Structure Provides Clarity and Promotes Growth

Germantown High School, Madison, MS
Maplewood High School, Nashville, TN
Northeast High School, St. Petersburg, FL

Organization and Structure is the focus of several National Standards of Practice for Career Academies (NSOP). NSOP 2, Academy Design, outlines the components for effective academy organizational structure including Cross-grade articulation, Cohort scheduling, Physical space, Small size, and Supportive atmosphere. NSOP 4’s emphasis is on the configuration and responsibilities of the teaching team. The importance of organizational structure in the implementation of the academy model cannot be overemphasized. Teams of teachers working across several academic and technical subjects and students grouped in cohorts for these classes provide a framework that makes it easier to facilitate the experiential components like shadowing, community service, mentoring, internships, and apprenticeships.

Implicit in the structure of the model is the clear understanding of roles within the structure, thus eliminating ambiguity for leadership as well as staff.  Principal, Wesley Quick and Academy Principal, Brent Brownlee of Germantown High School, located in Madison, Mississippi, discussed how role definition and structural clarity created the environment for excellence in teaching and learning. “One challenge that we needed to address was our academy teaching team structure.  When the Career Academy concept was first brought to our school the academy teaching and leadership roles were unclear.  There was not a defined Academy Coordinator, Principal, or Teacher Leader. The second issue was that CTE courses were not taught on campus. Roles were vague and communication was inadequate,” Principal Quick recalled.

Under Quick’s leadership, CTE courses were brought to Germantown’s campus. Advisory Boards were set up and a communication strategy was developed so that the Advisory Board members understood the change. “We wanted to make sure the Business partners understood that this move was the best fit for our school and community,” said Quick. At the same time, the school was able to hire an Academy Coordinator and assign a dedicated principal and counselor to the academy. “In fact, one of our inaugural Academy teachers became the Academy principal, solidifying the foundation of our Academy,” Quick remarked. Further, Brownlee and Quick observed that role clarification and defined structure have improved information flow not only among the team but with the community stakeholders as well. Refining the structure and role definition paved the way for Germantown’s Healthcare Academy to achieve “Model” status in 2017.

Structure is also key for creating the “family-like” atmosphere that students often cite as one of the most important features of an academy.  Maplewood High School in Nashville, Tennessee, is home to three National Model Academies: The Academy of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Academy of Energy and Power, and the Academy of Sports Medicine and Wellness. Principal Keely S. Jones Mason says the structure of the academy model—the cohort schedule and teaching team—allows teachers, school staff, and business partners to build positive relationships with students. It also helps students build relationships with other students, often encouraging their peers to stay on task, or apply to college. “The structure creates a family atmosphere,” said Principal Keely S. Jones-Mason. “Some of our business partners contribute to not only the academic and career preparation of our students but, in some severe circumstances, to providing resources to feed and clothe students and their families.”

At least one school has taken advantage of the academy structure to help build leadership capacity among school staff. Mike Hernandez, Principal from Northeast High School in St. Petersburg, Florida explains, “When our academies started, there was one Assistant Principal and one Counselor responsible for all four academies coordination of academy applications, student placement and cohort scheduling, academy events and participation in all the advisory board meetingsthe task was overwhelming.” Northeast High School decided to expand leadership opportunities by enhancing the academy leadership structure. Principal Hernandez places one Assistant Principal, one Counselor, and one Lead Academy Teacher over each of the four academies. “This core team along with the Advisory Board serve as the core decision making body for that academy,” Hernandez explained. The new leadership structure at Northeast High School allows each academy to flourish including the Academy of Finance that achieved Model Status in 2016. Each leadership team focuses on students and growing students towards success. “Teacher Leaders are the critical piece. They must love students, love their craft and be willing to allow students to have ‘Choice and Voice’ in their learning.”

Case Story: 001


These Case Studies were collected at the 2018 NCAC Model Principal Collective, and compiled by Constance Majka (NCAC). The Model Principal Collective was attended by principals of NCAC Model Academies from across the country and sponsored by the Turner Family Foundation, Harold K. L. Castle Foundation, Hawaii USA Credit Union, Deloitte, First Tennessee Bank, and the College and Career Academy Support Network. Thank you to all of our sponsors and the Model Academy Principals who participated and shared with us!