About Us

Olathe Public Schools 21st Century Academies


The Olathe Public Schools offers 15 unique and innovative 21st Century Academies for high school students. These academies are housed within the district’s high schools. These innovative, four-year programs allow students to build upon their interests and learn specific knowledge and skills they can apply towards their post-secondary experiences and career fields. The district has a long history of innovative 21st Century Academies, dating back to 2003.

Student Interest/Passion centered around career pathways

Leads to varied post-secondary/career opportunities

Career Cruising
Career searches
Post-Secondary searches

4+2 Year Individual Plan of Study (IPS)

Three-tiered endorsement

Industry standard/University level equipment

Essential Employability Skills implemented 9-12


Capstone Project

Senior Presentation
Culmination of 4 yrs. of study

Cross grade level interactions/Co-curricular opportunities

Project-based Learning/Authentic Learning

Professional Learning Experiences (PLE’s) such as:

Connection with Higher Education, Businesses, Organizations
Mentorship opportunities
Community outreach
Potential Certifications
Professional Conference Attendance/Presentation/Membership
Summer Experiences

Advisory Committee

Comprised of persons outside the education profession who advise on the development and operation of the academy based on employment needs.
Meets minimally 2Xs a year

essential employability skills logoEssential Employability Skills

Business, community, and higher education leaders were asked in recent advisory and group meetings in the Olathe Public Schools what top 3-5 skills would make our students successful no matter what their post-secondary experience and eventual career field. Employability and soft skills were at the top of the list! While general knowledge, attributes such as problem solving and critical thinking, and other technical skills were identified as important, it was the employability and soft skills that seem to make the difference for success.

Dr. Randy Watson, Education Commissioner for the State of Kansas, recently went on a statewide tour and asked: “What are the qualities, characteristics and skills of a successful 24-year-old?”

He found that business and community leaders statewide were looking for individuals with appropriate employability skills. Watson said that schools need to turn out graduates that are critical and independent thinkers, risk takers, more creative, more personable, able to work well with others, and have a good work ethic.

What can you expect from a 21st Century Academy?  Any student who is a member of a 21st Century Academy will be taught employability and soft skills, will have a chance to practice those skills, and will receive feedback regarding the skills somewhere in their 4-year plan of study for the academy. We have identified 8 skills that will be taught.

  1. Collaboration – teamwork, reliability, roles within a team
  2. Communication – Interpersonal communication: active listening, clear message, appropriate non-verbal skills [facial expressions, posture, body language, dress], handshakes, empathy, fairness, compassion, respect for diversity; Written communication:  clear, accurate, matched to audience
  3. Ethics – confidentiality, honesty, trustworthiness, loyalty, good citizenship
  4. Leadership – awareness of strengths/weaknesses of self and team, initiative, confidence, being a self-advocate, understanding workplace rights
  5. Presentation Skills – elements of effective presentations including capturing attention, knowing your audience, establishing an objective/goal, preparation, delivery
  6. Professionalism – attendance, punctuality, electronic media etiquette, positive attitude, response to feedback/criticism, life-long learning, personal branding, goal setting
  7. Post-Secondary/Career Placement – networking, college/career exploration, interview skills, resume, portfolio development
  8. Time/Project Management – planning, organizing, creative problem-solving, meeting deadlines, resource management, decision-making process

Our goal in the 21st Century High School Academies is to ensure that “Students are prepared for their future!”

What are 21st Century Academies?

See “Academies Criteria”
The academies are designed to be completed in four years in order to give students full access to course options and extended learning activities.

  • Academies focus on specialized career field
  • Specialized coursework – four-year plan of study
  • Amazing specialized equipment
  • Hands-on experiences inside and outside of the classroom
  • Special real-world opportunities including competitions, field trips, volunteer hours, senior projects, internships and special events.
  • Experiences enriched by many partners!

Why did Olathe create the 21st Century High School Academies?

The 21st Century High School Academies were developed in response to community input. During the 2000-01 school year, the district conducted focus groups of more than 400 stakeholders on the necessary ingredients of a 21st century education. Participants included parents, high school faculty and other district staff, students, business partners, representatives of higher education, and the community. Focus groups agreed on these themes:

  • make classroom learning relevant to the outside world;
  • focus on the global workplace;
  • recognize the broad-based role of technology;
  • promote the importance of citizenship and character; and
  • provide flexibility of schedule and interactive instructional methodology.

What are the steps for enrolling in an academy?

  • A student interested in applying for an academy will fill out an online application during the read application period, which begins in conjunction with the Eighth-Grade Career EXPO.
  • Once the form is submitted students are contacted by the academy facilitator and a pre-enrollment meeting is arranged with the students and parents/guardian to go over academy requirements and suggested course enrollment.

Students then enroll in the high school as a full-time student where the program is hosted. Please note: academy acceptance serves as a student’s transfer application. A separate transfer request form is not needed.

Click here for more details

When should a student apply for a 21st Century academy?

Application for enrollment in a four-year academy begins in the fall of 8th grade for students entering their freshman year of high school the following year.  The application window opens the day after the 8th Grade Career Expo in late October and closes before winter break.  Applicants are interviewed and notifications are sent out in January.

If there is the slightest interest, please apply.  A student can always decline an invitation to an academy in January if they don’t feel it is a good fit.  If a student does not apply, they don’t have the opportunity to find out more about the academies through the application process.

Sophomores may be eligible to apply on a space-available basis.  Email the facilitator directly to inquire on space availability.

If a student participates in a four-year 21st Century Academy at a high school other than their home high school, does that become his/her home high school, even if he/she lives in another attendance area?

Yes, students enrolled in a four-year 21st Century High School Academy attend full-time at the high school where the academy is located. They participate in all extra and co-curricular activities at the transfer high school.

Is transportation to 21st Century Academies provided?

Transportation is provided at district expense for students attending 21st Century Academies at schools other than their home school. (For example, a student lives in the Olathe North boundary area but has been accepted to a 21st  Century Academy located at Olathe South). Bus routes are built around those who have registered for bus transportation during the early enrollment period (May 1 – July 1). Bus stops are primarily established by placing stops near corners that are centrally located within a neighborhood. Information regarding exact bus stop locations will be available on Registration Day at the end of July.

What if my student accepts the invitation to an academy but changes their mind before school begins in the fall?

Students who accept an invitation may change their mind before the last Thursday in June.  This allows academies to offer the spot to a student on the wait list and get student busing and schedules re-arranged prior to registration day at the end of July.

What if my student changes his/her mind after beginning the school year at their academy high school?

Students enrolled in a 21st Century High School Academy who decide they do not wish to continue in the academy, after the June deadline to change their mind, are asked to complete one school year before they are eligible to return to their boundary high school.  It is asked that students use that first year to transition not only to high school but to their academy.  Additionally, the student has occupied a spot in the academy.  At the end of the year, if the student still wishes to return to their boundary high school, they will go through the withdraw process.  A student returning to their boundary high school will still be on track with necessary course work for completion of high school and entry to Qualified Admissions, Regents institutions.

NOTE: Students who return to their boundary high school may lose eligibility to participate in sports or competitive activities for 18 weeks, according to Kansas State High School Activities Association rules. 

NOTE: A student who withdraws from an academy and is approved to remain at their transfer high school will lose transportation fee waiver.

What is an endorsement?

Students participating in the four-year 21st Century High School Academies are eligible to earn an endorsement. Click here for details.