Career Center Classes Spark Debate

WINNSBORO – Although the District only just broke ground on the new Career and Technology Center last month, and classes aren’t expected to begin there until August of 2015, the addition of four new programs and the elimination of two programs at the new facility sparked questions from two School Board members at the Board’s July 15 meeting.

Superintendent J.R. Green announced the addition of a Barbering program, a Firefighting/EMT program and two Project Lead the Way (PLTW) programs – one in Engineering and one in Biomedical Science – for the 2015-2016 school year. PLTW programs offer a project-based curriculum, Green said, and the transition into the Biomedical Science program will begin this school year, provided the District can hire a PLTW certified Health Science teacher. The District currently has three PLTW certified instructors on staff, Green said.

“We hope we are able to expose our children with the Engineering Program to a host of new opportunities as it relates to robotics, engineering and how the sciences work together,” Green said. “And we hope that this Biomedical Science program really is an extension of our already very very successful Nursing program. So we’re looking to expand what we’re doing in Nursing as a function of the Biomedical Science program.”

Green said the addition and subtraction of programs was based on several factors, including employment opportunities, feedback from the community and enrollment.

“Most importantly, we looked at interest from students,” Green said. “And I can tell you in all the programs that were selected there was high interest from the student body.”

Board member Paula Hartman (District 2) questioned the validity of the Firefighter/EMT program, since, she said, nearly all of the firefighting opportunities in Fairfield County were unpaid volunteer positions.

“Everything is volunteer, except for the Town of Winnsboro,” Hartman said. “How is that going to get them a job in Fairfield County?”

“It may not get them a paying job in Fairfield County,” Green answered, “but there are opportunities elsewhere outside Fairfield County.”

Hartman said the school district should be preparing students for college or employment and questioned how a program aimed primarily at volunteer positions was accomplishing that. Green said students had expressed significant interest in the Firefighter/EMT program through the survey, and paid positions are available in places other than Fairfield County. Green also said it was important to give students opportunities to explore things they may not necessarily choose as a career.

“There should always be an opportunity for some personal development skills,” Green said. “It’s not as if everyone who takes Building & Construction plans to build homes for a living, or who takes Brick Laying or Electricity plans to do that for a living. I don’t look at it through the prism of simply what you’re exposed to at the Career Center is simply things that you plan to earn a living doing.”

Green said the District has discontinued the Machine Tools program and the Accounting and Marketing program, as student enrollment in those programs has dwindled. Board member Annie McDaniel (District 4), who joined the meeting via telephone, asked Green how the decision to cancel those programs, specifically Accounting, was reached. Green said the decision was based on a recommendation from the Career and Technology Center Director, J. Christopher Dinkins, as well as on enrollment numbers.

McDaniel also asked if the District was in close communication with the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville to ensure the District was offering courses “so that students who want to go straight into the workforce, that we’re giving them some kind of assistance as far as their vocation so they are qualified for the jobs being offered at V.C. Summer,” McDaniel said.

Green said the District was indeed in constant contact with the plant; however, opportunities for people possessing merely a high school diploma were few and far between.

“There are very few opportunities outside of labor for students to move straight from high school and go straight into the workforce without any kind of advanced certification and training,” Green said. “I think we begin that process at Fairfield Central High School and our career center.”

When McDaniel asked for specific examples of careers requiring advanced certification or training, Green rattled off a list that included welding, computer technician and computer programming. Hartman then asked Green about the demise of the Machine Tools program.

“Have you talked with anybody at Lang-Mekra? My understanding is that you can go into having two years of Machine Tools and go into a job there,” Hartman said.

Green said he did not know if jobs were available at Lang-Mekra for graduates with a two-year certification in Machine Tools, but added that even if that were the case, the Career and Technology Center was not able to support the program.

“Students were simply not enrolling in the program,” Green said. “So, the one thing we have to acknowledge, regardless of how great we think the opportunities are for students in a particular career, if students aren’t interested in being a part of the program, then it really does not happen. There could be $100,000 jobs out there in machine tools, but if students aren’t interested in enrolling in the Machine Tools program, earning their certification and sticking with it, then it really has no value in terms of offering the program. We simply did not have students who were interested, obviously, based on enrollment, to be a part of that program.”

McDaniel said she hoped the District was doing everything it could to make students aware of these opportunities.

“Students don’t often know what they don’t know,” McDaniel said. “They don’t always know what fields are best for them.”

“At the end of the day, kids have to determine what their passions are,” Green said. “As much as, as adults we feel as if we know best, if kids don’t want to do it, then they’re not going to do it. So we have to offer programs not only that are beneficial to students, but programs they have an interest in.”

In addition to discontinuing the Machine Tools and the Accounting and Marketing programs, Green said the Auto Mechanics program and the Auto Body program were consolidated into a single program.