Building Young Minds
New school opens doors for trade skills, college
By Gary Delsohn
It’s been a long time since I’ve cheered for a development with this much enthusiasm. But wait until you see what Kevin Dobson is doing at the long-shuttered Limn Furniture warehouse on Arden Way.
Frustrated from watching so many directionless kids fail to graduate when he was principal at Natomas Charter School, Dobson quit his job to chase a dream. He created a free career academy where motivated high school students can get hands-on experience, internships and college credits at the same time.
Now, with support from the local business community, an agreement with American River College and a $14 million tax-exempt bond to purchase the Limn property for $2.6 million and build the school, Dobson’s Capital College & Career Academy is on track to open in August.
Dobson expects an initial class of about 80 ninth graders, with plans to add grades 10, 11 and 12 over the next several years.
Targeting students who are first in their family to attend college, the academy focuses on careers in the construction trades, where the need for young workers is acute.
“It’s kind of surreal, but I feel so fortunate to be in this position,” Dobson says. “We had a lot to get through to reach this point, but getting the bond closed was a huge lift. Now I’m excited to be doing the real work of serving kids and families, especially in a neighborhood like this that can really use a boost.”
Dobson has been at this for a few years, so it’s easy to understand his sense of relief. To start a charter high school, he had to hire instructors, attract students and raise more than $1 million to help cover upfront costs. Then came negotiations to get the County Board of Education to sanction his new charter, all while dealing with the politics of public education.
He was originally turned down after resistance from the California Teachers Association, which opposes new charter schools. But Dobson has enthusiastic community and business support, especially from the trade unions worried where they will find the next generation of carpenters, electricians, masons and plumbers, along with other construction employees needed in accounting, human resources, marketing, management or whatever else a general contractor requires.
With help from a consulting firm that advises fledgling charter schools, Dobson addressed the county’s concerns and won approval for his charter. When the school opens this summer, it will be the only site-based high school in the Sacramento region to allow students to simultaneously take college classes at Sacramento State and American River College with the opportunity to earn up to three years of college credit by high school graduation.
At the groundbreaking ceremony in February, Mayor Darrell Steinberg was one of several speakers excited about Dobson’s vision.
“This charter school is going to combine academic rigor and also preparing young people for high wage jobs in the trades,” Steinberg said, “and it’s the exact kind of model we have to replicate not just in Sacramento but throughout the state and the country.”
Also appearing at the groundbreaking was Ken Wenham, president and CEO of Roebbelen Contracting Inc. He’s on the school’s board of directors, along with contractors and officials from SMUD, California Department of Transportation, Teichert, McCarthy Building Companies, Turner Construction, building trades and other local companies.
According to a news release, Roebbelen donated more than $150,000 for naming rights to the academy, one of a number of local firms making sizable donations.
“Once I met Kevin and understood his vision, I knew our name had to be on the building,” Wenham said. “We are grateful to participate in making this vision a reality and look forward to supporting the learning effort at the Roebbelen campus.”
The groundbreaking event attracted 14-year-old Coral May and her mother, Amy. Coral is interested in attending the new school.
“My mom found out about it and I was kind of on the fence because you hear about charter schools opening and then closing in two years because they run out of money or something,” Coral said. “But this seems really cool and (Dobson) seems to have a lot of great ideas for education.”
As her mom pointed out, “The school has so much community support that it feels worth the risk, especially when you factor in how much you can save on college costs by getting a lot of college credit at the same time you’re in the academy. I think it’s really exciting.”
Gary Delsohn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.