In the coming years, the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center might play home to students who have yet to reach high school. During a strategic plan work session last week, the CATEC Board approved Director Adam Hastings’ request to conduct a feasibility study about starting a preschool teacher training program at the regional center.
“So far our strategic plan is taking shape, and one of the big things that is coming out of our conversation is vertical integration from young grades all the way through to advanced, post-secondary education,” Hastings said. “The preschool feasibility study puts all of that together, with young kids, high school-aged kids, and employers.”
The study will involve Hastings meeting with many of the preschool community’s stakeholders, such as the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, Piedmont Virginia Community College, and other private preschool providers. While Hastings said it’s an exploratory step and that it’s too early to tell what form a pre-k program might take, the opportunity would serve as both a high-quality early-childhood experience and a training program for CATEC students.
“What we know about our successful training programs is the ones that have as close to real-world, if not real-world, training opportunities like internships and apprenticeships, if we can give them those, we know that the career and technical education instruction for high school kids goes through the roof,” Hastings said.
Grant Tate, who heads the Bridge, Ltd—a Charlottesville-based consulting firm guiding CATEC’s current strategic planning process—said the recent Orange Dot Project identified childcare as a community need. The move would not be the first time CATEC housed pre-kindergarten students, as the vocational center ran an early childhood program from 1986 to 1998.
The pre-k conversation was an offshoot of the larger strategic planning meeting, during which the Board discussed overarching modernizations the center could make.
Representatives from the Bridge also briefed the Board on four of the conceptual models they have developed for CATEC so far during the strategic planning process. Tom Smith, former Superintendent of Fluvanna County Public Schools, said that the models are “ideas to talk about the way things are moving,” and emphasized that elements of each could be combined or changed.
The models include a Full-time Model, which would see students complete their last two year of high school at CATEC, and a Certification Model that would only offer programming in certified/registered vocational tracks. Additionally, Smith introduced a model that integrates the business community into curriculum design, and a model that transforms CATEC into a career and technical education center of excellence by promoting innovative programming and faculty development.
Board Chair Steve Koleszar said that whatever CATEC becomes, the school must stress making connections with employers for students. “I think that’s the critical missing piece,” Koleszar said. “We don’t make those connections, and so some people, for whatever reason, luck out, while others end up not being able to use their skills.
Charlottesville Superintendent Rosa Atkins said that CATEC needs to prepare students with skills that will take them beyond the Charlottesville–Albemarle community, which she feared could see workforce saturation after a few years of successfully training students.
But Smith said the employers he has spoken to are predicting long-term needs. “If you think regionally, things are going to expand in other areas, whether it’s moving up 29 North into Greene County and Madison County, or whatever,” Smith said, noting that the region’s definition of the service industry is changing. “The service industry is not McDonalds. That’s not what we’re talking about,” Smith added. “Plow and Hearth is in Madison, even if you go as far as to Richmond with Amazon and their call centers. It’s more than part-time working at GAP.”
Board Member Willa Neale and Superintendent Atkins expressed concern over how the over-arching strategic plans would be harnessed into action. “I am concerned that there are so many wonderful options here that we may get lost in the options,” Atkins said.
Tate said developing an innovative model would require an innovative process of creating that model. Albemarle Superintendent Pam Moran said the preschool feasibility study could be a way to begin taking action on the strategic plan.
Despite the concerns expressed by the Board, Tate and Smith said the process is going smoothly. “They’re thinking about how to do it,” Smith said. “There’s always nervousness with ‘How I am going to take an idea, no matter how great I think it is, and implement it.’”
“The good news in all that is that they didn’t throw up roadblocks,” Tate said. “They didn’t say ‘You can’t do this because,’ which they could do. Lots of Board do.” Tate said his team will continue to meet with employers and hone models, and will most likely meet with the CATEC Board again in January.