Advancing technology and a predicted shortage of skilled workers make vocational education more important than ever. But on the Kenai Peninsula two decades of public school budget cuts have gutted vocational programs.
Now the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has resolved to turn vocational education around.
Thursday, Superintendent Donna Peterson told the North Peninsula Chamber of Commerce that community involvement is key.
"Having everybody come to the table is critical," she said.
The district is looking to partnerships with Kenai Peninsula College and area businesses to supplement its resources, which are limited by tight budgets. It is setting up regional advisory teams to help schools -- especially high schools -- maximize the efficiency and relevance of the programs.
A pilot advisory group began meeting on the south peninsula at the beginning of the school year. Now the district is ready to set up a similar group for the central peninsula.
"We'd like to do the same thing in Nikiski," Peterson said. "We think this is the next community to do this."
Nikiski Middle-Senior High School Principal Robin Williams said the ideas are still in the early talking stages.
She wants to discuss the matter with the school's site-based council and to solicit ideas from students, parents and industry representatives.
She will meet with Ben Eveland, the district's head of vocational programs, and Ron Keffer, the principal of Homer High School, to discuss setting up a school to careers advisory committee at Nikiski, she said.
"I guess it makes sense to pool resources," Williams said.
The district had a large vocational education program in the 1970s, when the state had a lot of oil money. However, budget cuts forced teacher layoffs and reduction in class offerings.
In recent years, the district has been scrambling to restructure schools and use technology to retain options for students.
In years to come, the district would like to develop ambitious new ways to deliver vocational classes to more students with lower costs.
Peterson outlined the new idea of establishing a Regional Work-force Development Center for students in grades 11 to 14 (that is, including two years of college) to be located at Kenai Central High School.
The district would provide the facilities, industry would assist with funding, and instructors would come from the high schools, college and private sector. Such a facility could serve central peninsula high school students, KPC students and the general public.
"We have unbelievable facilities," she said. "They are sitting empty because we don't have the teachers."
The project would include flexible scheduling, allowing students to travel from school to school to take courses, reducing costs of duplication and increasing student access to electives.
Many details of funding and logistical details need to be worked out before such a center could become a reality.
The district has floated a plan, but now converting the plan into a reality is the question, Peterson said.
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