Guilford County Schools to launch 6 pilot signature academies next year

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Big changes are coming to Guilford County Schools. Specialized learning groups, called academies, will be coming to six campuses.

The pilot academies are going to be focused on specialized subjects like biomedical sciences and engineering.

It took three months of planning and there are still some unanswered questions, like how students from across the county will get to each school.

“The hope is we’ll be able to offer students access to all of the choice schools in the near future,” said Dr. Kathleen Dawson, the chief innovation officer for Guilford County Schools.

There was a heated debate when deciding on the six academies at high school campuses in the county at the school board meeting Thursday night.

The board voted to test out the academies at Smith, Southeast, Northeast, Kearns, Western and Academy at Smith high schools.

“I wish we could take a little more time. Dot our Is and cross our Ts and make sure we’re getting it done right,” said Linda Welborn, the District 4 Representative for the Guilford County School Board.

Welborn was the only member of the board to vote against the academies, pointing out that the lack of transportation to the six schools prevents some students from taking advantage of the specialized learning programs.

“Everyone knows if we can’t provide transportation it becomes an equity issue. That’s the whole reason we provide transportation for our magnets, because everyone can’t get to that particular magnet if they don’t have transportation,” she said. “Everyone does not have a parent who has the time or finances to have a car and transport them.”

Dawson, who is leading the program for Guilford County Schools, admits that not every student will get to enroll if they can’t find their own transportation.

“So for those who have access, they will be able to attend,” she said. “But those who don’t, at this time, it won’t be a choice for them unfortunately.”

Dawson says the school district is working on a way to change that.

“The district is collaborating with the cities of Greensboro and High Point to see how we can partner with them to have their systems be able to offer our high school students’ routes to take them to school,” Dawson said.

Welborn believes this is just one sign the school system is moving too fast on such a big project.

“There is huge momentum to get more kids graduating and into career technical education and I’m all for it,” she said. “We can make this happen, I just don’t know if we can make it happen quickly.”