Start High School sophomore Faith Brown knew she was interested in studying mechanics even before high school, but a field trip three years ago to Toledo Public Schools Aviation Center inspired her to make it a career.
“I didn’t know I could be working on airplanes,” she said. “When I came here in eighth grade I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is what I want to do.’”
Faith, now 15 and taking courses at the TPS Aviation Center, is one of roughly 300 high school students who will enroll in the district’s new Aerospace and Natural Science Academy of Toledo when it opens in the fall of 2018. It’s aimed at students across the region interested in aviation, environmental science, sustainability, and wildlife management, and will help them work toward employment or advanced degrees in those fields.
Officials from TPS announced the new academy on Wednesday, flanked by planes at the Toledo Express Airport. Representatives from Owens Community College, Bowling Green State University, and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority — all partners in the new initiative — also spoke.
Students currently enrolled at TPS’ Aviation Center and the Natural Science Technology Center have a split schedule. Part of their day is spent at their home high school, and the remainder is spent at their respective centers, where their specialty classes are offered. The new academy will allow students to take all their classes on one campus, rather than busing back and forth.
Aviation maintenance technology instructor Brad McDonald, who also is a candidate for the Washington Local school board, said creating a high school with an aviation focus makes sense because of the industry need.
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts overall employment for aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians will grow 5 percent from 2016 to 2026. But Mr. McDonald said the need for certified technicians will grow even faster as baby boomers retire. About 35 percent of licensed technicians are 61 or older. 45 percent are age 50-60, and less than two percent are between the ages of 18 and 30, he said.
“The industry is growing. We need the people to fill those gaps, and that’s why this makes perfect sense,” he said.
TPS Superintendent Romules Durant said students studying natural sciences are also filling a need, particularly if they stay in northwest Ohio after they graduate. They’ll learn about small animal management, urban agriculture, natural resources, and environmental sustainability.
“Every year in August and September we talk about the algae bloom,” he said. “The kids in this school will become the solution to that issue.”
Students who enroll in the College Credit Plus program while at the academy can earn an associate degree through Owens and then have the opportunity to transfer to BGSU to earn a bachelor’s degree two years out of high school. Mr. Durant said his goal is for 90 percent or more of the district’s career technology students to secure a job, military assignment, or higher education when they graduate from TPS. Right now that number is about 75 percent.
The academy will be located at Toledo Express Airport in the building that used to house the Flight Safety International pilot training program. The Port Authority owns the building and will lease the building to TPS, Port Authority board chairman Jim Tuschman said.
The lease’s terms have yet to be finalized, but the current proposal includes a 10-year lease with zero rent for TPS for the first six years. TPS has budgeted about $4.6 million in capital funds to remodel and equip the building for use as the new academy.
Districts officials as of Wednesday did not have an operating cost for the new academy because they are still finalizing staffing needs.
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