The Missouri Chamber of Commerce announced last week that the Academies of the Independence School District, along with Independence's Chamber of Commerce, had been selected for the Chamber's Education Innovator of the Year Award for 2017.

The Missouri Chamber recognizes businesses in a variety of the categories, and Education Innovator Award typically goes to a business, college or technical college. The Chamber and ISD will be honored during an awards ceremony Nov. 16 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

“It was a great surprise for us, that we would be recognized at the state level,” ISD Superintendent Dale Herl said. “It says something about our success and opportunities.”

Hap Graff, president and CEO of the Independence Chamber, said the group is proud to be associated and receive the award with the school district.

“The collaboration between local businesses, high school teachers and students is vital to the success of the Academies and insures our kids will have a better start on their work readiness future,” Graff said in a release.

Independence Schools were one of just 19 districts nationwide chosen several years ago by Ford Next Generation Learning to implement the Academy model, which allows every high school student the chance to choose an academy, earn dual credit and industry recognized credential and an associate's degree. The district offers more than 90 courses for college credit, with more than 400 college credit hours available.

The district reports that 72 percent of its 2017 graduates had a dual credit or industry recognized credential, an increase of 50 percent in two years. This year's junior class will be the first to go four years with the academy model,” Herl said.

“It's great to see the number of kids we now have graduating high school dual credit hours,” Herl said. I feel our kids are so much more employable (than before) if they choose not to go to college.

“We're hosting school districts from around the country to see what we're doing, and that's something we're also very proud of.”