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Robbins takes on rare challenge

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Early College and Career Center scheduled to open this fall

By Kelly Cantrall

When most new principals are hired, they walk into a position that comes with an existing student body, staff and building. If it’s a new school, they at least have an existing school model with which to work.

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Dan Robbins has none of those things.

Robbins is principal of the Early College and Career Center in Hardin County Schools. Scheduled to open in August, the school will offer classes within six career pathways and college credit-bearing courses for students enrolled in the three HCS high schools. Students will spend half of their school day at the center.

Until August when students begin entering the brand-new building, next to Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, and begin learning in this new environment, Robbins has a cubicle in the HCS Central Office.

Construction mostly is out of his hands, so he’s working on who will fill the center. Students have begun scheduling classes “which probably takes 95 percent of my time now,” he said.

Instead of scheduling in spring as usual, students are picking classes now so Robbins can determine the necessary level of staffing. Currently, the school has 500 students signed up for courses.

Robbins is pleased with that number — “I said I’ll take whatever we can get” to begin with — but he still is working to increase it by meeting with students at the high schools as well as ensuring eighth-graders are aware of the possibilities available.

A college and career fair for eighth-graders is Dec. 5 at Central Hardin High School. Students will have an opportunity to learn about options at the center, so they can begin taking prerequisites to enter a program there during their junior year.

Because prerequisites are taught at the three high schools, Robbins requires a smaller staff for the center. He expects to need 10 and 12 teachers.

Beyond showing students opportunities, Robbins has had to show them the role the center would play in their high school experience and they will continue to be a Bruin, Bulldog or Trojan.

“Kids I think were worried initially about losing identity, school identity,” he said.

Robbins had to learn how the center will work including the college credit provided through a partnership with Western Kentucky University and ECTC. With it being a new endeavor for HCS, he’s traveled to similar career centers in other districts to see other approaches.

He’s gained insight on issues such as class scheduling and specific programs, but each center works somewhat differently. The HCS center is unique. None are pulling students from three schools to a different location for only part of the school day.

Working on a school without a pre-existing model is “a little scary at times to be honest,” Robbins said. He expects that even after it opens, he and HCS administrators will continue to make changes to its operations.

“This is going to be trial-by-fire a little bit on how we’re doing things,” he said.

But Robbins has found that working toward something new is invigorating. He hopes the center will serve as a motivator for students who feel lost in a traditional school setting.

“You see the excitement in the kids’ eyes when you go and talk to them,” he said.

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