by Georgia Charter Schools Association
By Russ Moore,
How likely are the following statements to be true about any public school you ever attended? This school:
- Was named after extensive focus groups with students, and the name the students chose is a purposefully misspelled word.
- Educates high school students, but is located on a college campus.
- Promises to have the highest graduation rate of any school in its region, but nobody will ever receive a diploma from it.
- Has no football team, no stadium, no cheerleaders, no band, no pep rallies, but will be attended by premier athletes and musicians.
- Pays some students to go to school.
- Has a Chief Robotics Officer with no heartbeat.
- Has raised almost $10 million from outside the school system to support the school’s programs.
- Is run by a CEO who was hired by and reports to a nonprofit Board of Directors.
Of course, almost none of the above statements could be true if this school were not a charter school, but even among charters, THINC. College and Career Academy stands out. From its name (a cool combination of “think” plus “Inc.”) to its founders to its course offerings, THINC. is truly unique.
THINC is Georgia’s newest “college and career academy,” (CCA) a specific type of charter school codified into state law by SB161 in 2011 and overseen by both the State Board of Education and the Technical College System of Georgia. Located on the LaGrange Campus of West Georgia Technical College, THINC is a partnership between WGTC and two private postsecondary institutions (LaGrange College and Point University), Troup County Schools, and the businesses, parents and students in Troup County, Georgia.
Page Estes, President of the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce, chaired a 108-person volunteer Steering Committee in 2013 in a planning effort that was funded by the county’s Center for Strategic Planning. That effort was the logical extension of work that had been done by the Chamber and Center with local municipal governments, the Troup County Board of Commissioners, development authorities, the Callaway Foundation and other stakeholders, which had been wrestling with workforce development and education reform ideas for years. THINC is now seen as its community’s capstone achievement.
Unlike traditional startup charters, THINC will share enrollment with its “feeder” high schools (all the public high schools in Troup County), and all credit earned by students at THINC will flow back to the feeder schools, where students will graduate in greater numbers and be better prepared for the real world.
THINC’s volunteer planners used a business process called ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement and Evaluate) and an employer needs assessment to decide what career pathways to offer. Most CCAs focus on career and technical elective programs (what was called “vocational education” years ago), yet today these electives prove to be an excellent way — and perhaps a better way — to teach core academic content. Reinforced by hands-on, project-based, team-based settings, and infused with work ethic characteristics demanded by employers, students at THINC are likely to be thinking more about jobs than grades. Students never ask “Why do I need to know this?” because they are taking classes they are interested in taking, and usually because those courses will lead to jobs students find interesting in areas like Healthcare, Mechatronics and Manufacturing, Marketing, Energy, Finance, Hospitality, Tourism, Engineering, Architecture, and Construction.
THINC is located on a college campus, opening a 65,000 square foot renovation this August, so college dual enrollment will be a major focus. Troup students who want to earn college credit while still in high school — credit that will transfer to any college in Georgia and won’t cost them or their parents a dime to earn — will do so at THINC.
Perhaps most impressive is THINC’s connection to the real world. Students can enroll in Work-Based Learning, starting with job-shadowing with business partners, leading to internships and ultimately apprenticeships. Apprentices are actually paid to go to school, earning an hourly wage during school hours, are graded by their employers, and earn credit towards a high school diploma.
THINC’s CEO, Dr. Kathy Carlisle, heads an innovative team of educators focused on meeting the needs of students and the local economy – a powerful combination not typically found in the mission of a public school. Catalyzed by a first-ever multi-million dollar commitment from a business partner ($3 million from Kia Motor Manufacturing of Georgia), other organizations in Troup County and the region like the Callaway Foundation, Georgia Power, MOBIS, Interface, Sewon, Mountville Mills and others have come to the fore, donating time and expertise and nearly $10 million in additional funding.
THINC joins another 29 college and career academies already approved by the State Board of Education and local school boards in Georgia, but as John Asbell of Georgia Power says (the founding Chair of THINC’s Board of Directors), “We are one of a growing number of great charter schools, but we aspire to be the best.” That is a commitment shared by the Board, CEO, staff, and stakeholders of THINC CEO Carlisle adds, “You’ve heard of ‘No Child Left Behind.’ Well, THINC is really focused on ensuring that ‘All Graduates Are Employable.’”
Russ Moore is the founder of Seamless Education Associates, the CCA consulting firm that helped forge THINC’s partnership. Since 2007 he has worked with 16 other CCAs that received charters and state grant funding.
The views and opinions expressed on CharterConfidential are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency.