The Academic Houses at Starkville High School

The Academic Houses at Starkville High School (Starkville Oktibbeha Public Schools) with Black Girls Rock of MS, Inc., Dunkington Art & Jewelry, Mississippi State University Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach, The Greater Starkville Development Partnership, Backstage Music, Academies of Grand Island Senior High School, National Career Academy Coalition, MDE Career Academy Initiative, Mississippi State University College of Education, Mississippi State University Department of Sustainable Bioproducts, Starkville Utilities, Mississippi State University Department of Mechanical Engineering, and WCBI-TV. After developing the strategic plan to focus on taking our career academies to the next level, the school started to truly transform into the school physically, operationally, and emotionally.

Starkville High School is located in a college town where demographics are diverse, expectations are high, and community is everything. In 2015 there was a Department of Justice consolidation of the Oktibbeha County schools and the Starkville City schools which led to a great deal of change and new conversations regarding helping all students become college and career ready. In 2017 our district and building level administrative teams, along with the Starkville business community, determined that career academies could be the solution to many of our struggles. Over the last four years Starkville High School has made small modifications such as adding a freshman focus course and grouping teachers to begin the career academy process. As we started the 2021 - 2022 school year, we jumped in head first, and we are now considered the first “wall-to-wall” career academy school in Mississippi.

This year The Academic Houses at Starkville High School had qualitative data from students, staff, and family members that identified they did not understand what the Academic Houses were or how they were helping students. Our graduation rates and state test benchmark data showed that we were improving, but still needed to make some significant gains for our students. The building administrative team used that data to develop their strategic plan for the school year including adding a building goal of increasing community involvement and partnerships by 10%. Our students were still missing that real-life connection to their future career(s) and the relationships from our small learning communities. After developing the strategic plan to focus on taking our career academies to the next level, the school started to truly transform into the Academic Houses physically, operationally, and emotionally.

The purchase of three new giant House flags set the stage and tone for the school year. They stand outside the front of the building and spark conversations with students, parents, and community members about the work that is being done within the school. Each Academic House has its own logo and colors which are used in emails, documents, and decoration throughout the building. Teacher classrooms have been organized so that each hallway in the building is dedicated to only teachers of that Academic House. Offices of counselors and House principals have also been moved into those specific hallways so they are easily accessible.

One of the largest changes this year came from how we updated operations to fit the National Career Academy Coalition (NCAC) National Standards of Practice (NSOPs). The assistant principal role changed into House principals, leading each House of teachers and students with instruction, accountability, discipline, and building operations. Our building level principal shifted to Executive principal: He oversees the entire building, supports the House principals, and trains the administrative team. Students were given another chance, through a survey, to select which Academic House they wanted to be in and that best connected to their future plan(s). Teachers began attending monthly Academic House professional learning community (PLC) meetings as well as attending professional development sessions about the NSOPs, the history of career academies, and brainstorming ways to connect with community partners. As. the conversation started around scheduling for the next school year, the administrative team determined that the next step was cohorting our students based on their Academic House and increasing work based learning, internship, and job shadowing opportunities. The administrative team and counselors met with
our partner, the career academy initiative at MDE to develop a plan to reimage our building, courses, expectations, and career focused opportunities. The counseling team overhauled the scheduling
documents and started meeting with students one on one to ensure they were being scheduled for the courses they needed to graduate, they were scheduled within their pathway cohort, and they were given the same information about work based learning, advanced placement, and dual enrollment opportunities. The district approved a new Academic House Coach position to facilitate working with community partners, training a group of student ambassadors, and organizing work based learning/internship/job shadowing opportunities with those partners.

Finally the largest transformation this year has been the emotional connection to our career academy goals and our community partners. The House principals have been out of the building meeting owners, managers, and directors of local businesses and organizations. We have welcomed these potential partners into our school to observe, share, and teach. Students have been excited to hear about each new partner who has joined their House, looking forward to the cool projects and real life connections in their
classes. Teachers have been refreshed with creating more project based learning opportunities with our partners and facilitating learning rather than presenting information block after block. Student centered has been a focus in education for a while, but it has only been connected to their academics. This is a whole new way of tailoring a public school education to the goals and dreams of each student. They will be in classes with students who have similar goals and can begin to network with our community partners. This is not one event we did with a community member; it’s a life changing overhaul for our school and the community that surrounds it. Our students will become the next leaders of this community, and it won’t happen years after they graduate; they will get the academics, training, and hands-on experience with local professionals the first day they step on campus.