High School Academies
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High School Initiative Committee

Steve Soltau
High School Initiative Committee Chair
Pinellas County Utilities




Year group was formed:  2014

The FSAWWA first became involved with the Florida Department of Education (DOE) nine years ago when Marvin Kaden, former Pasco County Utilities manager, began discussions about integrating the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) water and wastewater licensure education requirements into the existing DOE-approved and -funded high school academies.

After the DOE meetings, Kaden approached the FSAWWA Board of Governors (BOG) with a vision: partner with the high school academies as a future source of trained treatment plant operators. After his unfortunate passing in 2015, the BOG asked me to step into the role of high school academy coordinator and I was honored to accept.

The 2011/2012 academic year started with one academy at Heritage High School in the City of Palm Bay. Four years later, St. John’s Technical High School in the City of St. Augustine was added as a second academy (Academy of Coastal and Water Resources). The school has juniors interning at JEA, St. Johns County Utilities, and the City of St. Augustine wastewater facilities this summer.

After three more years, Lake Brantley High School in the City of Altamonte Springs became our third academy.

Scope of work:

Nine years ago, FSAWWA committed to an annual grant of three thousand dollars a year in financial support for textbooks, laboratory supplies, bus rental for travel to plant tours, etc. Several FSAWWA member volunteers furnish the academy students with hands-on and field training, including treatment plant tours and guest speakers.

Academy curriculum prepares high school graduates to obtain a passing score on the FDEP treatment plant operator certification program Level C examination for water and/or wastewater. The successful graduate becomes licensed after completing 2080 hours of sweat equity at a treatment plant.


The objective of the academies, supported in part with the annual grant from FSAWWA, is to help cultivate the next generation of high school students to actively work toward a career where they can make a tangible impact on the world and improve the environment by enhancing drinking water and wastewater treatment systems.

Together with the academy instructors and school principals, the high school initiative is collaborating with local school boards, DOE, and FDEP to c
reate statewide consistency and curriculum for classroom training of new operators. The initiative collects and reports testing metrics for improvement of passing rates and assists in identifying areas of needed or additional training.

The Florida Career and Professional Education (CAPE) Act(1)
requires DOE to provide solid substantiation of the need for maintaining funding for high school academies . The FSAWWA high school initiative continually does research into the supply of, and demand for, Florida treatment plant operators for use as evidence for new academies attempting to meet DOE and FDEP requirements.

Additionally, we support academy graduates by
communicating the need for new operators with key workforce stakeholders, like utilities, public works, and human resources departments. Now is the time to develop innovative opportunities for hiring operator trainees graduating from these academies.

Recent Accomplishments:

  1. During May 2019, 19 students took the water exam and three students took the wastewater exam.
  2. At the 2019 Florida Water Resources Conference, the FSAWWA BOG committed to the three thousand dollars a year in financial support of the third academy at Lake Brantley High School. The BOG also approved a one-hundred-dollar scholarship for academy students to retake the operator exam, if necessary.
  3. At the 2018 FSAWWA Fall Conference, over 60 students, faculty, and volunteers from Heritage High School and St. John’s Technical High School attended the high school academy session on Tuesday Nov 27.
  • Students attended at least one morning technical session and participated in an exhibit hall scavenger hunt, directing them to exam-related equipment, while learning from the vendors on the floor.
  • Several watched the college bowl and wondered out loud if they could compete next year.

  • Generous sponsors stepped up and provided box lunches, while senior operations staff rotated from table to table answering questions, talking about their experiences and careers in the treatment plant profession, and offering FDEP exam-taking tip.

Current projects:

Word of these academies is slowing making its way across the state. Recently several high school teachers and administrators have expressed interest in learning about starting an academy at their institution. Volunteers are helping to work one-on-one with the interested schools. We are now in discussion with schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Seminole, Miami-Dade Counties and the City of Orlando.

Future work:

The second annual Teacher Workshop will be held on July 15 at the City of Orlando Water Reclamation Education Facility. This year attendees include administrators, instructors, and FSAWWA volunteers; FDEP will also be calling in for a conference call. Agenda items include discussions on:

  1. Increasing the exam-passing rate.

  2. Creating virtual tours of treatment facilities

  3. Adding the distribution operator and backflow tester/inspector to the CAPE Act list.

  4. Increasing the number of approved academies.

  5. Communicating opportunities to other interested parties throughout the state.

Initiative Members/Volunteers:

Yvonne Picard, P.E.

Pam London-Exner
FSAWWA Technical and Education Council Chair

Shea Dunifon
Education Coordinator 
Pinellas County Utilities


(1) http://www.fldoe.org/academics/career-adult-edu/cape-secondary/cape-industry-cert-funding-list-current.stml

Past Events:

  • Tuesday, December 10, 2019, Heritage High School Fall Conference Photos - CLICK HERE.

Heritage High School Academy of Environmental Water Technology (AEWT) member

Members of St. Johns Technical High School Academy of Coastal and Water Resources

Students on tour of a water treatment plant.

Attendess on the St. Johns Technical High School tour of the St. Johns County Northwest Wastewater Treatment Facility at World Golf Village

An operator at St. Johns County shows the students a spiral-wound membrane
in its osmosis drinking water facility

Students at the St. Augustine Wastewater Treatment Facility

In the laboratory at the St. Augustine Wastewater Treatment Facility

St. Augustine Wastewater Treatment Facility

Students from Heritage High School AEWT tour the exhibit hall
at the 2018 FSAWWA Fall Conference in Orlando

Virtual tours of water treatment plants - which is on the wish list

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