CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Department of Education changed its mind and approved a grant Wednesday that will allow Putnam County Schools to hire someone to help at-risk students choose a career path. The board had refused Putnam's Dropout Prevention Innovation Zone Grant application in October, but since then more money became available, said Liza Cordeiro, spokeswoman for the Department of Education. Putnam was awarded the maximum $300,000 and plans to use the money to help students explore career possibilities outside college. "We're just very happy to have the opportunity to expand on some things we already have in the works," Putnam Superintendent Chuck Hatfield said. "We want to be able to truly develop a career education program that's very meaningful and helpful to kids and starts as early as middle school to help kids make better career decisions, and this will allow us to move more in that direction." Hatfield has said a large number of high school graduates in Putnam go on to college, but that nearly two out of three don't earn a degree. For that reason, Putnam schools have started focusing on career-readiness skills and are developing programs to help students figure out career paths. At the beginning of the school year, Putnam teachers began to stress qualities such as punctuality and work ethic as part of a movement to get students ready for the work force and to choose a career path. Those things are now being factored into students' grades. The grant will help train teachers and counselors to promote career options to students who might need extra motivation, according to Hatfield. Innovation zone grants allow schools to try out new, research-based strategies in an effort to improve student learning. The new Buffalo High School was given the grant in January. In 2010, the county's high schools received $24,000 to develop plans to reduce the dropout rate. Also, Hometown Elementary received nearly $11,000 to introduce courses featuring robotics and other technology for children in pre-kindergarten through third grade. Cindy Daniel, assistant Putnam superintendent of curriculum and instruction, who wrote the grant application, said she's excited to expand the county's career-development programs. "We think the career specialist will be an intricate part of it," she said. Reach Kate White at email@example.com or 304-348-1723.