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Educational partnerships touted in Cumming's Alliance Academy
Ray Perren, President of Lanier Technical College, speaks Monday about the state of education in Forsyth County. - photo by Isabel Hughes

A “state of the schools” meeting held on the University of North Georgia’s Cumming campus Monday morning focused on the partnership between UNG, Lanier Technical College and Forsyth County Schools.

The event, the first of its kind, featured FCS Superintendent Jeffrey Bearden, FCS Director of College and Career Development Valery Lowe, Lanier Tech President Ray Perren and UNG President Bonita Jacobs.

Mary Helen McGruder, chairwoman of the UNG Foundation, also spoke at the event.

Though each panelist gave an update on the status of their individual system, the theme of the morning was collaboration between the three entities.

“This opportunity was for the schools to come together and see what each one of them is doing and see how they can partner together for the benefit of the students,” McGruder said. “That’s what they’re all here for — to benefit the students in our region, and this was an opportunity for everyone to get on the same page and move forward.”

The schools have already come together to produce Alliance Academy for Innovation of Cumming-Forsyth County and the Junior Achievement Mike and Lynn Cottrell Discovery Center at North Georgia.

The Alliance Academy, an alternative high school dedicated to career and workforce development, is scheduled to open in August 2018 on Lanier 400 Parkway near Ga. 400 in Cumming.

The JA Discovery Center will be located next to the school, and preliminary site plans were released last month.

The center will also open in tandem with the high school, thanks to a $3.5 million donation from Mike and Lynn Cottrell of Dahlonega. The philanthropist couple has established scholarships funds and has UNG’s College of Business named after them.

The JA Discovery Center will be the third in Georgia; two are already established in Atlanta and Gwinnett.

Like the other two centers, the Cumming location will house JA BizTown and JA Finance Park, immersive simulations where middle school students explore industries and careers and obtain foundational knowledge in select business and finance operations.

“Listening to Valery [speak] about the Junior Achievement, that’s sort of like growing up in a small town,” McGruder said. “Our mothers would give us money and we would go down to the square and we had to decide, were we going to the movie and were we going to buy our Sugar Babies in the movie, or would we stop and get an ice cream on the way down the street, and did we really want to have any money left over?

“That’s what Junior Achievement is — it’s teaching kids how to live in today’s world. Everybody doesn’t grow up in small towns, so I think what our education system is bringing to our children now is the opportunities we had when we were young and growing up.”

Those opportunities extend beyond just the JA Discovery Center, Lowe said.

The Alliance Academy offers a number of career-pathway options and includes a school of aerospace and logistics, a school of criminal justice, a school of healthcare and first responders, a school of hospitality and design and a school of mechatronics and energy.

Perren said its pathways flow nicely into a number of Lanier Tech’s technical programs.

“We offer everything A to W; we don’t have a program in zoology so it’s not A to Z,” he said. “But we have everything from accounting to welding, and everything in between. About 45 percent of our students are enrolled in an allied health program, which would be practical nursing, surgical technology, radiology.

“Our paramedic/EMT program is considered to be the very best in the entire state.”

Jacobs said the opportunities for collaboration between The Alliance Academy, the JA Discovery Center and the two colleges are limitless.

“This is going to be a no-limit county,” Jacobs said. “These three schools working together — they’ll have an idea, we’ll have an idea, they’ll have an idea — we’re going to put those ideas together and we need to know one another, we need to be able to be on that on-calling situation because we’re all in.

“We have so much opportunity to really conquer the world in this area, and I’m truly excited about it.”