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FCS Opportunity Fair provides degree pathways for classified employees

FLORENCE, Ala. — Earlier in June, Florence City Schools hosted its inaugural opportunity fair. It was an event that superintendent Dr. Jimmy Shaw hoped to inspire classified employees within the district to pursue a career in education.

At the event, attendees were informed about four different degree programs that allow classified employees with Florence City Schools to earn their education degrees at low cost or with free tuition.

The first program presented, based in north Alabama at Athens State University, was Men of Kennis. The program currently provides nontraditional students of color with scholarships of up to $5,000 per semester towards tuition, books, and housing. The program will begin accepting women in Fall 2024.

Men of Kennis presentation

Grand Canyon University followed with a presentation about its convenient online education programs. Scholarships are available for GCU’s undergraduate programs, including up to $5,900 off for its graduate programs. According to GCU, more than 85 alumni have been recognized in the field of education, with some receiving superintendent, administrator, or teacher of the year awards as of May 2023.

GCU booth

Former Russellville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Heath Grimes now works for Reach University. His presentation focused on Reach’s scholarship program, which allows classified employees to receive their bachelor’s degrees with zero student debt. Employees can take advantage of this opportunity through a two, three, or four-year pathway, depending on prior college credits. Reach University is not free but affordable through a combination of grants, sponsorships, and scholarships, allowing employees to enroll for just $79 per month for the undergraduate program.

Dr. Heath Grimes

The last program presented was the Early Childhood Education Apprenticeship. Superintendent Dr. Jimmy Shaw said the program was created through a partnership with Florence City Schools, Northwest Shoals Community College, University of North Alabama, Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, and Alabama Office of Apprenticeship.

Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education booth

“The program is based on if you work in an Office of School Readiness program,” Shaw said. “If you can be hired as an apprentice in that program, then they would allow you to be able to, through tuition reimbursement and cooperation with us, the school system, a student would be able to, or an adult would be able to go through the program and end up with a teaching degree.”

The degree the apprentice earns would allow them to teach Pre-K through Third Grade at no cost.

Asked about the inspiration behind hosting the Opportunity Fair, Dr. Shaw said the FCS vision of “Tomorrow…Today” doesn’t just apply to students; he is passionate about seeing employees benefit from it as well.

“Everybody has something that drives them,” Dr. Shaw said. “Other people’s success is what drives me. To be able to see people in that room who had dedicated multiple years already but not as a teacher … have the opportunity to also not only pick up another degree but to be able to go back and become certified teachers with a degree and impact students in a different way.”

Dr. Shaw said he sees these programs as foundations where the school district can utilize resources to pour back into the people who make up the system and the city.

By Jeremy Jackson
June 24, 2024