Hamilton County Schools Announces New Program Alignment And Network To Boost Workforce Development And College Schools

  • Thursday, March 16, 2023

Hamilton County Schools on Thursday announced a strategic alignment of unique education programs that will provide focused leadership and attention to the district’s workforce development and early post-secondary opportunities for students.

The new Workforce Development & College Schools Network (WDCS) will group 10 programs and schools under the direction of Executive Principal Dr. Tony Donen. Dr. Donen will report to Community Superintendent Elaine Harper, who will add WDCS to her portfolio alongside the North River Learning Community.

“The creation of the Workforce Development and College Schools Network allows us to elevate our efforts to support the community’s workforce development needs while also meeting the needs of our students, whether they want to graduate straight into the local workforce or get a jump on continuing their education,” said HCS Superintendent Dr. Justin Robertson. “With a proven track record of success in leading innovation in our classrooms, Dr. Tony Donen is the ideal person to lead this effort. In addition to building on the successes of our current programs, Dr. Donen will help us identify and cultivate new opportunities for our students in the future. As a single point of contact for the unique programs he will oversee, Dr. Donen will be a great champion for the benefits WDCS will bring to our students and the community.”

An educator for more than 25 years, Dr. Donen came to HCS in 2012 as the founding principal for STEM School Chattanooga. In that role, he led the team that designed and created the curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices for the program. Dr.

Dr. Donen designed and integrated the first FabLab digital fabrication laboratory in Tennessee and the first at any high school in the southeastern United States. His work has brought numerous accolades to Hamilton County, including being named 2018 Tennessee STEM Innovator of the Year.

Prior to joining HCS, Dr. Donen served as principal of Fairview High School from 2003-2012, as well as a math teacher, head soccer coach, and football coach at various high schools including Science Hill High School, Carter High School and Fairview High School.

“I am very excited to lead workforce development and college school opportunities for Hamilton County students,” Dr. Donen said. “It is extremely important that we provide access to innovative experiences for our students. These innovative experiences help us to incubate, develop and share meaningful and relevant educational opportunities, and ultimately have a profoundly positive impact on students’ lives and their futures.”

Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp, a supporter of K-12 career and technical education programs and partnerships with higher education institutions, expressed his optimism for the WDCS Network.

“This reorganization is further evidence that Hamilton County Schools is serious about developing our workforce of the future through career and technical education,” Mayor Wamp said. “As a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents, I’m hopeful this learning network will lead to more opportunities for Hamilton County students to gain dual enrollment credits while preparing for a career while in high school.”

Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly believes WDCS will boost the region’s workforce development efforts in multiple ways.

"Workforce development is the most important strategy we have to close the income and opportunity gaps in our city, and Hamilton County Schools is our most important partner in that work,” he said. “The creation of this new learning network will not only strengthen career pathways for high school students, it will also help us build a stronger skilled workforce in the years to come, which is absolutely essential for Chattanooga's future economic growth and prosperity."

According to Chattanooga State Community College President Dr. Rebecca Ashford, WDCS provides important options and opportunities for students.

“This newly organized learning network will allow students to make choices in high school that will lead them to greater success in college — whether their choice for college is a traditional pathway or a workforce preparation pathway,” Dr. Ashford said. “Chattanooga State and our TCAT are proud to partner with Hamilton County Schools in preparing students for prosperous futures while also meeting the needs of our current and future workforce.”

The WDCS Network will officially be implemented on July 1, but Dr. Robertson says there are several reasons why now is the right time to announce the initiative.

“These programs and schools each align with our new strategic plan, Opportunity 2030,” Dr. Robertson said. “Specifically, they play a large role in meeting our commitments that Every Student Learns, Every Student Belongs, and Every Community is Served.

"The Network also aligns with the state’s emphasis on workforce development and early post-secondary opportunities and the growing need for an educated and prepared workforce here in Hamilton County. Finally, creating this alignment of schools allows the leaders of each to collaborate more closely with their peers overseeing similar programs. All of these factors make this the right time to announce this change.”

Programs in the WDCS Network will be grouped into two categories, Workforce Development and College Schools. Those programs are:

Workforce Development:

?      Construction Career Center

?      Harrison Bay Future Ready Center

?      Polytech Academy at Chattanooga State

?      Mechatronics Academy at Volkswagen

?      Gestamp Work Based Learning Program

?      Legacy Box Work Based Learning Program

College Schools:

?      STEM School Chattanooga

?      Early Technical College at Sequoyah

?      Hamilton County Collegiate High at Chattanooga State Community College

?      University High at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

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