Thornton’s CTE vision evolved over past year

Published 1:26 pm Wednesday, March 1, 2017

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The vision for an in-county Career and Technical Education program has evolved since February 2016, when the Isle of Wight County School Board opted to end its relationship with The Pruden Center of Industry and Technology.

Earlier this month, when Smithfield Foods announced it would donate $3 million to the school, schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton took the opportunity to unveil at the same time a plan to add new facilities and programs, such as a mechatronics lab and global logistics center at Smithfield High School.

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Foods’ donation is specifically for a new JROTC building, multi-purpose facility and makerspace and is not contingent on implementing the larger CTE program. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Thornton’s plan adds upgrades to the media centers at Smithfield and Windsor high schools, an exercise and fitness center and other new facilities to go along with the in-county CTE programs.

The plan is to pay for it at once with a $10 million loan, to be issued by the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors. That proposal will be discussed Thursday during a joint meeting of the Supervisors and School Board. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the courthouse complex.

According to Thornton, the annual debt service on the loan can be paid with funds already set aside for Pruden and therefore, not create an additional expense for taxpayers. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Dan Lufkin, president of Paul D. Camp Community College, said he was unaware of the proposed CTE program until Thornton’s announcement. As for overlap with PDCCC programs, such as mechatronics and nursing, Lufkin said there hasn’t yet been a chance to sit down with Isle of Wight County school officials to discuss how the career and degree pathways may converge. They have, however, discussed ways to earn an associates degree while in high school, Lufkin said.

Isle of Wight County schools spokesperson Lynn Briggs said the county was communicating with PDCCC about possible partnerships with regards to the CTE program. Briggs said there have also been some preliminary conversations with PDCCC about offering adult classes in conjunction with the schools’ programs and facilities.

For example, PDCCC initiated a mechatronics program last fall that includes a $40,000 robot funded by a grant from Smithfield Foods. PDCCC has also developed a regional Workforce Development Center that offers areas of study such as logistics management.

Last year, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum/Instruction and Administration Heather Tuck presented a smaller, three-year phased-in solution to opting out of Pruden.

However, some programs in the earlier plan, such as HVACR, emergency medical technician and firefighting, were not included in the most recent plan unveiled last month. At the same time, last year’s plan did not include an exercise fitness room and media center and cafeteria renovations.

Smithfield District School Board representative Kirstin Cook said the proposed plan is fluid and allows for changes as the workforce evolves.

Newport District School Board representative Vicky Hulick said funding needs to be put in place before getting into the details of the plan.

Pruden isn’t the only off-site program offered to Isle of Wight County schools students. The Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk and the New Horizons Governor’s School of Science and Technology in Hampton offer 23 and 20 slots respectively, according to Briggs.

The schools have never had trouble filling those slots, she said.

Isle of Wight County has 220 slots available at Pruden. According to Tuck’s presentation last year, 140 students sign up but about 65 complete a program and obtain a certificate.

Tuck said students cite time away from their home school, scheduling conflicts and changing interests as to why the programs are not completed.

If the CTE programs were moved to the home high school, then students would have more scheduling flexibility, such as being able to take one block during a semester, rather than having to spend half a day at Pruden, said Briggs.

“We are also seeing students who wouldn’t have participated in Pruden take a one block course at their home school because it fits in their schedule better. Thus, we are exposing students to more opportunities and options than we have/had with Pruden,” Briggs said.

School officials point out that about 40 percent of students do not attend college after graduation and an in-house career and technical training program ensures those students graduate with skills in demand by local industry.  {/mprestriction}