A special work session to discuss the future of the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center Wednesday left the school’s Board with more questions than answers.
The Board called the September meeting in an effort to expedite the planning process that will see CATEC form five new institutes and align curriculum with Piedmont Virginia Community College.
Wednesday’s talks saw the Board and local experts break into two groups to discuss the logistics of starting the Healthcare Services and Early Childhood Education institutes. Additionally, the Board recognized the need to form advisory committees including area employers for each institute.
“We wanted to look at what issues and career pathways were involved with each institute, what resources we need and any staffing considerations,” CATEC interim director Bruce Bosselman said. “Rather than trying to do all five at one time, we wanted to break it down into manageable chunks.”
CATEC Board chair Willa Neale said the body is beginning to understand the amount of work executing the plan will require.
“We’re doing the nitty gritty work of the strategic plan,” Neale said. “You have your plan, and how do you go from strategic thinking to making step one happen?”
With respect to the Early Childhood Education Institute, Cliff Haury, dean of humanities, fine arts and social sciences at Piedmont Virginia Community College, pointed to low pay as an obstacle.
“You won’t have people going into the program if they don’t think that they can make a good living at it,” Haury said.
However Haury noted that any PVCC early childhood classes that meet Standards of Learning requirements could immediately become dual enrollment courses for high school students.
What’s more Haury said, is that students can then go on to pursue many avenues in the field of education, citing students that have continued on to Mary Baldwin College and the University of Virginia.
But Board members questioned how quickly a CATEC graduate could earn a living wage without having to immediately pursue additional education.
“The question that we have is what we can teach them here so they can get a job when they graduate,” Board member Pam Moynihan said.
Speaking about the Healthcare Services Institute, Chad Ratliff, Albemarle’s assistant director of instruction, agreed.
“We have to be about high growth, high wage jobs,” Ratliff said.
Charlottesville High School assistant principal Deb Cook said isolating a field and pushing out students with those skills leads to market saturation. Instead, Cook said, the Board should consider gauging what the market can support.
The Board also faces a tough facility decision. In May, PVCC president Frank Friedman offered support for the placement of a new CATEC facility at the community college campus. Now the CATEC Board must weigh the cost of building a new school against investing significant funds to renovate the existing building.
“What I love about this is saying that we’re going to have one community pathway for career and technical education,” Friedman said. “That is my personal vision of what we could achieve, and if you follow that logic, why not have one facility?”
But given waning student interest in some CATEC programs and finding areas of natural programming overlap led some Board members to reflect on the offer.
“It’s really deciding how we get kids to attend,” Moynihan said, noting that the farther students are from CATEC, the more difficult is has been to attract them. “The problems we have aren’t just going to go away if we build a new building at PVCC.”
Board member Steve Koleszar agreed.
“By choosing to relocate, we’re choosing to build a certain kind of future for CATEC, and is that consistent with the kind of vision that we have for CATEC, and is that going to meet the needs of our students?”
As for fulfilling that goal of meeting student needs, Koleszar added, a full relocation might not be the best route.
“For some of our programs, being at PVCC would offer tremendous synergy, like Healthcare for example, because they have such a strong program,” Koleszar said. “But when you look at Cosmetology, there’s no synergy there.”
“Maybe we don’t need to build a building there,” Koleszar added. “Maybe what we need to do is collocate certain programs in their spaces…and the things that we do that are really standalone we would keep here.”
Neale said that implementing the strategic plan well will take time.
“What I think is particularly challenging about it is that we’re not just making a decision for CATEC, we’re making a community decision,” Neale said. “It’s one thing if you’re making a decision for just the County school system or just the City, but we are not only talking about just City or County schools, but also the two governments because we’re talking about workforce development, and another school in PVCC.”