Will have students job-ready
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
When members of the Atmore Industrial Development Board met August 10 to hear that prospects were more than good that a massive peanut processing plant would locate here, it wasn’t the only good news they heard.
Before the peanut mill was discussed, the AIDB members — Chairman Richard Maxwell, Jim Johnson, Dr. Ulysses McBride, Sheilo Faircloth and Bob Jones — spent just under half an hour listening to Escambia County High School principal Amy Cabaniss and David Lanier, director of Coastal Alabama Community College’s Atmore campus, talk about the future of the partnership they have forged.
It was an extra half-hour the five industrial development officials didn’t mind spending, as it outlined a multi-faceted union that could benefit the future of industrial recruitment to the community.
“I’m glad the papers are here,” said Jones, noting the presence of the city’s two weekly newspapers. “This is much better than the news you see on the front page.”
Mayor Jim Staff told the board the new partnership between ECHS and CACC has been a long time coming.
“I wanted everybody to see how the high school and the community college are working together,” Staff said. “This thing has been promised for years, but it looks like these two are going to finally put it together.”
Cabaniss, who was curriculum director for county schools for 10 years before being chosen last winter to replace Dennis Fuqua at ECHS, spoke first. She surprised the AIDB members a bit when she pointed out that career education opportunities at ECHS and Escambia County Middle School (where a state-of-the-art collaboration lab helps prepare future ECHS students) are equal to — in some cases better than — those offered at other county schools.
“The Atmore area doesn’t have anything to feel bad about, as far as what we offer versus what the career-ready program in Brewton offers,” she said. “They have automotive; we have culinary and cosmetology. If anyone leads you to believe that Atmore kids aren’t getting their due, they are.”
The ECHS principal said the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented consummation of the partnership but pointed out that things are ready on her end, once the health crisis is over or has subsided to a large degree.
“The classrooms are set up as if they were an industry working on those particular things — HVAC, industrial maintenance and welding / machine tooling — if and when the pandemic eases up,” Cabaniss said. “The biggest issue will probably be transportation. We have to get students out there (to CACC) and back in time to ride the bus home, or they will have to provide their own transportation.”
She expressed excitement over the future of career education at the local high school. ECHS presently offers culinary arts, welding, cosmetology, hospitality and tourism, and agricultural sciences, among others. She added that the school’s health services program, overseen by Suzanne Helton, already prepares students for entry-level jobs.
“These students can come out of the program ready to be nursing assistants,” Cabaniss said. “We have a healthy, robust program going; by partnering with Coastal Alabama, we’ve got some great things we can add to that.”
Lanier, who spent 10 years as the county school system’s director of career education before accepting the CACC job in January, said the local community college campus was being made ready for what he and Cabaniss feel will eventually be an influx of career-minded students.
He said the partnership was prepared to go full tilt when the pandemic hit.
“When they told us the students were being sent home, we thought it would be like an extended spring break,” he said. “But that jerked the rug out from under us. We had all this hype built up, so now we’re in the process of getting it built back up.”
One of the major obstacles in getting the program started was the different starting times at each institution of learning. AT ECHS, classes begin each day at 7:30 a.m. At CACC, the class day used to begin a half-hour earlier.
“Our classes start at 8; the high school runs off the bell schedule,” he explained. “At 8, they were halfway through their first period. When they got back from (CACC), they were halfway through their third period.
“So, we worked around the high school schedule. The college adjusted our schedule to fit her schedule as a way to get students back in there. We’re going to use the first semester to tweak and fine-tune things, and we’ll start classes August 24.”
Cabaniss said that decision was “huge” and would make the partnership much more effective.
Lanier talked about all the physical changes being made to make the CACC Atmore campus more inviting, then pointed out that the local campus would be the hub of one of CACC’s most successful career programs.
“We have a half-million-dollar nursing simulation lab,” he said. “No matter if the student attends Bay Minette, Gulf Shores, Brewton or any of our nine campuses, all those students will be coming to Atmore.”
He called the simulation lab “unreal,” pointing out that it includes mannequins costing $90,000 each that can be programmed to simulate a heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure or most any other medical problem.
He also briefed the AIDB members on the new machine tooling apprenticeship program that will eventually involve six local and area industrial concerns.
“We have six companies that are on-board,” he said. “A lot of them, due to their insurance policies, won’t allow any outsiders until the first of next year. Which is a positive, since it gives us a chance to fine-tune the program.”
Alto Products has already contracted with two students who will become apprentices there. Each company involved in the program will start the apprentices off at $16 per hour, with 30 hours guaranteed. A raise is guaranteed every 120 days, and each can earn up to $23 per hour.
The apprentices will follow a “3-2 model” by working a 10-hour shift each Monday, Wednesday and Friday and attending regular classes on Tuesday and Thursday.
“You’re fixing to see the Atmore campus really expand,” Lanier said. “You can promise and promise and promise but seeing is believing. Working with ECHS, that is our future generation. We want to encourage them, while they are in high school, to take advantage of the programs we have our here. I think it will be a win-win for Escambia County.”