Bill seeks re­gional ca­reer cen­ters

NWA dis­tricts pur­sue abil­ity to pool re­sources for work­force train­ing

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - BRENDA BERNET

An on­go­ing push for high school stu­dents to earn in­dus­try cer­ti­fi­ca­tions has ed­u­ca­tors, busi­ness rep­re­sen­ta­tives and law­mak­ers work­ing to pass a bill to sup­port the de­vel­op­ment of re­gional work­force cen­ters.

If the leg­is­la­tion passes, Ben­ton County school dis­tricts could join with North­west Tech­ni­cal In­sti­tute, ci­ties and coun­ties to cre­ate a work­force de­vel­op­ment cen­ter author­ity, Gravette Su­per­in­ten­dent Richard Page said. They could work through that or­ga­ni­za­tion to ac­quire land and bor­row money to build a re­gional work­force train­ing cen­ter.

The cen­ter could of­fer

train­ing dur­ing the day for high school stu­dents and pro­grams for adults at night. The same op­por­tu­nity would be avail­able to com­mu­ni­ties around the state. Page en­vi­sions a cen­ter open­ing in western Ben­ton County as early as fall 2019, he said.

“By do­ing a re­gional ef­fort, we can all do one pro­gram that serves all of us cheaper,” Page said. “We would have it in a cen­tral lo­ca­tion that would pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for more kids.”

Se­nate Bill 288, spon­sored by state Sen. Jim Hen­dren, R-Sul­phur Springs, passed with 31 votes last week and is work­ing its way through the House. The House Ed­u­ca­tion

Com­mit­tee is ex­pected to take up the pro­posal Tues­day, said Rep. Dan Dou­glas, R-Ben­tonville, the House spon­sor of the bill.

“We have a large por­tion of our stu­dent pop­u­la­tion that does not go on to get a four-year de­gree,” Dou­glas said. “We have so many jobs in our econ­omy that are go­ing un­filled that are high-skilled, high-paid jobs that we’re not train­ing for.”

Se­nate Bill 288 is one piece of ca­reer and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion leg­is­la­tion that has in­ter­ested area school dis­tricts.

Ben­tonville Su­per­in­ten­dent Deb­bie Jones and Pea Ridge Su­per­in­ten­dent Rick Neal have led a com­mit­tee of su­per­in­ten­dents on re­search­ing pos­si­ble leg­is­la­tion to make pro­grams that pre­pare stu­dents for the work­force more re­spon­sive to the rapidly chang­ing needs of busi­nesses, Jones said. They also in­volved of­fi­cials from the De­part­ment of Ca­reer Ed­u­ca­tion.

TEST­ING LEG­IS­LA­TION

The work of Jones and Neal is re­flected in Se­nate Bill 423, filed Wed­nes­day by Sen. Uvalde Lind­sey, D-Fayet­teville.

A key part of the bill fo­cuses on test­ing in ca­reer ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams, Jones said. The bill would ad­just the lan­guage of ex­ist­ing laws so ca­reer ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams would use third-party, in­dus­try-rec­og­nized as­sess­ments that are based on cur­rent stan­dards of em­ploy­ers.

The district’s Ig­nite Pro­fes­sional Stud­ies pro­gram gives stu­dents from Ben­tonville and other Ben­ton County dis­tricts the chance to ex­plore a va­ri­ety of ca­reers, in­clud­ing in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, con­struc­tion pro­fes­sions and graphic de­sign. Com­puter cod­ing lan­guages change rapidly, and em­ploy­ers up­date the cer­ti­fi­ca­tions and as­sess­ments they use to eval­u­ate the skills of ap­pli­cants, Jones said.

The pro­posal aims to re­place end-of-course as­sess­ments with in­dus­try-rec­og­nized ex­ams so ca­reer-fo­cused courses can ad­just in­struc­tion to match cur­rent in­dus­try ex­pec­ta­tions, Jones said. Dis­tricts also want the De­part­ment of Ca­reer Ed­u­ca­tion to con­sider a broad range of in­dus­try-rec­og­nized as­sess­ments for ca­reer and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion classes.

“It is an ef­fort for us to pro­vide high-skilled work­ers for our econ­omy,” Jones said.

The leg­is­la­tion re­flects a shift that has been on­go­ing for the past two years away from tests de­vel­oped by teach­ers and to­ward in­dus­try-rec­og­nized as­sess­ments, said Kathi Turner, a deputy di­rec­tor for the De­part­ment of Ca­reer Ed­u­ca­tion. Ca­reer ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams in­stead would use third-party, in­dus­try-rec­og­nized as­sess­ments.

Su­per­in­ten­dents are in­ter­ested in stu­dents ex­plor­ing ca­reers and earn­ing cer­tifi­cates in an in­dus­try where they can find a job, said Charles Cud­ney, di­rec­tor of the North­west Arkansas Ed­u­ca­tion Ser­vice Co­op­er­a­tive. This gives stu­dents the op­tion of im­me­di­ate em­ploy­ment af­ter grad­u­a­tion, the abil­ity to earn a higher wage to sup­port them­selves through col­lege or to en­ter a ca­reer field and gain work ex­pe­ri­ence while they fin­ish a col­lege de­gree.

CRE­AT­ING OP­TIONS

Stu­dents can still pur­sue a tra­di­tional col­lege track, Cud­ney said.

“The goal is to not let any­one grad­u­ate high school with­out a plan,” Cud­ney said.

Se­nate Bill 288 would give school dis­tricts, vo­ca­tional-tech­ni­cal schools, and city and county gov­ern­ments the abil­ity to work to­gether on de­vel­op­ing and fi­nanc­ing re­gional work­force cen­ters.

The cen­ters could be sup­ported by a mix of fund­ing sources, in­clud­ing from voter-ap­proved prop­erty and sales taxes, ac­cord­ing to the bill. The cen­ters could re­ceive state fund­ing. The par­tic­i­pat­ing gov­ern­ments also could pro­vide money out of their reg­u­lar op­er­at­ing bud­gets, pur­sue grants, re­ceive gifts of prop­erty or money or charge tu­ition to in­di­vid­u­als or em­ploy­ers.

“This bill al­lows us to pool our money to­gether to have the power to of­fer more than what we could ever do for our­selves,” he said.

Larger schools are able to of­fer ca­reer and tech­ni­cal cen­ters, but they of­ten do not have space to ac­com­mo­date stu­dents from smaller high schools, Page said. An­other op­tion is for stu­dents to at­tend vo­ca­tional-tech­ni­cal schools, but the clos­est to Gravette is North­west Tech­ni­cal In­sti­tute in Spring­dale, about an hour away.

Western Ben­ton County school dis­tricts have cre­ated a con­sor­tium to give high school stu­dents the abil­ity to learn work­force skills in pro­grams in each of their dis­tricts, Page said. This al­lows stu­dents from Ben­tonville and De­catur the op­tion of tak­ing weld­ing in Gravette, and the abil­ity for stu­dents from their dis­tricts to par­tic­i­pate in Ben­tonville School District’s Ig­nite Pro­fes­sional Stud­ies pro­gram.

“We’re piec­ing things to­gether,” Page said. “We’re do­ing the best we can with what we have. It’s not quite good enough.”

PART­NER­SHIPS

If the leg­is­la­tion passes, the dis­tricts will have the abil­ity to keep pro­grams within their

dis­tricts or pro­vide pro­grams, such as au­to­mo­tive ser­vice tech­nol­ogy and avi­a­tion me­chan­ics, in a cen­tral lo­ca­tion, Page said.

North­west Tech­ni­cal In­sti­tute has three satel­lite lo­ca­tions where it of­fers classes in closer prox­im­ity to high school stu­dents who are not able to get to its main lo­ca­tion in Spring­dale, said Blake Robert­son, pres­i­dent of the ca­reer and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion school. The in­sti­tute of­fers pro­grams for high school stu­dents and adults.

The in­sti­tute of­fers a nurs­ing pro­gram in Rogers and part­ners with Gravette for the school’s new weld­ing pro­gram.

Plans in Wash­ing­ton County in­clude mov­ing a den­tal as­sist­ing pro­gram from Fayet­teville to Farm­ing­ton for the 2017-18 school year, Robert­son said. The in­sti­tute al­ready pro­vides classes in crim­i­nal jus­tice in Farm­ing­ton. Robert­son said he also is seek­ing state ap­proval to add pro­grams in ma­chin­ing and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy in Farm­ing­ton.

The satel­lite lo­ca­tions are open to high school stu­dents in Ben­ton and Wash­ing­ton coun­ties, he said.

If the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion for re­gional cen­ters passes, the in­sti­tute and school dis­tricts will have an­other op­tion for ex­pand­ing ca­reer and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams, Robert­son said.

Ben­tonville school of­fi­cials have been in­volved in dis­cus­sions and sup­port dis­tricts hav­ing the abil­ity to par­tic­i­pate, but Jones and her staff would have to de­ter­mine if it’s fi­nan­cially fea­si­ble be­fore con­sid­er­ing whether to join, she said.

Farm­ing­ton School District will con­tinue to work with its neigh­bors on open­ing pro­grams to high school stu­dents in south­ern and western Wash­ing­ton County, Farm­ing­ton Su­per­in­ten­dent Bryan Law said. The pro­posed leg­is­la­tion would pro­vide a way for the dis­tricts to ex­pand pro­grams, he said.

When Dou­glas was in high school in the early 1970s, he re­mem­bers tak­ing shop classes. Schools of­ten needed a cou­ple hun­dred dol­lars worth of tools for those classes, he said.

Stu­dents to­day need to ac­cess to high-tech equip­ment found in to­day’s man­u­fac­tur­ing plants, such as com­put­er­ized ma­chines and ro­botic arms, Dou­glas said.

“Be­cause of the ex­treme cost and the tech­nol­ogy that’s in­volved to­day, it only makes sense for these schools to get to­gether and pool their re­sources,” Dou­glas said. “If we want a world-class work­force, we have to have world-class train­ing cen­ters.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/JA­SON IVESTER

Alex Lopez (left), Gravette High School ju­nior, and Dylan Whit­ford, Ben­tonville High School se­nior, work on a weld­ing project Thurs­day dur­ing class at the Western Ben­ton County Ca­reer Cen­ter in Gravette.

Page

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/JA­SON IVESTER

Skyler Adams, Gravette High School se­nior, works on a weld­ing project Thurs­day dur­ing class at the Western Ben­ton County Ca­reer Cen­ter in Gravette.

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