In response to what the Chamber of Commerce of Southern Minnesota sees as “skill-gap issues” in today’s workforce, the organization is spearheading efforts to open the first Regional High School and Corporate University.

Brad Berg, CEO, said the university component of the school will target out-of-work adults who need short-term training to learn a specific skill, such as welding, to work in the manufacturing industry. Or, another job-specific skill that Taylor Corp., for example, has had a problem finding in workers is keyboarding, Berg said.

 “(The school) will really help,” he said. “I’ve talked with so many businesses, and it’s amazing the skill-gap issues with a lot of the manufacturers.”

The university will be corporate-sponsored, although none has officially signed on yet.

The high school — which will be modeled in part after the New Country School in Henderson but with a “business twist” — will focus on hands-on lessons for alternative learners.

As a charter school, the school’s per-pupil funding would come from the state, following those students from whatever district they are currently in.

 The students, who might not have plans to go to a two- or four-year college, will be offered skill-based courses to prepare them for various vocations. And they’ll be taught interpersonal communication, problem-solving and value-driven motivation skills, Berg said.

The campus will use various teaching models, including online courses, flipped classrooms, experiential learning and manufacturing labs.

“We need to reposition our educational system to deliver the right combination of technical and academic education,” Berg said in a statement.

The school will be housed in the Waldorf school building, which has been vacant for two years. The Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton school district recently approved the sale of the building to the chamber for $1, said Supt. Dick Orcutt.

“Hopefully this is going to be a situation that is going to bring back some life to that building,” Orcutt said.

Within the next six months, Berg said he expects courses to be offered to adults. The high school component is expected to be up and running by fall 2013, although they are still in the early stages of the application process to the Department of Education, with New Country assisting. Berg said the process could take a year.

He expects about 100 students to attend the first year.

Berg said there are various alternative schools students could attend closer to their own homes, but they tend to focus on tests and lecture-based learning, he said.

“When we surveyed students, they said they best learn by hands-on learning,” Berg said. “They learn calculus, but they don’t know how to balance a checkbook.”

Students from across the region will be invited to enroll, but transportation issues have not been addressed, Berg said. The facility’s staff has yet to be hired.

Berg said the chamber began discussing the need for a skill-based learning environment at its meetings. Area businesses responded, supporting the idea. So the chamber decided to take on the project of beginning an alternative school and corporate university.

“It’s such an issue that some of the corporations, at some point, if they can’t get the help (they need), they would start thinking of moving to the Twin Cities,” Berg said.

He said the chamber has been working closely with the New Country School because it appreciated the school’s model of project-based learning, driven by a student’s needs and interests.

Berg said alternative-school and charter school students sometimes get a bad reputation, but New Country sends about 95 percent of its graduates off to college.

“I don’t think ALC (Area Learning Center) students are really bad students; they’re just bored or they want the service learning,” he said.


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