Tight funds squeeze vocational education classes

Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2004

As education funding has gotten tighter over the past several years, so too have the program offerings in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

One ever-at-risk program for students is career and technical education.

Traditionally known as vocational education, career and technical skills classes provide students with hands-on learning opportunities leading to training in a specific career or basic job skills.

Dale Moon, coordinator of the Workforce Development Program, which offers a number of after-school and evening vocational education classes for students from all over the central peninsula, said he remains concerned about the future of career and technical training in the district.

"I've been here since 1982, and I see programs dwindling rapidly," he said.

"It's not just a district problem. If you look all over the United States, districts either can't afford it or think they don't need vocational education."

But vocational training is important for students, particularly on the Kenai Peninsula, Moon said.

"We have parents, teachers, administrators who believe all students are going to college," he said. "We know that's not true. Of high school graduates, only a small percentage go on to college. And an even smaller percentage graduate with a degree."

He said most students will end up in the work force without a college degree, and that's why it's important for kindergarten through 12th-grade schools to provide students opportunities to gain the basic skills they need for the working world.

Still, it's not an easy feat when district budgets grow tight.

"I don't know if it's a funding problem, but it's definitely a numbers problem," Moon said.

He explained that small schools mean small staffs, and with enrollment declining districtwide, many high schools on the central peninsula simply don't have enough teachers to provide the wide range of vocational classes they once offered.

"My understanding is that we just lost the auto shop at Skyview (High School), because the teacher transferred," he said.

"Kenai used to have six full-time vocational education teachers; now there's just one. Kenai Middle School has no vocational education, no home economics, no art. Nikiski High has a metals and auto shop, but only one teacher."

Glenn Haupt, director of career and technical education with the district, also acknowledged the problem. But, he said, that's why the school district is trying to streamline the courses offered at area high schools.

"There's some concern with us doing away with vocational education in the district," Haupt said. "That's not my intent at all."

Rather, he said, the district is looking for ways to make the best use of its resources.

Haupt said schools in the district have the facilities and materials to conduct classes, but those resources are spread thin in trying to offer a full range of classes at each area high school, especially when there are not enough teachers.

Instead, Haupt said school district administrators and teachers are planning to get together soon to discuss efforts to realign curriculum for career and technical education.

For example, he said, certain schools in the district may specialize in one or two types of classes. One high school eventually may have a full auto mechanics program, while another has woodworking.

"We're going to be looking at regionalizing vocational education services on the peninsula, so we utilize resources we have in a way that will lead to students being able to get certifications."

A part of that effort already is in place with Moon's Workforce Development Program. Based out of Kenai Central High School, the program offers after-school and evening classes for students pursuing industry-recognized certifications in fields such as nursing, the oil and gas industry and computer networking.

The program partners with Kenai Peninsula College to provide highly qualified instructors and offer students the opportunity to simultaneously gain high school and college credits, as well as industry certifications.

Likewise, partnerships in Seward with the Alaska Vocational and Technical Center offer students on the east peninsula the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in various career fields.

Haupt said the district would like to see such cooperation go even further.

He said the district may soon look into the possibility of aligning daily schedules at the various schools so students could take classes at different campuses or participate in real-time distance-delivery courses.

Such alignment would help schools across the peninsula share resources and allow students to pursue their interests regardless of their school of attendance, he said.

Such streamlining may take time, and changing the way the district does business may be uncomfortable, Haupt said.

But, he repeated, "Our focus is not cutting vocational programs, but to offer the best opportunities we can with the resources we have."

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