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SHS preparing for classes at new Kirkwood center

Johnson County site to open in fall 2015

SOLON– Preparations are in the works for a project that will have a big impact on Solon High School in the fall of 2015, and it’s not an auditorium.
The Kirkwood Regional Center at the University of Iowa is scheduled to open in Johnson County next fall, and Solon school staff is working to develop a plan for the long-range partnership.
The regional academy, located on the Oakdale campus of the University of Iowa, will be operated by Kirkwood Community College in cooperation with Workplace Learning Connection, the University of Iowa and five area high schools (Clear Creek Amana, West Branch, Tipton, Iowa City and Solon) offering high school and college credit courses, career counseling and continuing education programs.
At a Dec. 8 meeting, Solon High School Principal Nathan Wear gave school board members a brief overview of classes the new regional center might offer Solon students, and how those classes will fit with the rest of the school day.
Solon was one of many districts to phase out traditional industrial arts programs at the high school level, focusing instead on the development of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum.
The regional center is expected to offer traditional wood and metal shop classes for freshmen and sophomores, while juniors and seniors will be able to explore a number of diverse career-based academies (a series of classes designed to be taken consecutively over the course of a school year, for which students receive both high school and college credit).
But which academies will be offered to Solon students will determined by school staff, Wear told board members.
“We’ve been meeting for four years since I’ve been here about getting this up and going,” Wear said as he reviewed a list of potential courses with the school board. “This is in very draft-stages at this point.”
The list includes subjects in which partnering school districts are interested, he said, from Advanced Manufacturing and Agricultural Science to Patient Care and Pharmacy Technician.
“We’re all trying to be consistent,” Wear said of the collaborating school districts.
The Kirkwood center is not designed to replace existing classroom teachers, he said, so if Solon already offers Introduction to Business, it’s not likely the school will make the Kirkwood Business Academy available.
Solon staff is now considering how to merge and align with the academies, deciding internally what academies will be offered, Wear said. Those decisions will be communicated to Kirkwood and the community college will create a program of study detailing the offerings which will be provided to Solon students in spring when registration begins for the fall 2015 semester.
Additional high school level classes will also be available through the center, but Wear said those are not likely to impact Solon because of the district’s proximity to the new center.
“Our schedule’s going to allow our kids to take the academy class and then come back to be here for blocks two, three and four,” Wear said.
A draft of a sample daily schedule would have students attending the academies either first thing in the morning or during the last block of the day.
“They would have that one time in their day all year long to be able to take these courses,” Wear said.
School board member Dean Martin questioned whether there would be more offerings related to industrial arts.
“One of the things when we cut back on our own was the promise of the regional academy coming and having more offerings,” Martin said. “A lot of good offerings here, but not a lot geared toward industrial technology.”
Wear said both the Advanced Manufacturing and Agricultural Science academies would offer opportunities not available at Solon. He noted a significant portion of the center’s building is expected to be dedicated to industrial technologies like welding, machining and automotive labs.
In addition, Solon is currently hosting one of the academies– ACE (Architecture Construction Engineering)– at the middle school, drawing students from West Branch and Iowa City.
The district expects to provide transportation to the academy when it opens in the fall, but Wear indicated details will be ironed out after students register for classes.
“We need to look at this as just another route for us,” Wear told board members.
Board members were encouraged to ask questions prior to January, when the regional center is expected to be discussed again.