Johnson County Schools received a grant from Kentucky Power of approximately $45,000 for the creation of an educational pathway dedicated to economic development, according to Terry Salyer, coordinator for the pathway.
The funds were distributed as part of the Kentucky Power Economic Growth Grant program, which disburses approximately $720,000 annually in the state for similar projects.
“What we’ve done for the last two years, and Kentucky Power’s supported us, we’re doing a test pilot project in Kentucky and, really, across the country,” Salyer said. “No one offers a pathway for economic development, so, what we’ve done is, Kentucky Power wanted to get into the schools and start to educate some of the students to get them on a path for certification, because there are 20-something unfilled jobs in this field in the state, right now.”
Salyer said the pathway was aimed at providing two base-level classes to begin, including an introduction to entrepreneurship and the essentials of marketing. After completing those two classes, Salyer said, students could branch off into more specific fields, such as information technology, engineering and nursing. According to Salyer, these classes are dual-credit, meaning that completing them applies toward college credit hours as well as their high school curriculum.
“Like I said, nobody in Kentucky’s doing this, so it’s unique,” Salyer said. “There’s two schools in the country that offer a master’s degree in economic development, one’s Murray State University and the other is Southern Mississippi. So, (The Kentucky Department of Education) and Kentucky Power’s thing is, we want to fill that gap.”
Salyer said the first two years of classes in the pathway would be traditional, classroom education, but that the junior and senior years of prospective students in the pathway would be spent completing internships to shadow at local businesses and learn the ins and outs of business in their preferred industries. Salyer said that, thanks to the school’s cooperation with Big Sandy Community and Technical College, students graduating from the program would skip the first four years of “full-time service” required to start classwork for a certification in economic development and have a certificate that would work as a boon for them to start their own businesses or work as an economic developer.
“You have to have four years of full-time service, then you have to take 11 classes of course work, then, at the end, take a certification test,” Salyer said. “But, where they’ve got their four years here, they would immediately be able to go into the classwork towards their certification.”
The pathway is also aimed at addressing the approximately half of students that graduate from college and leave the area to find work, and allowing them a path forward to remain in the area, either as a supporter and developer or as a business owner, according to Salyer.
“Fifty percent of our students leave us, and 50 percent stay here,” Salyer said. “So, what we wanted to address was to allow the path for them, if they want to be certified in economic development, or, the fifty-percent who stay here, they could start businesses of their own.”