After months of debate, the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center Board Tuesday adopted a strategic plan that symbolizes the first major structural change to the school in its 40 year history.
The plan, offered up by Charlottesville-based consultants the Bridge, Ltd., outlines a five year transformation of CATEC’s current model of programming into one based on content-focused institutes that will align with local employer needs.
“This feels like one of the unique opportunities that we have to embrace a strategic direction that could potentially change the way our community views our technical education program,” Charlottesville City Schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins said. “It is an opportunity to have a keen focus on individual career pathways, and marrying that with the workforce is an ideal way to make sure that we are heading in the right direction.”
The Board voted unanimously to approve the institute model concept, to form a steering committee to study the implementation of the model, and to think about which institute to open first as a pilot.
As proposed, the institutes, which will serve both high school and adult students, include: Skilled Trades, Customer Service, Early Childhood Education, Healthcare Services, and Manufacturing and Information Technology.
In addition to the model’s plan to align CATEC more closely with Piedmont Virginia Community College, each institute will have its own advisory council comprised of academics and employers to develop curriculum relevant to business needs.
But many questions still remain.
“I think it’s an exciting concept…but is it going to be full-time, part-time, how much does it cost, what do we do with the facilities, how many teachers does it require?” Charlottesville Board member Ned Michie asked.
Albemarle Board member Pam Moynihan said that while she likes the idea of a closer relationship with the business community, she thinks the plan—which recommends hiring four new administrators—is too “administrative and bureaucratic heavy.”
However, Moynihan said, these concerns shouldn’t keep CATEC’s soon-to-form steering committee from fleshing the plan out.
“We’ll continue to plan, and maybe six months from now we’ll get a better feel for the administrative and supervisory costs of the program, which might need refinement,” Moynihan said.
With respect to administrative growth, Grant Tate, who heads the Bridge, said reassigning organizational duties will allow CATEC Director Adam Hastings to focus on the center’s strategic growth.
“We continue to emphasize that Adam Hastings becomes the key player with PVCC and the public, and that he’s going to need the support to give him the time and freedom to lead the implementation strategy,” Tate said.
To do this the Bridge has proposed elevating the assistant principal’s responsibilities in CATEC’s day-to-day operations, and assigning the new staff members lead roles in oversight of the institutes, program design, the self-assessment center, and work experiences, respectively.
Since the last presentation to the CATEC Board, the Bridge has slowed their initial roll out of the redesign from four years to five.
“We recognized this when we presented the schedule and the comment was made that it was deemed to be overly optimistic,” Grant Tate said. “We now see it as a five year plan.”
Despite the one-year slow-down, Tate said, keeping the business community’s interest alive is vital, and the sooner CATEC acts the less instability businesses will perceive.
“We really have to move rapidly to get the businesses involved,” Tate said. “Whatever we do early in terms of implementation, we need to staff the advisory groups to get them active and establish relationships with business.”
Establishing, and maintaining, those relationships, Tate said, will also be pivotal to keep CATEC an agile, adaptable organization.
“If we’re talking about a five-year plan…what’s the employment environment going to look like in five years?” Tate said. “That means the organization needs to have a keen eye on development and the business needs as we look ahead.”
“We need to have a team to adjust to those needs as necessary…and the strategy needs to be adjusted to the needs as we go through the five-year period,” Tate added.
Moynihan warned against losing sight of what CATEC currently does well in the face of change.
“The idea is to try and not only create new programs through this institute model at CATEC, but also to improve our ability to teach our students those trades that are traditionally taught here,” Moynihan said.
Albemarle County Public Schools Superintend Pam Moran said this is where the pilot institute comes in.
“I love the idea of trying out a pilot, because it allows us to look at what it would really take to really wrap around the kind of support it would take to build that out,” Moran said.
“The idea of working on an early win to demonstrate collaboration between CATEC, PVCC, and the business community…that’s a really good approach,” Tate said.
In addition to the individual institutes, all students will learn computer skills, and all students will take courses in self-development foundations.
The new model also adds a Skills Assessment Center that will evaluate students and offer career guidance, and a Program Design Center for curriculum and course development, institutional research, and licensing.
The Bridge’s work came at a cost of $60,000 to CATEC, which is jointly funded by Charlottesville and Albemarle.
From 2011-14, Albemarle accounted for about 72 percent of CATEC’s enrollment, and Charlottesville about 28 percent.
In 2013-14, Albemarle’s contribution to CATEC totaled $1,547,909, and Charlottesville’s was $504,506.
“This is a beginning,” Moran said. “There is obviously more work that we’re going to do to solidify focus.”
“This is finally the chance to stop talking about what CATEC might be and start talking about what it needs to be,” Hastings said.