fall, Escambia schools will offer a total of 51 career academies throughout the district — up from last year’s 41 — prepping nearly one-third of county high school students for careers ranging from construction, electrical generation and engineering to culinary arts, digital design and nursing. It will also include the nation’s first National Flight Academy in middle school.

“We are engaging students as never before,’’ says district Superintendent Malcolm Thomas.

Escambia’s push to reinvent teaching and learning gained momentum three years ago when the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce helped organize a business, education and workforce coalition, the Northwest Florida Next Generation Learning Community, teaming up with neighboring Santa Rosa County — which will have 22 academies this fall — and enrolling in the Ford Motor Co. Fund’s Partnership for Advanced Studies.

Ford teaching techniques help students connect academics to job requirements, says West Florida Advanced Career Experience coordinator Lori Anderson. “They make learning relevant.’’ Ford this spring signed up the University of West Florida as one of three resource hubs nationwide to provide teacher training.

Pine Forest High School junior Samantha Goalen is in her third year in the school’s Design Services Academy. “I absolutely love it,’’ she says. “I plan to open my own sewing shop.’’

Alex Allen, a 2006 graduate of Gulf Power Academy at West Florida, now works as a Gulf Power plant equipment operator. “I’ve already got my foot in the door,’’ Allen says.
The academies can save businesses time and money in recruiting and training, says Gulf Power’s workforce development coordinator, Jennifer Grove. “We see it as a talent pipeline program.’’

Lee Gunter & Alex Allen
Lee Gunter (left) trains Alex Allen, who works at Gulf Power [Photo: Sean Smith]