The impact of the new five-district regional iLead Academy is being felt not only by its students but by teachers in their home schools.
Students who applied to the career academy, with its project-based formula heavy on engineering and technology, said they were looking for “something different,” said Henry County Schools Superintendent Tim Abrams, whose district is one of the five joining forces for the Carroll County-based school, which just completed its first year of operation.
Teachers were “shocked” to hear that, he said. “So it sparked interest in our teachers to explore some innovative methods in the classrooms back in the home districts. That’s been exciting.”
Students gather in the lobby area of iLead Academy’s building
before moving into another room for presentations. This view
shows the original storefront use of the site.
The message from students is one of the major “takeaways” from iLead’s first year that just ended, agreed Carroll County Schools Superintendent Bill Hogan. “Students want to do things that are going to help them in what they see as their future life. I think that’s one of my big takeaways – how do we make doing service, doing hands-on … applicable to every kid no matter what pathway they choose. How do we deliver instruction that they see is relevant to them and their aspirations as an adult in a career?”
iLead was launched last year with help from a quarter-million dollar appropriation from the 2014 General Assembly. Besides Henry and Carroll county districts, it includes the Gallatin, Owen and Trimble county systems. Each kicks in $75,000 to support the Academy. Its board comprises the five superintendents. Administratively, it is operated by the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative, which hires its employees, including an on-site director and, this year, two teachers.
The biggest challenges iLead faced in opening were logistical, said Director Larisa McKinney – students were coming from five different school systems, so the academy was working with different school calendars, transportation schedules and high school counselors, with the attendant communication issues. Hogan said hammering out agreements among the five districts was also challenging, but proved, “districts can work together with the mindset that we’re doing what’s best for kids.”
Another first-year glitch involved the online learning management system the Academy used, said Alicia Sells, who works with the school as director of innovation for OVEC. Students now receive their core content through Edgenuity, working on those classes at their own pace.
The school also uses Project Lead the Way’s STEM curriculum as the foundation of its project-based learning, which can also weave in regular subject areas. “You see the kids thinking and processing so much more,” with this format, said teacher Jenna Gray, who handles the PLTW curriculum and acts as a tutor for their online courses.
The goal of iLead is for students to be college and career ready by the end of their sophomore year so they can become full-time students at Jefferson Community and Technical College’s Carrollton campus as juniors and seniors, Sells said. When they graduate, they will have an associate degree and one or more work credentials.
The intent was for the academy to offer engineering and biomedical career pathways through Project Lead the Way, but the initial year focused solely on engineering. As iLead works to become certified in PLTW biomedical, students who are interested in that track will be bused this year to Carroll County High School, which already offers those classes.
“The goal is in the future there will be an iLead biomedical,” McKinney said. Hogan said aerospace – a high-demand field in northern Kentucky – is another possibility.
As for expansion, the new Carrollton campus of Jefferson Community and Technical College is being constructed and iLead’s first cohort of juniors will be attending classes there starting in 2017, McKinney said, adding, “The idea is there would be a wing for our iLead students.”
There will still be a need for a larger space for iLead’s home base as it continues to add cohort classes, but McKinney said plans for a new building are still “up in the air.”
“I’m anxious to see where it goes in the future,” said Abrams, the Henry County superintendent. “I do think it’s a good model for other schools, especially in times when finances are becoming tighter and tighter for all of us: How can we be creative with what we have, and to do some very innovative things?”