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Strengthening the workforce
New measures for career technical programs mean more options
By Lisa Singleton-Rickman - TNValleyNow.com
Matt McKean/TimesDaily
Gage Campbell, from Rogers, and Lorenzo Roberts, from Wilson, work on a project during a class on building construction at Allen Thornton Career Technical Center in Center Star.

Changes are coming for career technical programs around the state, and local leaders say the new accountability measures will mean students are better prepared for the workforce.

The measures are part of state Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice’s Plan 2020 for Alabama schools.

Local career technical program directors say there are key components of the plan that will benefit all students such as the implementation of a career preparedness course to be taken by ninth-graders.

Beginning with next year’s ninth-graders, students must take the course that includes financial literacy, career exploration, computer applications and online experience.

Beyond providing students with the opportunity to learn lifelong skills, the course could be eye-opening for parents, as well.

“This is a way for parents to see that their kids don’t have to choose (between career technical and academic paths) because they can have both,” said Kelley Joiner, director of the Allen Thornton Career Technical Center for Lauderdale County schools. “I’m hoping for more required courses in career tech to come as a result of this.”

The state also is moving to a single diploma, beginning with next year’s ninth-graders, that combines academics and career technical coursework.

“The skills the students learn in these classes they’ll use the rest of their lives even if they don’t pursue it as a career,” Joiner said.

The changes began to be developed in the fall of 2011, when a statewide group of educators, students and business leaders came together to form the state’s Career Technical Commission. One year later, they had proposals in place.

Gary Dan Williams, director of the Muscle Shoals Center for Technology, was part of that committee.

“We know we have students graduating who don’t have a clue of what they’re capable of doing or what they’re even interested in,” Williams said. “We kept hearing over and over that students have no concept of finances and that major corporations, business and industry need us to step it up and teach students practical, needed, hands-on type skills.”

The changes being implemented, particularly the addition of the career preparedness course, are designed to help students from the time they enter high school.

“By getting to the students in ninth grade, we can do a more thorough job of career counseling all through school,” he said. “The earlier we start with these students the better because they change their minds and their interests change.”

Florence City Schools Career Technical Supervisor Darrin Lett said he’s glad career technical education in Alabama is poised to have a bigger impact than ever on the state’s workforce development.

“We’re putting out better prepared students for the workforce and can see that only getting better,” he said. “(Former state school board member) Gary Warren was a huge advocate for quality career tech education, and we’re benefitting greatly now from those efforts.”

He said Bice has drawn from the wisdom and experience of industry and education professionals.

“There’s a four-year plan that every (ninth grade) student has to have beginning next year for academics and career planning,” Lett said. “That’s huge because it’s bringing the two areas into the same focus.”

There also is a $30 million career and technical education bond issue proposal that remains on the table.

That money would be used to update career technical programs around the state. The money would be distributed based on the districts’ number of career technical programs and students. The measure in moving through the Alabama Legislature and has been approved by the House. The bill moves next to the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee.

Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.

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