The Beaufort County School District will introduce a dozen new and expanded career- and technical-education programs over the next three years, school officials announced Friday.
Whether that means the district should end its participation in the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence, however, is still unclear, school board members agreed.
The expansion eventually will mean more than a dozen such programs at each of the district's five high schools, as well as a future high school in Bluffton, according to Karen Gilbert, district director of career and technical education.
"This really will change the face of education in the district," Gilbert said. "We truly are wanting to graduate kids who can actually go into high-skill, high-tech, high-demand jobs."
Gilbert and members of the county Board of Education discussed the plans Friday at a board workshop in Beaufort.
The first of the new programs begins this school year at Whale Branch Early College High School, with a public-safety course for students interested in criminal justice, Gilbert said.
With the help of the Bluffton Township Fire District, a similar course will be offered next school year at Bluffton High School for students interested in firefighting, she added.
More new and expanded programs -- including agricultural science, aviation and cybersecurity -- will begin in a multipurpose building at Battery Creek High School in the 2015-16 school year. Many of those same programs will be included at the new Bluffton high school when it opens in about two years, as well as a Business and Finance Academy, Gilbert said.
Expansions are also planned for the health sciences programs at Beaufort High School and the culinary programs at Hilton Head Island High School.
"We don't want to pigeonhole any of our kids," superintendent Jeff Moss said. "I know we have a tremendous amount of creativity and ingenuity (in) each of our students, and we want to explore that and build support structures for these kids."
The board did not vote on any of the programs Friday.
The expansion will double the district's career and technical studies, Gilbert said. Last year, 3,750 students were in more than 30 such programs, with 60 instructors, spread throughout the five high schools, she said.
"There wasn't the impetus from the leadership nor the commitment from the board (in the past) to really take the steps we're talking about now," board chairman Bill Evans said. "I'm really excited about where we're going. We're talking about addressing about 50 percent of our students that we haven't entirely served in the past."
WHAT ABOUT ACE?
Although board members praised expanding in-district career and technical offerings, no consensus was reached regarding continued participation in the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence.
Since early this year, several board members have expressed concerns about the district's partnership with Jasper County schools to fund and oversee ACE. They argue ACE could be more successful if its $3.7 million budget was better managed.
"It's no reflection on the (ACE) director or the directors in the past, but they're in a position where they've got Beaufort on one side and Jasper on another, plus their own board," school board member Laura Bush said. "There's just too many hands in the pot.
"Sometimes the best result for a married couple is a divorce. It's time for us to take a look at where we are."
However, the Beaufort board cannot make that decision alone, so it will arrange to meet with Jasper County school board members this fall, Evans said.
"I think it's pretty clear our relationship with ACE is going to change as we expand on our programs," Evans said. "In what dimension it will change, we don't know. But we need to."
WORKSHOP CONTINUES SATURDAY
On Friday, the board also discussed the process of reviewing its school choice initiatives and heard reports from its after-school activity providers, including the Boys and Girls Club, the Neighborhood Outreach Center and the United Way of the Lowcountry.
The board meets again Saturday at 9 a.m. in the District Support Educational Center at 2900 Mink Point Blvd. in Beaufort. It is scheduled to review its new initiatives to prevent bullying and discuss its current budget.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.