Isle of Wight schools to examine partnership with The Pruden Center

Published 2:05 pm Wednesday, February 3, 2016

By Matt Leonard

Staff Writer

Isle of Wight County schools will be revamping their career and technical education program next year and part of the move forward could mean cutting ties with The Pruden Center.

Every year the county spends $950,000 for 220 slots at The Pruden Center, and over the past three years the county has only been filling around 140 of those slots, according to Isle of Wight County Schools Superintendent Jim Thornton

“So we’re paying for 80 additional slots that aren’t being filled,” Thornton said. Each slot is a single yearlong class taken by a student at the center in programs like culinary arts and nursing assistant. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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Of the 140 students who enrolled in Pruden, Thornton said in the past three years the highest number of certificates they’ve seen come out of the center has been 66.

He said if the county were to break ties with Pruden, then school officials would develop their own in-house Career Technical Education (CTE) program between Windsor and Smithfield high schools.

Regardless of whether or not The Pruden Center relationship is maintained, both high schools will see new health care-based CTE classes starting next year, he said.

Windsor will be starting an emergency medical technician program and Smithfield High School will have a certified nursing assistant program.

Both of these were programs were offered at Pruden and Thornton said they were among the most popular programs with students. But he said they will be able to develop the programs themselves at no cost.

The teaching positions for the classes will be funded by moving other programs, like personal finance, to online instruction, he said.

The county doesn’t want to duplicate CTE programs at the two high schools, so he said students will be able to travel between Windsor and Smithfield for the classes they’re interested in.

Thornton is currently talking with both students and businesses in the community to figure out what skills will be valuable to students.

In focus groups with high school students, Thornton was told the CTE classes they were in were a result of scheduling needs, not their interest.

“A lot of them said ‘I’m stuck in a CTE class I didn’t want, they had to put me somewhere for my schedule,’” he said. “That’s not what we should be doing.”

He currently has meetings set up with both Smithfield Foods and Green Mountain Coffee to determine what technical skills they are looking for from their new hires, so that Isle of Wight can match their educational curriculum with the county’s job needs, he said.

If the county decides to break off from Pruden, Thornton said he’d like to see the E building at Smithfield High School turned into a CTE facility and Makerspace. He said the building used to house some classes like auto and shop, but is now mostly storage.

He said someone from the 757 Makerspace in Norfolk came to look at the building and told them it would be perfect for that kind of facility. 

In the space, he sees students being able to use 3D printers and laser cutters, but wants the exact use of the space to be determined as they go along so it matches the wants of the students and the needs of the community.

All of this will be done at no cost, he said, since the county wouldn’t be paying The Pruden Center.

“The negative to this is you don’t have the wide variety The Pruden Center can offer,” he said. “The plus side is we’re gearing this toward, hopefully, jobs [students] can go right into and have a career in.”

He said some of that variety can be made up for with Paul D. Camp Community College in Franklin. The college would reimburse 100 percent of student costs for duel enrollment classes, he said.

The School Board will vote of whether or not to maintain a contract with Pruden at the Feb. 11 meeting. Thornton said if they vote to dissolve the relationship, that would take effect during the 2017-2018 school year.

The original agreement with Pruden was signed in 1970 and included Isle of Wight, Franklin, Suffolk and Nansemond County.

Surry County came on later as well, but both Surry and Franklin have since left; Franklin now partners with Paul D. Camp for CTE and Surry runs its own, Thornton said.