Future students at the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center may see a program that blurs the lines between the last two years of high school and the first two years of college.
The model unveiled for public comment Monday at CitySpace is based upon a close relationship between CATEC and Piedmont Virginia Community College, and includes five institutes and a “Self-development Foundations” program that aims to teach basic workforce skills.
Leaders hope the new approach will eliminate duplication of effort and some turf battles.
“You basically treat it as a four-year program of grades 11, 12, 13 and 14, and you cut out the turf that it’s two different systems, one secondary and one post-secondary,” PVCC President Frank Friedman said of how new curriculum would develop under the model.
The five institutes include: skilled trades, customer service, healthcare services, manufacturing and information technology, and early childhood education.
The proposed model also features a skills assessment center to align incoming students with their interests, a program design center for curriculum development and institutional research, and the potential for including distance education.
CATEC began its strategic planning process in September, when it awarded a $60,000 contract to Charlottesville-based consultants, the Bridge, Ltd.
Recently, both Charlottesville City Councilor Bob Fenwick and Albemarle County Supervisor Kenneth Boyd have criticized the move to hire a consultant, arguing that, in addition to the cost, City and County employees could produce the same level of research.
CATEC is funded jointly by Charlottesville City Schools and Albemarle County Public Schools, and that funding is dependent upon three-year enrollment averages at the center.
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.
Consultant Grant Tate developed four potential models in an effort to update CATEC’s educational programming and facilities and to better-prepare students for a rapidly-changing economy that will require technology fluency as well as soft-skills like networking.
Career path integration—where each educational step teaches a marketable skill—and being a center of excellence are two big ideas getting additional focus. As a result, employers are expected to work with PVCC and CATEC to design curriculum to meet their needs.
Tate said each element of the new model would develop according to demand, and that courses would be housed at CATEC or PVCC as appropriate.
Additionally, Tate said, the Bridge has not taken a position on eliminating any current programming, and has yet to decide if the new model would house students full- or part-time.
Tate did say, however, that CATEC should be careful about cutting Cosmetology.
“It’s not just paying jobs, those students go to practice that in their families and other places,” Tate said. “If you can find one thing to really excite a child who might not otherwise be interested in school, then you’ve done that child a service.”
Linda Seaman, a former Charlottesville School Board member and CATEC Board Chair, said there’s a need for some “community education” about career and technical education.
“CATEC has long struggled with getting students and their parents and, frankly, the school employees to believe that there’s a legitimate and very forward-looking productive life for students to go to CATEC,” Seaman said.
Parent Carolyn Politis agreed, saying that teachers and counselors at her son’s school have encouraged him to avoid CATEC.
“I’ve got four kids quite capable of going to college, but I don’t want them to see a technical career as a second choice,” Politis said.
Charlottesville School Board member Willa Neale said that needs to change.
“I think it’s hard in 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th grade to know exactly what you want to do,” Neale said. “So I think what these models are going to show, and what we as a school division have to let all children know is that there different paths available to you.”
“It’s a whole cultural thing in the United States,” Charlottesville School Board member Ned Michie said. “It’s absolutely something that we need to work on as a full community, and the School Board needs to do its part.”
The Bridge will present the model to the CATEC Board on January 21, and will have another meeting for public input in February.