A new coalition for improved career and technical education is gathering speed and partners.
Members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's Blue Ribbon Task Force on Vocational Education presented their plans for a Kenai Peninsula World Class Workforce Coalition to the school board Monday night.
The coalition will be a partnership of peninsula businesses, community organizations and educational institutions designed to pool or streamline resources for job-related training for area students, task force members told the board.
Superintendent Donna Peterson explained to the board that the impetus for the task force and its subsequent brainchild came from the school board's 2002-03 task list for district administration.
"You had two board goals and 25 tasks for the administration," Peterson told the board. The 25th task on the list was for Peterson to increase her community visibility and meet with existing advisory groups. One of the groups she was supposed to meet with was the Student to Careers Advisory Committee (SCAC).
"From my first meeting with SCAC, it became obvious we needed to look differently at how we did vocational education," she said.
Peterson put out an advertisement for people interested in joining a task force to discuss vocational education in the district and ended up with a group that represented the "who's who of career and technical education in the state," she said.
The group met Dec. 9 and 10 to review data, definitions and previous work on vocational education which they decided was better titled "career and technical education" and determined that such instruction is indeed critical for all students.
Almost 70 percent of all young people say they plan to attend a four-year college, and another 26 percent say they plan to attend a community college or technical school, according to statistics provided by the group. However, 42 percent do not end up participating in post-secondary education, and only about 28 percent of high school freshmen go on to obtain a master's degree, Peterson said.
Harry Lockwood, a vocational counselor with the Alaska Depart-ment of Labor and Workforce Development, had more statistics to add.
He said studies indicate about 25 percent of all new jobs in the nation require a bachelor's degree or more, meaning three-fourths of all new jobs do not require a degree.
But, he added, those jobs still require some post-secondary training.
Also, he said the trend of mass retirements by the aging baby boomer generation is opening jobs nationwide.
About 62 percent of all jobs filled nationwide are replacements, he said. That means that even though it seems like economic growth is at a standstill, there still are jobs opening up.
"The bottom line, percentage-wise, is that we need to address the needs of the workforce," he told the board. "We need, in secondary education, to provide better preparation for the world of work."
Peterson said the task force decided the district has a basis for such instruction but needs to focus its resources, especially in light of current financial constraints. The coalition can help focus those resources by pulling together the district, Kenai Peninsula College, the Alaska Vocational Technical Center, area businesses and all manner of existing consortia, Peterson said.
Also, the task force identified specific goals for the district. Members want a single point of contact for businesses; Sam Stewart, director of secondary curriculum, has taken on the job.
They also want the district to provide more streamlined career information for students. Peterson said the district wants to provide a "rigorous and relevant" curriculum for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. And that doesn't mean targeting underachieving students for vocational education as many people assume. Rather, she said, "all students need academic preparation and all need employability."
Stewart said he has communicated the goals with school counselors to reinforce the importance of career counseling. He also said the district has drafted a curriculum that will provide guidance to teachers to make sure career instruction is provided throughout the K-12 experience.
Another integral part of the plan is the continued growth of the Workforce Development Program. The program is based at Kenai Central High School and provides industry-certification classes for students from throughout the central peninsula. The classes, offered through a district partnership with KPC, are taught by college professors or industry-experienced teachers and provide high school students a head start in their career training, said Dale Moon, program coordinator.
Some of the courses include an introduction to process technology, a safety course required to work in the oil and gas industry, computer networking classes, and training for certified nursing aides.
The district also plans to add courses in construction technology, child development and automobile repair and to develop digital distance-delivery courses to offer the classes to students outside the central peninsula.
"The key thing is that these aren't dead-end programs," Moon said. "They open doors so once students graduate, they end up with certification that makes them employable."
He said students can go on to pursue a two- or four-year degree, often using their certification to help pay education expenses, expand their industry certifications or jump right into the job market.
Joe Donahue, who was contracted by the Kenai Peninsula Eco-nomic Development District to develop the basis for the coalition, said partnerships are growing by the minute. He is working to bring together all educational institutions on the peninsula, as well as employers, and drafting memoranda of understanding to bring them into the coalition partnerships.
Peterson said she believes the idea of the coalition and the development of ongoing partnerships are the wave of the future, especially as K-12 education funding gets tighter nationwide.
She said she spoke to the University of Alaska Board of Regents, which was in Kenai last week, about the partnerships, and the members said the Kenai Peninsula is leading the trend in Alaska.
The school board was not asked to take any formal action on the report from the task force at Monday's meeting, but Peterson said the group is asking board members to get on the bandwagon.
She said the group needs board members to understand and support the idea behind the coalition; champion career and technical education; serve on future committees as the coalition expands; and protect the existing though minimal district funding for vocational education.
For their part, board members responded favorably to work the task force has done and the coalition formation.
"I'm really impressed with task force. It couldn't be a better set-up. I appreciate all the high-powered people giving their time," said board member Dr. Nels Anderson.
Board member Margaret Gil-man added that she agrees with the comprehensive outlook on career and technical education.
"Vocational education does not have to be either-or, as perhaps it used to be," she said. "Vocational education is part of our lives."
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