A Wall-to-Wall Approach: One of the Strategies Cited by Gene Bottoms of the Southern Regional Education Board in His Article, "A Vision of the 21st Century," in This Month's Issue Is the High School with Wall-to-Wall Career Academies, Such as Seneca Valley High School in Maryland

Article excerpt

In Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), there are approximately 42,000 students who attend 24 high schools, and according to Newsweek magazine, all of the county's high schools rank in the top three percent for the nation. In 2001, the MCPS Division of Career and Technology Education (CTE) began its focus on small learning communities developed around career clusters in strategic locations throughout the school district. Through these clusters, students can develop the skills and knowledge necessary to make informed decisions concerning their secondary and post-secondary education, careers and a path of lifelong learning.

With a series of "Rigor, Relevancy and Relationship" symposiums and numerous other efforts, CTE was instrumental in educating MCPS teachers and administrators about small learning communities and how this could help improve the high school experience for all students. During this same period, there was a dramatic increase in the number of students who enrolled in an approved career development completer program in their home schools. This represented a blending of the academic and career models to ensure that all students would have a sense of what they wanted to do and/or what interests they wished to pursue after high school.

CTE programs in MCPS are developed in conjunction with all relevant stakeholder groups. Among these groups are parents, students, educators, postsecondary partners and representatives of business and industry. An integral component of successful career programs is the development of strong, active partnerships with postsecondary institutions and business and industry in the local community.

The MCPS division of CTE has partnered with Montgomery College and representatives from numerous businesses and industry. Together, they have developed Cluster Advisory Boards (CABS) to advise and support the efforts of each of the 11 career clusters. In addition, articulation agreements with Montgomery College have provided the opportunity for students in CTE programs at MCPS high schools to enroll in college courses for dual and/or college credit.

There are 35 pathway programs in the 11 career clusters which provide the basis for developing small learning communities in MCPS high schools. The 11 career clusters in MCPS are:

* Arts, Humanities, Media and Communications

* Construction and Development

* Human and Consumer Services, Hospitality and Tourism

* Engineering, Scientific Research and Manufacturing Technologies

* Biosciences, Health Science and Medicine

* Education, Training and Child Studies

* Information Technologies

* Transportation, Distribution and Logistics

* Business Management and Finance

* Environmental, Agricultural and Natural Resources

* Law, Government, Public Safety and Administration

This rising interest in the significance of career education and its marriage with rigorous academics has led to major redesign efforts in MCPS high schools. Over the past few years, nine MCPS high schools have received small learning community grants from the U.S. Department of Education to redesign their large, comprehensive high schools.

Seneca Valley High School

Seneca Valley High School was awarded its grant in 2003 and implemented a plan for redesign. They chose the academy model and through surveys and interviews with students, parents and the business community, decided on a ninth-grade academy and five career academies.

All students and faculty at Seneca Valley High School are involved in a career academy. Wall-to-wall career academies started from career and technical programs with the vision to create a supportive and rigorous learning environment for all students. Career academies were chosen as the method that would promote high academic achievement, enhance capacity for further learning, focus on career interest, and encourage student involvement in academic decision-making. …