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Promoting Career Readiness through School-Business Partnerships

“The Academy model here at Cane Ridge High School has definitely had a positive impact on my education. It has opened so many doors and allowed me to expand my horizons on the career I wish to pursue…It has mentally and physically prepared me for life after high school.

– Bailee D., student, Academy of Health Management at Cane Ridge High School in Nashville, Academies of Nashville Blog

Business PartnershipsA recent national report from the Educational Testing Service (ETS) found that large numbers of students are graduating from high school without the literacy, numeracy, and technology skills needed for success in the workforce. This report was the topic of the SCORE Institute on Overcoming the Skills Gap in Tennessee, held on August 21. During the SCORE Institute, Tennessee educators, policymakers, and business leaders discussed the importance of forging connections between schools and businesses so that students are truly prepared for both college and career. School-business partnerships can take a variety of forms, including career academies, internship programs, apprenticeships, or other work-based learning opportunities. In some cases, they include dual enrollment at a community or technical college and may even allow students to graduate with an associate’s degree or industry credential. As the quote above indicates, some Tennessee students are already benefiting from such opportunities. However, there is still much work to do to expand these opportunities to more students.
Below are three examples of how schools can partner with businesses to prepare students for the workforce.

The Academies of Nashville

The Academies of Nashville are small learning communities within each of Nashville’s zoned public high schools. Each learning community follows a career-themed curriculum, and students participate in industry related field trips, job shadowing, and internships with local businesses. The Academies also offer opportunities for industry certification or dual enrollment in local postsecondary institutions.

Tipton County Schools, Dyersburg State Community College, and Unilever

Through a partnership with Unilever and Dyersburg State Community College, high school students in Tipton County, Tennessee have the opportunity to take a special Certified Production Technician course and participate in internships at the local Unilever ice cream plant. The program offers a select group of students a direct pipeline to job opportunities with Unilever after graduation. Students qualify for the program based on their scores on the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) exam.

12 for Life

Southwire, a leading manufacturer of wire and cable, partners with schools in Carrollton, Georgia, and Florence, Alabama, to place at-risk high school students in part-time manufacturing jobs. Participants in the 12 for Life program attend school for part of the day and spend the rest of the day working in a Southwire plant built specifically for student workers. To be eligible for the program, students must have been identified by a graduation coach, counselor, or administrator as needing additional support to complete high school.

Tennessee has already taken several important steps to expand student access to high-quality career exploration and work-based learning experiences. In October 2014, the State Board of Education adopted a Work-Based Learning Framework outlining expectations for work-based learning experiences. The State Board subsequently approved standards for two new courses: a career exploration course for grades 8 and 9 and a career practicum for grades 11 and 12. The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) has produced a Work-Based Learning Policy Guide and separate Implementation Guide, along with a Work-Based Learning Toolbox with numerous supplementary materials. The TDOE is also offering certification training and organizing regional professional learning communities for work-based learning coordinators.

To build upon the work that Tennessee is already doing in the area of work-based learning, state policymakers should consider the following steps:

Conduct rigorous evaluations of the outcomes of school-business partnerships and work-based learning programs in Tennessee. To ensure that work-based experiences are meeting the needs of students, it is important to track both short- and long-term outcomes of programs. Short-term outcomes could include student grades or surveys of student satisfaction, while long-term outcomes should include graduation rates, postsecondary enrollment, and employment outcomes.

Learn from effective school-business partnership programs in other states. Educators and policymakers can contact leaders of programs in other states that have successfully connected students to the workplace. Interactions with these leaders could range from asking for advice to inviting a program to expand its operations to Tennessee.

Explore options for exposing students to work environments beginning in middle school. Research indicates that middle school is a time when many students become disengaged from school. For these students, high school may be too late to begin drawing connections between school and the workplace. Providing career-exploration experiences for middle school students can help them see the relevance of what they are learning so that they will remain engaged and focused on their future. It can also connect them with caring adults beyond their school who can serve as mentors and industry connections. Spark, a nonprofit organization that places underserved 7th and 8th graders into workplace-based apprenticeships, is one example of a program that has succeeded at connecting middle school students to the workplace.

Designing and implementing appropriate work-based experiences for middle and high school students can be challenging, but the growth and interest in youth apprenticeship programs shows that the barriers are not insurmountable. Going forward, Tennessee should work to expand opportunities for students to participate in programs like the ones described here so that all students graduate from high school ready for college and a career.

In the coming weeks, watch for a series of SCORE Sheet posts about schools and businesses across Tennessee that are working together to connect students to the workplace.

4 Education Community Partnerships in Tennessee That Are Working for Students

Normally, when people think of education reform, they think about policies that affect schools and school systems. But everyone has a unique role to play in making sure that students graduate ready for success in college and their career. Communities should look for ways they can use their resources to meet the needs of Tennessee students, whether it be through internships, youth apprenticeship opportunities, after-school programs, contributing technology or school resources, or providing wraparound support to students.

Fortunately, in Tennessee, many schools, business partners, and communities have already begun forming these critical partnerships to raise student achievement. These partnerships support education in a variety of ways, from improving early literacy to developing technical skills in high school students to investing in technology. Here are four examples of community partnerships that are supporting education in Tennessee.


Maplewood Bridgestone

1. Developing Technical Skills: Maplewood-Bridgestone/Firestone Partnership
Maplewood High School in Metro Nashville Public School has developed a community partnership with Bridgestone Americas that is one-of-a-kind in the nation. Maplewood’s has 100 students now running their own Firestone Complete Auto Care center. The proceeds of this auto care center goes back into the program to train, educate, and prepare students for a career in automotive repair, mechanics, and business skills.



2. Increasing Early Grade Literacy: Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and Dollar General’s Literacy Foundation
Both Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and Dollar General Literacy Foundation take important steps to increase early grade literacy in Tennessee. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library gives Tennessee students a free age appropriate book every month until the age of five. Parents just need to sign up online to receive the books.

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation aims to increase access to literacy programs for children and adults and to create models or best practices to increase high school graduation rates through various grant programs. Their grants providing funding for libraries recovering from disasters, summer reading programs, and youth literacy programs. The Dollar General Foundation also donated one million dollars to support the Tennessee Department of Education’s Read to be Ready initiative. Their website contains a listing of grants and grant applications, along with a donations and volunteer finder page.



3. Investing in Technology: Maryville City Schools
Maryville City Schools, a 2015 SCORE Prize finalist district and a 2011 SCORE Prize Winner, created the program iReach, to distribute iPad and Dell laptops to each student in the district along with extending Wi-Fi to across the county. This 2 million dollar initiative was made possible through partnerships with local libraries, higher education partners, and community partner grants.



Collage4. Setting a Regional Focus: The Niswonger Foundation
The Niswonger Foundation, like the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, supports programs in education through grants. But unlike the Dollar General’s Foundation, the Niswonger Foundation narrows its focus to Northeast Tennessee. In doing so, they can highlight and promote best practices, specific to that region. Their two main programs are the School Partnership program and the Niswonger Scholars program. The School Partnership program is specifically designed for the challenges of rural education and looks for ways to prepare high schools students to be college or career ready.  The Niswonger Scholars program provides students college scholarships and also commits them to returning to Northeast Tennessee to work after college graduation.

This is the final post in a series of SCORE Sheet blogs about school-business partnerships in Tennessee that focus on helping students develop skills for postsecondary education and the workforce. Read all the entire series here:


Chamber Programs Help Rutherford County Students Chart Their Career Paths

Students in Rutherford County Schools and Murfreesboro City Schools do not need to wait until high school to begin exploring career possibilities. Students in fourth, fifth, and sixth grades can participate in ACE (After-school Career Exploration), an after-school program coordinated by the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce that educates students about high demand occupations and postsecondary opportunities.

ToolboxUtilizing Junior Achievement’s “It’s My Future” curriculum, volunteers from local businesses and non-profits meet with groups of students once a month for six months to help them learn about different career clusters, career mapping, and job search skills. Other components of ACE include industry speakers and field trips. The industries highlighted during 2014-15 were IT, STEM, Hospitality and Tourism, Health Sciences, Business/Marketing/Entrepreneurship, and Arts and Audio Visual.

By eighth grade, students need to be thinking about which courses they will take in high school. The State of Tennessee requires all high school students to complete at least three credits in a career and technical education (CTE) pathway. (Alternatively, students can complete three credits in ROTC, Fine Arts, or Advanced Placement courses.) Choosing a CTE pathway can be difficult, so Rutherford County schools hold Career Pathway Fairs for eighth-graders before they sign up for their ninth-grade courses. During the fairs, students have the opportunity to meet CTE teachers and students from their zoned high schools as well as local industry representatives. The first Career Pathway Fair was held in May 2014 at Witworth Buchannan Middle School in Murfreesboro. Beth Duffield, Vice President of Workforce Development at the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, says at least four of the county’s 12 middle schools will hold Career Pathway Fairs this coming spring.

For rising seniors in Rutherford County, the High School Internship Program offers a four-week work-based learning experience during summer vacation. Participants work for a local employer for 16 hours each week and also spend four hours per week in a work-based learning workshop. Prior to the start of the internship, students attend eight hours of pre-employment training at the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. Students are paid $10 per hour for the time they spend working, training, and attending workshops. Half of this pay is covered by the employer, while the other half comes from the Chamber of Commerce. During summer 2015, the first year of the program, 20 students were placed in internships with 11 different companies. In summer 2016, the size of the program will increase to 40 students.

This fall, the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce launched the Career Pathways Partnership. The goal of this partnership is to allow businesses to help design CTE programs for Rutherford County’s high schools. So far, the Partnership includes companies in 14 out of 16 CTE pathways. Several pathways have multiple partner companies. One notable CTE program in Rutherford County is the mechatronics program at Oakland High School. Business partners for this program include Nissan and Bridgestone. Students who complete the three-course mechatronics program can continue their studies at Motlow State Community College or Middle Tennessee State University.

For more information about workforce development programs at the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, including ACE, Career Pathway Fairs, and the High School Internship Program, click here.

(Thanks to Beth Duffield for her contribution to this blog post.)

This is the sixth in a series of SCORE Sheet blogs about school-business partnerships in Tennessee that focus on helping students develop skills for postsecondary education and the workforce.

Northwest Tennessee Counties Striving to Be ACT Work Ready Communities

WieldingWhat if high school students and recent graduates could earn a nationally recognized credential demonstrating that they have the literacy and numeracy skills necessary for success in the workplace? What if employers had a way to precisely measure the skills needed for particular jobs and then hire people who possess those skills? What if communities had the workforce data they need to close skills gaps and attract business and industry? In a growing number of communities across the country, the ACT Work Ready Communities initiative, from the makers of the ACT college admissions test, is helping to make this a reality.

Currently 12 Tennessee counties are participating in this initiative. All are located in the Northwest region of the state. Benton, Dyer, Lake, Lauderdale, and Obion Counties are certified ACT Work Ready Communities, and seven other counties in the region are working toward certification.

The cornerstone of ACT Work Ready Communities is the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC). The NCRC is based on ACT WorkKeys assessments of three key work skills: applied mathematics, locating information, and reading for information. There are four different levels of NCRC based on a student’s performance on these assessments:

• Bronze: student scores at Level 3 (out of 7) or higher on all three assessments
• Silver: student scores at Level 4 or higher on all three assessments
• Gold: student scores at Level 5 or higher on all three assessments
• Platinum: student scores at Level 6 or higher on all three assessments

DyerComputersTo prepare for the assessments, students can use an online tool from ACT called Career Ready 101. With this tool, students can take pretests in all three skill areas. Based on how a student performs on the pretests, the program automatically assigns lessons to help him or her improve.

Another key feature of ACT Work Ready Communities is job profiling. Trained job profilers work with employers and employees to develop a detailed list of the tasks involved in a particular job and then link those tasks to ACT WorkKeys skill levels. After going through this process, employers can require applicants to have the level of NCRC that corresponds to the skill demands of the job.

To become a certified ACT Work Ready Community, a county must complete the following steps:

• Fill out an application.
• Assemble a leadership team of diverse stakeholders, such as chambers of commerce, educators, elected officials, and employers.
• Attend the ACT Work Ready Communities Academy, a four-part program that guides the leadership team through implementation of the ACT Work Ready Communities framework.
• Meet goals for the percentage of the workforce with an NCRC. This includes separate goals for current workforce, transitioning workforce (currently unemployed, participating in adult education, or current or recent active duty military), emerging workforce (high school juniors and seniors, college students, and recent graduates).
• Meet goals for employer support.

According to Ginger Powell of the Northwest Tennessee Workforce Board, counties in Northwest Tennessee began offering NCRCs in 2008. At the time, only states were eligible to pursue ACT Work Ready certification. When ACT opened certification to individual counties, Powell says, “It was just a natural thing for us to work to get certified.”

Since 2012, more than 8,000 people in the 12 participating counties have received an NCRC, including more than 2,000 people in the “Emerging Workforce” category. The counties have received pledges of support from over 160 employers and 186 job profiles have been completed. About 30 employers in the area require job applicants to have an NCRC, and many more prefer applicants who have one. The Northwest Tennessee Workforce Board offers the ACT WorkKeys assessments at each of its 11 Career Centers.

“One thing we hear from employers a lot is that they appreciate the fact that an individual took the initiative to earn the credential,” says Powell. “We try to talk to every job seeker who comes in to tell them that it’s an excellent résumé builder.”

To learn more about ACT Work Ready Communities, visit

(Thanks to Ginger Powell for her contribution to this blog post.)

This is the fifth in a series of SCORE Sheet blogs about school-business partnerships in Tennessee that focus on helping students develop skills for postsecondary education and the workforce.

The Academies of Nashville Help Keep Students Learning and Graduating

AcademiesIn 2005, the graduation rate in Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) was just 62 percent. This unacceptably low level of performance led MNPS leaders to search the nation for school redesign models that would help re-engage students in their learning. They eventually decided on a career academy model, which would divide large high schools into smaller career-themed learning communities.

To fund the new model, MNPS applied for and received a federal Smaller Learning Communities grant. In 2007, the Academies of Nashville began operating in eight high schools. By 2010, the model had expanded to all 12 zoned high schools in MNPS.

The Academies of Nashville are structured similarly to a university. Within a university, there are different colleges, and within each college there are different majors. Likewise, each zoned high school in MNPS has multiple academies. Antioch High School, for example, has four academies: the Academy of Automotive Technology and Design, the Tennessee Credit Union Academy of Business and Finance, the Academy of Hospitality and Marketing, and the Academy of Teaching and Services.

Within each academy are multiple pathways, which are similar to college majors. For instance, students in the Academy of Health Management at Cane Ridge High School can choose a pathway in Emergency Services, Healthcare Administration, or Therapeutic Clinical Services. Students complete a minimum of three courses in their pathway while also completing the courses necessary for admission to a college or university. Each student in MNPS is zoned to a high school based on where they live, but students have the option of choosing a different high school if their zoned school does not offer an academy that matches their interests.

The Academies of Nashville experience begins with the Freshman Academy, which gives ninth-graders the opportunity to explore different career options before selecting a career academy. Students in the Freshman Academy attend a Career Exploration Fair and go on a college visit to help them envision a plan for their future. At the end of ninth grade, students decide which career academy they will join for their last three years of high school.
The career academies that 10th-12th graders attend are like schools-within-a-school. Each academy has its own theme, student body, principal, counselor, team of teachers, and network of business and community partners. So far, more than 350 businesses have partnered with the Academies of Nashville. The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce coordinates meetings of industry-specific Partnership Councils that help to design the career pathways offered within each academy.

Academies of Nashville Director Dr. Chaney Mosley says the high degree of engagement with the local business community sets the Academies of Nashville apart from other school systems that have implemented similar models.

Through these business partnerships, the academies are able to offer work-based learning experiences at each grade level and for teachers:

• Sophomores participate in an industry-related field trip to see first-hand what work in a particular industry looks like.
• Juniors engage in a full-day job shadow of a professional in a career they are interested in.
• Seniors complete a capstone experience, such as an internship or service-learning project.
• Teachers complete multi-day externships with business partners over the summer so that they can create learning environments that mirror real world experiences.

Students also have the opportunity to earn college credit and industry credentials while attending the Academies of Nashville. During the 2014-15 school year, students in the Academies of Nashville earned more than 1,250 college credits through Career and Technical Education (CTE) dual-credit and dual-enrollment programs. Nearly 2,500 students took Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams, and 140 students earned industry certifications.Radio Video Greeneville

The Academies of Nashville have received national and international recognition for their achievements. President Obama has used the Academies of Nashville as an example of student success and effective partnerships between schools and businesses, and more than 2,000 people from across the U.S. and foreign countries have visited Nashville to witness these partnerships first-hand.

The success of the Academies of Nashville is borne out in district-level data. Since the academy model was implemented, graduation rates have increased, more students are scoring proficient or advanced on end-of-course exams, and ACT scores have improved. In 2015, the graduation rate in MNPS reached 81.6 percent.

Key community partners of the Academies of Nashville include the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, the PENCIL Foundation, Alignment Nashville, and Ford Next Generation Learning.

To learn more about the Academies of Nashville, you can visit their website and blog. You can also take a virtual tour of each academy on the Academies of Nashville YouTube channel.

(Thanks to Dr. Chaney Mosley and Whitney Weeks for their contributions to this blog post.)

This is the fourth in a series of SCORE Sheet blogs about school-business partnerships in Tennessee that focus on helping students develop skills for postsecondary education and the workforce.