Lee County and Oxford School Districts Creating New Classrooms for CTE Programs
A rendering developed by PryorMorrow architects shows a visualization of the new Lee County Schools (LCS) career and technical center. The facility is expected to open for the 2021-2022 academic year.
A PryorMorrow floor plan for the new LCS building shows the facility's proposed layout.
A new facility for Oxford High School’s (OHS's) fine arts programs will open for the 2020-2021 academic year. Its construction will allow administrators to free up space for new career and technical programs ahead of a move to the career academy system and construction of a new skills-trade facility.
Photo by Rebekah Flake
An aerial shot shows construction progress of the new OHS fine arts building.
Photo by Rebekah Flake
Construction projects at Lee County Schools (LCS) and the Oxford School District (OSD) will provide new career and technical education (CTE) opportunities and physical space for their respective students in the near future.
The LCS project will develop a new, 34,000-square-foot CTE center administrators hope will help seed a new industrial park in the area and provide a metaphorical and physical pathway from the classroom to the workforce for students, while a new fine arts facility at Oxford High School (OHS) will allow educators to free up existing high school space for new offerings aligned with its move to the career academy system and its long-term student achievement program, Portrait of a Graduate.
The LCS center is expected to open for the 2021-2022 academic year. While OSD is early in the process of designing and planning a new skills-trades facility for its students, an expected construction date was not yet set this spring. The OHS fine arts facility, however, will open for the 2020-2021 school year, meaning new physical space and CTE offerings will be available immediately for students.
“Communities investing in their school systems — specifically by growing CTE opportunities for their students — is a wonderful sight,” said Aimee Brown, the director of the Mississippi Department of Education’s (MDE's) Office of CTE. “Everyone involved — from the residents who support the construction projects to the administrators seeing implementation of new programs through — deserves to be commended.”
Seeding the Hive
LSC educators and economic developers have high hopes for the school district’s new CTE facility. Not only will it provide a direct pathway to joining the job market, but that pathway could also be a literal one that stretches from the building to new industrial park tenants whom developers hope the CTE center will bring to the area.
The facility will be the first permanent tenant at the Hive — a new 16.9-acre industrial park owned by the Community Development Foundation and located on Mississippi Highway 6 outside of Tupelo. The project became a reality after Lee County voters approved a $15 million bond issue in early 2020 and is estimated to cost about $10 million.
Current plans call for five separate classrooms and four shop spaces with their own classroom spaces. Eight programs will inhabit the new center: advanced manufacturing, agriculture and natural resources, construction/carpentry, culinary, health science, information technology, Teacher Academy and transportation, distribution and logistics.
For years, LCS students taking CTE classes have lacked a centralized spot on district soil for their specialized education. Currently, about 85 students attend programs at schools in Okolona and Baldwyn, while only four programs are housed at the district’s high schools. Those four programs will move to the new center, where LCS CTE Director Amy Johnson said almost 300 students will be enrolled at any given time.
“We have always wanted a place where our students could all stay in the county and be together,” she said. “This also is going to be a great bridge for our students, especially when industry comes into the park. They’ll be right there, and we can hopefully be able to point to them and tell our students, ‘They’re here because of you, and you’re here because of them.’”
Need Drives Expansion in Oxford
Steve Hurdle, the director of CTE and principal of the Scholastic Institute at OSD, says the obvious need for expansion is driving construction of educational facilities in his community.
“If you look around at every sector — and that’s the local, state and national — workforce development has become the focal point. We, as a district, went through a strategic planning process where we developed our Portrait of a Graduate,” he said. “It established things our community and stakeholders said matter to us. We started talking about all of our instructional models, and CTE became one that was identified pretty quickly as an important component in which we needed to grow.”
Just like LCS, many OSD high school students travel to a partnership school — the Oxford-Lafayette School of Applied Technology — for their CTE education, as OHS only offered business fundamentals and TV broadcast and production classes in the 2019-2020 academic year.
After obtaining District of Innovation status, Hurdle said OSD administrators began planning new CTE classes to complement future instruction before the district transitions to the career academy model. Once visual arts and music-related instruction transitions to the new fine arts facility, the school will offer engineering, work-based learning, sports medicine, culinary arts and a keystone program (ninth grade). A horticulture program will come online in the future once a greenhouse is constructed.
“What we did this year was identify which programs we thought we should offer. We looked at best practices and the labor markets from the Mississippi Department of Economic Security, had conversations with leaders and teachers at Northwest Community College and looked at student interest and career interest surveys,” Hurdle said. “The addition of these programs — along with the addition of a student services coordinator and CTE counselor — will allow us to become a full CTE center at the Oxford High campus.”
Construction on OSD’s new skills-trade facility — an estimated $3.5 million building that is expected to have three classrooms and three shop spaces — is expected to begin once funding is in place after the local school board approved bid-seeking processes for design and building efforts earlier in the academic year.