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Benson High School will become a Career Academy

From the Omaha World Herald, March 17, 2015

A proposal to convert Benson High School into Omaha Public Schools’ only solely career academy cleared a major hurdle Monday night, as the school board unanimously approved the plan and its $1.8 million price tag.

The approval capped months of work by Benson staff members, alumni and community members to create a plan that would inject new life into Benson, which has struggled to attract students in recent years.

Preliminary fall enrollment numbers show the career academy concept might already be creating interest among parents and students. Benson’s freshman class next fall is projected to be its largest in five years.

"This is the beginning of a wave across the country, the rejuvenation of career readiness and job training," Benson Principal Anita Harkins said. "Benson is poised to become a model for urban education."

Benson will become the district’s first totally career-oriented high school since Tech High closed in 1984. It would replicate a model that’s been successful at boosting graduation rates and attendance in cities such as Nashville and Philadelphia.

Career academies are a new twist on traditional vocational schools, emphasizing job training and opportunities to earn college credit.

At Benson, freshmen will be divided into teams and take the majority of their core classes in that team. By sophomore year, every student would enter one of three career academies: business and entrepreneurship; health professions; or construction and design.

Each academy would contain multiple pathways, opportunities to earn college credit or industry certifications and input from local businesses and employers.

Students will learn either how to get a job right out of high school or how to pursue a two- or four-year degree in a certain field if college is the ultimate goal.

As an example, students entering the construction and design academy could take classes in graphic design, business management, or enter an electrical apprentice program.

While every student will have to pick one of three academies, they still will take regular classes such as English, math and history and have access to honors and Advanced Placement classes. In each academy, traditional instruction will be infused with real-world applications — math and English classes, for example, could include a health or medical bent.

At recent parent-student open houses, parents appreciated that flexibility but also liked the whole-school approach, Harkins said in an interview last week.

"A lot of parents were excited this is inclusive of all kids. This isn’t just a school-within-a-school. Everybody’s in."

Teachers will have a common planning time and teams will meet daily to discuss a common theme, such as discipline problems or literacy strategies.

Benson officials said they need $1.8 million and a full six-year commitment from the OPS school board and administration to get the career academies off the ground. That price tag includes teacher training, eight new hires and other start-up costs.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1210, 

For more information see


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