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Career center coming

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HCS plans facility team effort with WKU, ECTC, foundation

By Kelly Cantrall

In 2007, when Western Kentucky University acquired land next to Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, WKU President Gary Ransdell said he and university officials were ready to bring another postsecondary facility to Hardin County.

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But 2008 arrived and “we all learned how to spell ‘recession,’” he said. The university’s plan to increase degree productivity in the area was put aside, but he didn’t want to wait years before the General Assembly was willing to approve capital projects.

“We didn’t want to be that patient,” he said.

A unique partnership with Hardin County Schools now has brought that goal in line with HCS officials’ dream.

During a news conference at HCS Central Office, Hardin County Schools announced Thursday a partnership with WKU, ECTC and Central Kentucky Community Foundation that will lead to an early college and career center in the district.

WKU will deed to the school district 20 acres of land originally given to them by CKCF to serve as the site of the center. That transfer is expected to happen today at a Board of Regents meeting.

The land is next to ECTC on University Drive, and the higher education institutions will serve HCS students through dual credit and early college enrollment opportunities.

Superintendent Nannette Johnston said she hopes the center will open as early as August 2014, depending on approval for the plan by the Kentucky Department of Education. She hopes ground can be broken on the project by May.

The center is expected to be around 60,000 square feet.

The news conference followed a special HCS board meeting in which the board approved the acceptance of the land, which is being sold to HCS for $1. Board Chairwoman Kay Sharon expressed excitement once the board unanimously voted for the gift.

“What a wonderful day this is for our school district,” Sharon said.

Johnstonsaid she couldn’t recall being prouder as a member of the district. Johnston discussed what she called an “opportunity gap” in the area, where businesses are struggling to find qualified workers. She and others in the district have been working to find a way to close that gap and have students ready to work, or enter college, at graduation.

“We are poised and we are positioned to be the difference in Hardin County,” she said.

Juniors and seniors of the district’s three high schools can spend about half of the day at the career center. They can enter one of six career pathways — health science, engineering, manufacturing, automotive technology, media arts and communication, and hospitality services — that will earn them a certification at graduation.

Students also will be able to enroll at ECTC or WKU, or possibly both, and earn college credit through courses offered by those institutions. The proximity allows students to attend class across ECTC’s campus, and WKU has offered to share faculty and design its own courses.

HCS also is forming an advisory council of community members who will guide the programs at the center, to respond to the needs of local business.

Ransdell said at the news conference he could see the center becoming a model for similar facilities in the state.

“I love being part of something innovative,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson echoed those sentiments Thursday as he talked about the efforts by those involved in the project.

“Because what’s going on here is probably the most dynamic education partnership in the commonwealth,” he said.

CKCF President and CEO Al Rider said in an HCS news release, “This endeavor is a wonderful example of synergy. None of us — Central Kentucky Community Foundation, Hardin County Schools, Western Kentucky University or Elizabethtown Community and Technical College — could make this opportunity happen alone.”

All parties are after the same goal.

“We are all wanting to achieve the same thing for education in Hardin County,” Rider said.

Kelly Cantrall can be reached at (270) 505-1747 or kcantrall@thenewsenterprise.com.

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