Board of education approves career tech center

Published 7:09 pm Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Crenshaw County Schools Superintendent Randy Wilkes, front left, signs an agreement with Smart Alabama vice president Hug Heo, front right, to provide teachers for the new career technical center.

Crenshaw County Schools Superintendent Randy Wilkes, front left, signs an agreement with Smart Alabama vice president Hug Heo, front right, to provide teachers for the new career technical center.

At its board meeting Monday, the Crenshaw County Board of Education approved what superintendent Randy Wilkes said is one of the most important developments in the school system’s history: a career technical center that will prepare high school students to immediately join the local workforce.

“This is a culmination of many, many weeks and months of effort by numerous people,” he said.

“We have the highest graduation rates in the state, among the highest test scores, and even among those great accomplishments, this stands out. This career tech initiative is huge.”

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Wilkes said the effort began when he noticed the schools falling away from a focus on job-readiness.

“In my opinion, it started with the 4×4 plan,” he said, referencing the state mandate that all students take four math, science, English and history classes during their high school career.

“Then we got the graduation exam and we just could not adjust the schedule to get kids to travel and attend a central career tech system.”

Now that the graduation exam requirements have been lifted and the schools have changed from seven periods to eight, there is enough flexibility for the school system to move forward.

Robyn Snellgrove, president of the Chrenshaw County Economic and Industrial Development Authority, said the career tech center will be pivotal for enhancing the workforce, building existing Crenshaw County industries and attracting new companies to the area.

“When we first started doing this, we sat down with our industries and asked them what they need,” she said.

“They said they were stuggling to find a qualified workforce. Industries are looking for skilled laborers and when they know that your school system and businesses and industries are partnering together, this is going to help tremendously.”

Wilkes said the school board will pay a total cost of around $400,000 to renovate the Joe R. Sport Administrative Building into the career technical center and plans to have it ready for fall classes.

Classes will be taught by professionals in local industries, as well as some existing county high school teachers and there are plans to offer five courses of study in the first year to students in grades 9-12: health sciences, business marketing, industrial engineering, computer technology and welding.

He said the board will also be applying for additional state funds to pay for more classes after those have been established.

The courses will be aimed at providing skills specific to local industries like Smart, Dongwon and Silla, all of which have agreed to donate professors to teach the students what their company needs.

This will include soft skills like time management and leadership training, specific abilities needed for actual production in those companies and even cultural education, Wilkes said, including classes on Korean language.

Students interested in the courses will be able to register during the summer, but Wilkes said they will need to decide soon if they would like to be involved because classes could fill quickly.

He said 74 percent of 350 survey responses among county school students in grades 9-11 said they were interested in career technical offerings, so he expects the center to be popular.

“I believe the demand for this will outweigh the supply.

Snellgrove said building relationships with and skills specific to local companies will also help keep students in Crenshaw County after they graduate, instead of moving elsewhere to find work as, she says, most currently do.

Gary Sport, General Manager of Smart in Luverne, said students who graduate after taking this program will have a competitive edge in the job pool.

“They’ll come in and have more of an opportunity to fast track in our company,” he said.

“We have a lot of leadership positions we’re always looking to fill and having that background, they should be able to hit the ground running, which is what we’re looking for.”