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EARLIER: Shelby County Public Schools to launch accelerated academies

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Programs will accelerate education of top students

By Todd Martin

Members of the Shelby County Board of Education got a bit of a surprise Thursday night: an accidental preview of a new approach to educating the county’s highest achieving students.

Kerry Fannin, the assistant superintendent for student achievement, was so excited during his presentation at the board’s meeting that he couldn’t sit on an announcement that had been scheduled for the meeting on March 24.

"In two weeks I can't wait to present an accelerated academy for both high schools," he told the board.

Created by the district, the accelerated academies at Collins and Shelby County high schools will provide educational enrichment for the 30 top students in each grade at each school, focusing on a demanding schedule full of Advanced Placement courses and the schools' Project Lead The Way (PLTW) programs in engineering and biomedical sciences, respectfully.

"This program and this opportunity shift the focus of our enrichment program and advances it to a new level," Fannin said. "We are bringing together the most rigorous set of course offerings in our schools and setting the stage for middle school students to aspire to be part of this prestigious program.

“As far as secondary school students, the academies will change their mindset toward the goal of getting accepted into the Accelerated Academy."

The academies would begin with the 2011-12 freshmen classes, and the district will invite students and their parents to learn more about the programs in letters being sent this week to those families whose eighth-grade students currently meet the program’s academic requirements.

Meetings are scheduled for Monday at Collins and Tuesday at SCHS, starting at 6 p.m., so they can learn more.

Those students will be selected based on meeting benchmarks in EXPLORE, a national test given to eighth-graders, Kentucky Core Content (KCCT) and Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) tests.

If students are interested, they will go through an application process from which 30 will be chosen at each school.

"From those results [the test scores], students were identified who met benchmarks or percentile rankings reflective of meeting the rigorous first-year courses set forth in the academy. The actual application process will include written assignments in response to questions relating to interest and commitment," Fannin said.

And commitment is the key for the academy.

Heavy course load

The curriculum starts with a couple of courses in eighth grade, but then as freshmen the students dive right in with AP and honors courses. As they advance, the curriculum becomes very challenging.

"This opportunity is new to all of us and brings with it much excitement, since it provides more classes with a concentration on advanced placement or dual credit courses, with an emphasis in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math]," Fannin said. "We see this as a response to the call for preparing our students for the future – by producing a product that will be the target of talent searches at some of the most elite universities in this country."

To meet these high expectations, students would be required to start their days early with a zero-hour class (or eighth class) before the normal 7-period day.

"Their day will begin with a zero hour class, so the students will have to be in class at 7:30 a.m.," said Duanne Puckett, community relations coordinator for the district. "That's a big commitment not only from the students, but from the parents, too."

With four extra classes and a schedule dominated with demanding classes, students will exceed by far the number of credits needed for graduation.

State requirements for English, math, science, social studies, foreign language and other required courses call for 19 credits, but accelerated academy students will graduate with more than 30 credits.

College credit varies

Students at both schools will take 17 AP courses, but the possibility for college credits will vary slightly because of the PLTW programs.

Collins’ engineering program has been in the PLTW system for much longer and is a college-accredited program, but the biomedical program at SCHS is newer to PLTW and hasn't reached that status yet.

Collins students can earn 48 possible college credit hours, and the SCHS students can earn 42.

Both those figures, however, are dependent on the students passing the AP exams with qualifying college scores.

Commonwealth Diploma boost

The students also would far exceed the requirements for a Commonwealth Diploma, if they meet the AP test score requirements.

To qualify for a Commonwealth Diploma, students must complete at least 22 high school credits, the minimum requirements of pre-college curriculum, four AP course in English, science/math, foreign language and an elective and successful completion of three AP exams in at least three of the four required areas.

"The academies will certainly prepare these students for a dynamic future with transferable college credit hours, a Commonwealth Diploma, experience in helping others through community service projects, ample scholarship opportunities and likely invitations for college visits throughout the Commonwealth and nation," Fannin said. "The bottom line is that we are taking extra measures to strengthen student academic skills so that upon graduation they may take active leadership roles in the 21st Century, and in so doing strengthening our hometown, our state and our country."

Accelerated academy planned schedule

Students participating in the Accelerated Academies for SCHS and Collins high schools would take advanced courses from the minute they begin. The first year's schedule is set, but district officials may move a few courses around from year to year or from period to period as they continue to learn about this project. Overall the courses themselves should remain the same.

8th grade

Collins

Algebra 1

PLTW Gateway to Technology

SCHS

Algebra 1

Freshman

Collins

AP Human Geography

Honors English I

Accelerated Geometry

PLTW Intro to Engineering

AP Biology

AP Biology lab

Foreign Language I

Health & PE

SCHS

AP Computer Science

Honors English I

Accelerated Geometry

PLTW Principles of Biomedical Sciences

Honors Biology

AP Human Geography

Foreign Language I

Health & PE

Sophomore

Collins

AP Computer Science

Honors English II

Accelerated Algebra II

PLTW Principles of Engineering

PLTW Digital Electronics

AP Government

AP World History

Foreign Language II

SCHS

AP Government

Honors English II

Accelerated Algebra II

PLTW Human Body Systems

AP Biology

AP Biology lab

AP World History

Foreign Language II

Junior

Collins

AP Statistics

AP English Language

Accelerated Pre-calculus

PLTW Civil Engineering & Architecture

Honors Chemistry

AP U.S. History

Foreign Language III

AP Music/Art

SCHS

AP Statistics

AP English Language

Accelerated Pre-calculus

PLTW Medical Interventions

Honors Chemistry

AP U.S. History

Foreign Language III

AP Music/Art

Senior

Collins

AP Macro/Micro Economics

AP English Literature

AP Calculus

PLTW Engineering Design & Development

AP Physics

AP Chemistry

AP Physics, AP Chemistry lab

AP Foreign Language

SCHS

AP Macro/Micro Economics

AP English Literature

AP Calculus

PLTW Biomedical Innovation

AP Physics

AP Chemistry

AP Physics, AP Chemistry lab

AP Foreign Language