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Charting the course: Focus of Study helps students find right path

The Focus of Study program in the Washington County School System is helping students explore an area of interest that will help define a career path.
Dr. William Flanary, director of Secondary Education, said the program started with the Tennessee Diploma Project mandates, and the 2013 graduates were the first class.
“The underlying premise is readiness for college and career,” he said. “If you’re going to be ready, you need training.”
The Focus of Study is defined as three related classes a student must complete that are not part of the general education requirements.
Flanary said the state Department of Education wants a high school diploma to represent more than the minimum academic standards. “If a students wants to expand an interest, this is the way to do it.”
According to Flanary, the areas are not limited to vocational tracks or ROTC. “The focuses are as varied as the courses that are offered,” he said.
In addition, the state has given as much latitude as is practical to the school system. For example, a student who had completed two science focus classes may request adding a health science course to complete the requirement.
Or a student may choose a language arts Focus of Study that is made up of two English classes and a drama course.
“If it makes sense for that kid, we’ll make it work,” Flanary said. “The state board has left enough flexibility in the rules to accomplish that.”
The Focus of Study is discussed in eighth grade when the school counselor has a transitional meeting with the students and their parents. After a plan of study is adopted, the counselor monitors the students’ progress to ensure the requirements are satisfied.
The best advantage is students are not locked into their initial choice of focus.
Flanary noted that most students who go to college change their major at some point. “So coming out of eighth grade, we know full well the focus may be revised, which is why we do it in pencil,” he said. “But we keep it in front of them.”
In some focuses, such as agriculture, a sequence of courses starting with an introductory class must be followed. “The student almost never satisfies the Focus of Study in a single year,” Flanary said.
One course unique to David Crockett High School because one of the instructors developed the curriculum is pipefitting.
“From time to time we will have a teacher who says, this is my interest, and the state has a mechanism in place that allows them to write the curriculum,” he said.
According to Flanary, the desire stems from having a passion in the subject, but the process of writing a full curriculum and getting a state-approved course code is lengthy.
Flanary worked with Crockett’s Jeff Simcox for more than a year to develop the course that has been offered for the last five years.
“Jeff is a licensed pipefitter, and he felt like if he was going to get the kids ready, this was a skill they needed,” he said.
Pipefitting is an upper level course that accepts no more than 18 students in a given section. Participants must have completed two welding courses before they can request consideration.
“Jeff felt like he was addressing a need in local business and industry,” Flanary said about Simcox’s approaching him with the idea.
“Just wanting to do it is not enough,” he said. “You have to prove to the state you can place the kids, and Jeff had to have letters of support from business owners.”
After receiving the signature of the state commissioner of education, Simcox’s curriculum was assigned a course code and is now part of the Metal Trades Focus of Study.