Mercer County obtained a grant to start Project Lead the Way five years ago, but the program was in jeopardy of being dropped this summer when the school district was dealing with overstaffing issues. Principal Malissa Hutchins said the program was essentially on the chopping block until the industrial authority came through with $10,000 to help pay the salary of teacher Robbie Phelps.
Dennis said the contribution is a one-time offering meant to keep the program afloat, not a recurring annual gift.
Interim Superintendent Dennis Davis said the school system has its staffing issues in order now, and Project Lead the Way should be able to sustain itself in future years without help from the industrial authority.
Hutchins said the engineering courses have grown in popularity among students. Initially, only a handful of students chose the classes; now they often attract a full classroom, she said. Students can earn up to six hours of college credits through the program.
“For those students who are thinking about engineering as a career, this gives them an opportunity to get a taste of what they’re getting into,” Hutchins said. “They get to see the kind of science, math and technology skills it takes to go down that path as a career.”
Two students who completed the Mercer program are studying engineering at the University of Louisville, Hutchins said. They recently reported that the engineering courses they took in high school prepared them well for college-level studies.
“They said they were almost bored because they had had a lot the stuff already,” Hutchins said.
Dennis said the $10,000 came out of the industrial authority’s development fund, which comes from the sale of industrial properties. It’s the kind of investment that human resources personnel at local industries endorse as they are working more closely with the schools to develop future members of the workforce that are better prepared for jobs in a rapidly changing employment environment, he said.