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Business Observer Friday, May 6, 2011 10 years ago

Business School

A new magnet school in Orlando will prepare high school students on how to be successful in business. Slated to open in 2012, the school will emphasize entrepreneurship and free enterprise.
by: Dan Ping Editor/Central Florida

Issue. New magnet school in Orlando
Industry. Education
Key. High school students will learn entrepreneurship and business skills.

Students in Orange County will soon have an opportunity to hone their entrepreneurial skills at a high school geared toward business.

The school is a joint venture between Junior Achievement of Central Florida and Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) and will be known as the Junior Achievement Academy for Leadership and Entrepreneurship (JA Academy).

The academy will be located at Oak Ridge High School, an existing high school in Orlando.

Set to open in fall 2012, the JA Academy will be open to incoming freshman. As those students progress into higher grade levels, the program will be expanded with them, eventually becoming a four-year academy.

The academy will initially draw students from those already zoned for Oak Ridge High School. However, the academy will be a magnet school, allowing students throughout Orange County with a talent or interest for business to attend.

The academy will be the first of its kind for Junior Achievement Worldwide, which reaches 9.8 million students in 123 countries around the world.

Junior Achievement of Central Florida and OCPS on April 12 inked a non-binding memorandum of understanding, which outlines in broad details how the school will operate. The two organizations must still hammer out specific details like curriculum, faculty and admission standards.

“We're trying to be very methodical and address all of the issues,” says Craig Polejes, president of Junior Achievement of Central Florida.

Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Ron Blocker says JA will be a full partner with the school system in developing a curriculum that “strengthens the requisite skills needed for success in the 21st century business environment.”

“The JA leadership and I agree that this will be a national model that will trigger similar programs around the nation,” Blocker adds.

In the beginning ...
The idea for the JA Academy began six years ago at a JA of Central Florida board of directors' retreat. Phil Fretwell, managing director of the Orlando office of Protiviti, says the board was developing long-term strategy when he broached the idea of building a school dedicated to Junior Achievement.

“It was way off in left field, that's for sure. We were trying to think in bold terms,” says Fretwell, who is the chair of the JA Academy project. “We didn't know how we would accomplish it, but it continued to be an idea that captured everyone's imagination.”

Fretwell and his colleagues began laying the groundwork to build a school and started raising funds for the project. As the recession hit, fundraising slowed considerably, and the plans for the school were put on hold.

The organization has always been active in Central Florida schools and has 24 JA programs in place throughout the region. So when OCPS officials approached the JA board about joining forces to create a business magnet school, Fretwell's idea went from left field to the on-deck circle.

Orange County schools' officials were interested in a partnership with JA of Central Florida as a way to boost FCAT scores at Oak Ridge High School. The school in recent years has struggled to meet testing standards. The magnet school concept can attract better performing students from other districts, as well as motivate students already zoned for Oak Ridge High School.

A fresh concept
Curriculums focused on science or the arts have been the traditional models for magnet school. A business or entrepreneurial school is a new concept, but one that is needed, according to Polejes.

“Now more than ever, students need the skills we provide - work readiness, entrepreneurialism and financial literacy,” says Polejes. “The school system doesn't have the time or resources to provide that education, so that's where JA comes in.”

Polejes says some students who participate in the program may not go on to own their own business, but they will learn how to be a good employee by learning skills such as effective communication, interpersonal skills and teamwork.

“If we can graduate students who know how to manage credit and have the appropriate skills to enter the workforce, then we will have benefited the community,” Polejes says.
Fretwell says the JA Academy is needed to provide lessons that are hard to learn from a textbook. “It's difficult to teach leadership, but it is very easy to see it in action,” says Fretwell.

Recruiting business leaders to interact with students by teaching classes, sharing their experiences or guiding student projects allows students to see first-hand what it takes to be a leaders, Fretwell adds.

Great expectations
Polejes is quick to point out that the goal of the JA Academy is not to develop 200 new hedge fund managers or the next Warren Buffett, though Fretwell says that wouldn't be a bad thing. “I think a reasonable goal would be to develop graduates who demonstrate the have the ethics, integrity and the skills to be successful in business,” says Fretwell.

For many students, the academy will serve as a stepping stone to business-related degrees in accounting or finance at the collegiate level. For others, the school can launch young entrepreneurs.

“These kids will have enough skills to start a business right out of high school,” Fretwell says. “They'll know marketing, they'll know accounting, and they'll know how to bring a product or service to market.”

Specific class offerings have yet to be developed. The JA Advisory Board, ORPS administrators and Oak Ridge High School faculty will work together to develop the curriculum. All parties agree that the classes will be geared to teach entrepreneurship, accountability, ethics, free enterprise, leadership, social and individual responsibility, democracy and service.

Students will be required to participate in job and college shadowing experiences, as well as complete a minimum of 75 community service hours during their high school career.
There will also be opportunities to take part in executive internships with business leaders in the Central Florida community.

Of course, students will have to complete all core curriculum classes in English, foreign languages and other subjects as outlined by state and local requirements.

And it's not just the students who must commit to the JA Academy. Polejes says parents will be required to participate in the program, too. Specific details or parental involvement are still being worked out.

Finding funding
The JA Academy will be funded by state and local dollars like all other Orange County schools. In 2010, Orange County spent just more than $9,000 per student.

Polejes says the JA Academy board will be responsible for raising funds in the business community for items or services that enrich the curriculum, which could include tablet computers, field trips or guest teachers. In addition, privately raised monies will be used to determine how successful the academy is.

“What are the ideal tools, techniques and technologies that will make this a world-class school?” Fretwell asks. “Those are the things our local business leaders can help us provide for the academy.”

How much private money will be needed has yet to be determined. Polejes notes that early efforts by the JA board to raise money to build an independent business high school netted about $400,000 in pledges. Once a formal agreement is reached with OCPS, Polejes will present the details of the joint venture to those donors and ask them to honor their pledge.

The biggest challenge facing the JA Academy is working out all of the specifics. How students will be selected for the program, what courses will be offered, how volunteers from the business community will be utilized and how much private fund-raising will be needed are just a few of the details to be established.

And with the JA Academy being the first of its kind, there is pressure to succeed.

“I definitely feel under the microscope,” says Polejes. “There is no instruction manual on how to do this.”

The History

This is not the first partnership between Junior Achievement and Orange County Public Schools (OCPS). Orlando schools served as one of the early test sites when Junior Achievement launched its first in-school program in 1974. Until that point, Junior Achievement was an after-school program.

Blocker notes that JA of Central Florida is “the one organization that marries the business community with public education for the purpose of advancing the principles of economics and finance.”

Junior Achievement has been in Central Florida schools for 50 years. The program is the eighth largest in the world and has some 3,970 volunteers working with 84,000 students in 4,300 classes across Orange, Seminole, Lake, Osceola and Volusia counties.

Founded in 1919 by Horace Moses, Junior Achievement is a non-profit youth organization dedicated to teaching students in K-12 about the free enterprise system. The organization relies on volunteers from the business community to teach students about entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy.

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