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JAX Chamber President Daniel Davis (at podium) said at a Thursday news conference that his agency will partner with Duval County Public Schools to find opportunities for students and teachers with businesses. Also pictured are (from left) school board Chair Becki Couch, board member Ashley Smith-Juarez and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

Chamber will pair schools, businesses

By Carole Hawkins, Contributing Writer

Duval County Public Schools picked up a new education partner.

The JAX Chamber said Thursday it will support the district's career academies by identifying local businesses interested in participating in programs.

"There are folks in Jacksonville that want to play a greater role in creating a better economy, and that's linked to a workforce," school Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said at a joint news conference of the two organizations. "The chamber has the best access to those companies and knows who the willing partners are."

The chamber will help Duval's career academies find internships and job shadowing opportunities for students. It will also find internships for teachers to help make their classroom programs more relevant.

Chamber President Daniel Davis said his organization is the perfect one to bridge the gap between business owners and the school system.

During his first weeks at the chamber last summer, Davis toured local businesses and had asked growing industries about their needs. 

"Many of those folks need more people who are focused on information technology," Davis said. "Also, the health care industry is becoming one of the largest industries in our community and we need more skilled laborers in the field."

Davis said Jacksonville's economic success depends on training a skilled workforce.

"One of the first things that CEOs or site selectors say when the come into our community is, 'Tell us about your educational system for our employees' children' and 'tell us about your skilled workforce,'" Davis said. "It's vital to their success."

A career academy is a school within the school that combines academic and career-related learning.

Duval County has about 600 students participating in more 30 career academies, focused on such industries as information technology, logistics, financial services and culinary arts. Graduates earn industry certifications, as well as high school diplomas.

In January, six Duval County career academies will work together on operating a food truck, Vitti said. Industry partners will help students develop marketing plans, IT systems, resource distribution, menu planning and food preparation.

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