JACKSON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) — With the start of a new school year comes some changes for students in Jackson County Schools (JCS). Recent growth in the district is spurring the expansion of programs and educational opportunities for students.

After three years of construction, the Kevin Dukes Career and Innovation Academy will open its doors later this semester. Jackson County Superintendent Jason Davidson said the building and 30-acre campus is complete, and he hopes students will be able to take advantage of its resources almost immediately.

“We want to target kids that have interests, abilities, and passions in certain areas, and if we don’t offer those programs, be able to adapt and change and grow programs that we don’t currently offer,” said Davidson. “We want every kid in Jackson County to find their niche.”

The academy supports fine arts programs and stem opportunities. The facility sits inside the Jackson County Industrial Park, boasting many career tech programs and related educational tools.

“Education is the foundation of economic development, so there’s no better way to grow the future economy of Jackson County than the opening of this school, and hopefully in the future additional business and industry partners come to this industrial park,” Davidson said.

The superintendent said he is excited to have dedicated spaces for the county’s gifted programs and robotics teams. In addition, JCS will offer additional tools for success this year, including free breakfast, lunch, and school supplies at every school.

📲Download the WHNT News 19 App to stay updated on the go.
📧Sign up for WHNT News 19 newsletters to have news sent to your inbox.

As students return to the classroom, safety is also on the minds of many educators.

“Safety is always a number one priority, and it’s something we take very seriously,” Davidson said.

Davidson said SROs and safety teams have been reviewing campus plans, making sure they are prepared for emergency situations. The district has also received some grants that can not be for safety personnel, and those funds are used to reinforce entrances and install cameras. The superintendent said a successful safety plan requires everyone to work together.

“Safety is something that takes a team effort, so everyone from students, to teachers, to the custodian in the building, if they see something, they must say something,” Davidson said.

JCS will also soon have 16 new buses, another feature that Davidson said will bring an added layer of safety to students.