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Marion Prep Academy to jumpstart high school for junior high students

BY HEATHER COX - hcox@chronicle-tribune.com

McCulloch Junior High School will have new opportunities for students next year with the brand-new “Marion Prep Academy” program.

Marion Community Schools Superintendent Brad Lindsay said students will have more electives to choose from than ever before and will be able to earn more high school credits. Community and local industries will have representatives in the junior high for college and career programs as well, he said.

The idea is that students will be able to discover their passion and interests before reaching high school, Lindsay said, and will be able to complete much of their core high school credits before reaching high school. That way, by their junior or senior year of high school, they’ll be able to enroll in classes specific to their interests.

Seventh graders will have the chance to take classes like environmental science or get involved with Project Lead the Way and take engineering or computer science courses.

Eighth graders will be able to take honors English for high school credit, integrated chemistry and physics, freshman year social studies, history and geography of the world, Lindsay said. Students will also have the opportunity to take personal finance, he said, and college and career tech classes.

“We want school to become a place where students love to come,” Lindsay said.

Marion Teachers Association President Scott Simpson said the changes at McCulloch are in line with state efforts to revamp graduation pathways. Simpson said the schools used to introduce different selections in the career center during the sophomore year of high school. Now that introduction will happen much earlier. 

When ninth grade students come into Simpson's classroom, he asks what careers they're interested in and he often hears students mention doctor, lawyer or professional athlete. Students aren't always aware what kinds of careers are out there, he said, so this will open up a lot of eyes to what careers are available and what they’re capable of doing.

As for the Prep Academy's impact on staff at McCulloch, Lindsay said they’ve been working in focus groups throughout the year trying to figure out how to offer more electives and prepare junior high students for high school and beyond. They wanted to figure out how to "raise the game," he said.

Simpson said this restructuring will put teachers in areas of strength. For example, the teachers who will be teaching college and career courses are well versed in that area and the science teachers will be able to add robotics and other new aspects to their curriculum making things come alive for students.

“We’ll still have ILEARN and all that type of stuff but when they get to teach their passion, students learn a lot better,” Simpson said. “So I think we’re going to see great things come out of the whole thing, staff and student wise.”

In regard to concerns on social media about a reduction in staff next year, Lindsay said any cuts will be the result of natural attrition. As staff members retire or resign there may not be someone hired in their place.

Through reshaping the master schedule and how the roster looks at the school, Lindsay said they will not be rehiring every position, but could hire in other areas where there is a gap in strength.

“We always want to plan to seize opportunities for our students, we want to provide offerings (so) that our students have a menu of choices … what we’re doing with this vision in some places we’ll continue to make hires, and in other places we can reshape staff and make it happen for our students,” he said.

A reduction in force is a possibility, he said, but they haven’t yet initiated a reduction in force.

“The state controls the purse strings, sometimes you can’t do everything you want to do. Like Brad said, we’re going to make the best happen for the students with the staff we have,” Simpson said.

To learn more about the new opportunities which will be offered starting next school year at the junior high, McCulloch will be hosting families with current MCS students, anyone considering enrolling at the junior high or community members who want to learn about the program on Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m.

Teachers, administrators and coaches will be available to answer questions.