Cumberland County schools will help students take off in a new career field through a partnership with Azure Flight Support to provide flight training for high school students.

“The vision is to offer flight training and open up the world of aviation to students who are economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities, or English-language learners,” Scott Maddox, supervisor of Career and Technical Education, told the budget committee of the Cumberland County Board of Education May 18. “These are underserved populations and these kids have a hard time entering into a field as lucrative and as popular as aviation. It’s too expensive.”

He reached out to Azure Flight Support, which serves as the fixed-base operator for Crossville Memorial Airport and serves the Smyrna Rutherford County Airport, Shelbyville Airport and Cleveland TN Regional Jet Port with airport management services.

Allen Howell, a partner in Azure Flight Support, saw the potential to help develop skilled workers for the industry through the program.

“The aviation business across the state is having trouble finding the skilled workforce to fill the demand growth we are experiencing as Tennessee’s population and economy grows,” Howell told the Chronicle. “Aviation provides high-paying jobs in a field that is exciting and rewarding. When we tell our story to young people in high school and get them involved in our industry, it is easy for them to see the opportunities that await them.”

Azure offers a flight training program at Crossville Memorial Airport, taking pilots from beginning ratings through the certifications required to become professional pilots. They also work with apprentice maintenance technicians to provide on-the-job training to gain experience and professional certification as airframe and powerplant mechanics.

“We benefit from this approach by helping to grow our own talent,” Howell said.

The $974,100 grant will provide funding for a two-year program. The first part of the next school year will include working through organizational and logistical issues.

The program would provide entry-level training for students interested in flying and maintenance technician careers, including flight lessons. 

“One of the barriers to entry into the aviation industry is the high cost of training, especially pilot training,” Howell said. “Many aspiring pilots stop short of achieving their dream due to the costs of obtaining a commercial pilot license. We would like to work with the school system to find ways to provide scholarships to students who are worthy of the opportunity but don’t have the means to pay for flight training.”

Right now, there is not an aviation teacher at Cumberland County High School, so Chris Bennett, the aviation teacher at Stone Memorial High School, will split his time between the two high schools. Maddox hopes to have a teacher in place at CCHS in the future.

Funding would allow Bennett to become a certified flight instructor.

“Our goal for the next two years is to offer flight training to at least 45 students free of charge,” Maddox said.

That includes ground school, simulator training and flight training.

“[T]he use of simulators and training at the local level is far less expensive than flight training in the four-year degreed university setting. Any head start an aspiring pilot can get gives them a better opportunity to reach the goal,” Howell said.

The program will also train students in drone flight through a partnership with Farm Bureau Insurance, Maddox said. 

“It’s very exciting,” Maddox said. “We got the news yesterday. This is going to be really good and give an opportunity to some kids who would never have this chance.”

Howell said, “We are excited about the opportunity to work with the Cumberland County School System to help develop an aviation program. The grant the schools were just awarded presents an opportunity for Cumberland County Schools to do something unique in the state and develop a top-notch program for educating students who are interested in careers in education.”

Across the state, the Tennessee Department of Education awarded $30 million in grants to 21 school districts as part of the Tennessee Innovative High School Models program. The program seeks to promote strategic and innovative partnerships between school systems, local employers and postsecondary education providers to help students succeed after high school.

This grant program is funded with federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) funding. 

The Cumberland County Board of Education voted unanimously to accept the grant when it met May 27.

The board also approved other grants and budget amendments necessary to spend the money awarded:

•Summer Learning Camp, Bridge Camp and Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering and Math Camp grant, $846,496.38 budget amendment, with expenses budgeted for personnel, supplies and materials

•A Remote Learning Technology Grant for $178,714, which reimburses the school system for a portion of its expenses to purchase Chromebooks for students this past year

•Learning Camp Transportation Grant, $141,913.27, to pay for fuel and bus drivers for the summer learning program and transportation equipment; the board accepted the grant and approved the necessary budget amendments

•A budget resolution moving $14,660.44 from transportation lines for maintenance and repair and vehicle parts to transportation software

Teresa Boston, 8th District representative, questioned if the transportation grant was being used to purchase bus routing software and new bus radios. The board approved a budget amendment authorizing the approximately $14,000 purchase of the software in a budget amendment. The bus radios were incorporated into the 2021-’22 budget also approved that night.

Chief Finance Office Kacee Harris said the timing of the grant made it difficult to know if they would be able to purchase the software before the end of the fiscal year with those funds. With the summer programs launching June 1, time was a consideration in budgeting the expense. The radios may also need to be purchased with school funds to ensure they are installed as quickly as possible.

Also approved were year-end budget amendments to ensure no budget line ended the fiscal year June 30 with a negative balance, both in the general fund budget and the school nutrition budget.

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