Educated Workforce in Jackson County

Chipola College’s wide variety of offerings, including four-year bachelor’s degrees, provides quality options for area students.

Photo courtesy Chipola College

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Jackson County’s students — secondary and post-secondary — enjoy tremendous opportunities, some of which are rare for rural communities. High school students have a public school system with a high B average from the state (all area schools received either an A or a B in 2012). Those who aspire to seek higher education can choose between two institutions of higher learning that differ in focus, but have the common denominator of success: Chipola College and Baptist College of Florida.

Jackson County Public Schools

Education in the state of Florida has recently faced much scrutiny, spurring statewide efforts for standardization and improved performance. Jackson County’s public schools already have a head start in performance; most area schools earned an A grade in 2012, and the average is a high B. No school in the district received below a B.

“The biggest push in Jackson County is just to provide the highest quality education we can within the guidelines given,” said Larry Moore, deputy superintendent and director of human resources for the Jackson County School Board. 

There are changes being made statewide as to how information is delivered to students and how those students’ knowledge is ultimately tested. Like in every district, Jackson County schools are beginning to implement these changes. Common core standards, for instance, comprise a different method of instruction developed by governors and commissioners of education from 40 different states. 

“It’s basically a different method of delivery for instruction,” explained Moore. “It really doesn’t change the content … It really just changes the method of delivery.”

There is also a new teacher evaluation instrument, which (among other things) instructs that teachers’ annual evaluations are to be based at least 50 percent on student performance throughout the school year and on standardized tests. Next year, that instrument will apply to administrators, too.

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) is also slowly on its way out, says Moore, as end-of-course exams replace the standardized test. These comprehensive exams will enforce an educational standard statewide, with tests in various subject areas.

Moore cites a close relationship between the school board and the teachers’ union as one important factor to the county schools’ success. “We have a really good working relationship with our teachers’ union, the Jackson County Educators Association. And there’s a cooperative effort on the part of the JCEA leadership and our administration to keep teachers informed of current issues and requirements. We’ve been fortunate in that regard.”

Graduating seniors in Jackson County have a choice of two colleges without leaving home — a rare opportunity for small, rural communities. Chipola College and Florida Baptist College each have their own specific niche but also seek to be as inclusive as possible while providing a supportive environment for students’ success.

Chipola College

“Chipola’s mission is to provide accessible, affordable, quality educational opportunities to all who choose to attend,” said Gene Prough, president of the state college. 

Chipola is the third smallest and third oldest school in the Florida college system and was also one of the first three community colleges in Florida to begin offering bachelor’s degrees in 2003. The college now offers Bachelor of Science, Associate in Arts and Associate in Science degrees (with 40 programs total), as well as workforce development programs.

The majority of Chipola students pursue Associate in Arts degrees, transferring to universities like Florida State University and the University of Florida as juniors after two years. Chipola proudly prepares these students for university education, and that preparation pays off.

“On average, students who start at Chipola do better at the university than students who start at the university,” noted Prough, who largely attributes this success to the high percentage of full-time faculty compared to adjuncts, in combination with an inclusive philosophy that works with students as individuals to help them achieve their academic goals. “We don’t ask students to fit our mold; instead, we stretch and change to accommodate them without compromising academic standards,” he explained. 

Such support systems as the ACE lab (which, Prough said, significantly improved Chipola graduation rates), offer students free peer tutoring, test reviews and supplemental instruction for high-risk courses, further promoting student success.

Students emerge from Chipola amply prepared for the workforce; the teacher education programs have nearly a 100 percent placement rate, and the others are not too far behind. Such success certainly comes from hard work but also from close collaboration with the area workforce board. Chipola participates in the annual regional career fair sponsored by the workforce board, and one of the school administrators serves as a member. 

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