IW’s CTE plan to lead state?

Published 7:09 pm Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Curriculum change would be first in Virginia

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer 

The Isle of Wight County School Board is considering a proposal to change the schedule for high school students participating in the Career and Technical Education program. If approved, it would be the first of its kind in Virginia.

The proposed schedule is yearlong instead of divided into two semesters and would have enrolled students alternate on a weekly basis between academic courses and CTE — career and technology education.

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The scheduling option is aimed to benefit students seeking immediate, post high school employment by providing more time to achieve technical certifications in culinary arts, welding, nursing and global logistics at Smithfield, building trades and cosmetology at Windsor.  {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Conventional schedules now in place restrict the time students have to achieve certifications, Isle of Wight County schools superintendent Jim Thornton said during the Nov. 8 School Board meeting. 

This would be the first technical training program of its kind in Virginia if approved, according to Jeff Mordica, director of innovation and strategic planning for Isle of Wight County schools.

For example, the yearlong schedule could have tenth and twelfth grade students in academic courses while ninth and eleventh graders are in CTE programs. Every week, the grades alternate so that at any given time, both CTE and academic classes would be in progress for students enrolled in this program. 

According to Smithfield High School principal Zachary Haney, there are 177 students at Smithfield High School and 107 at Windsor High School who would take advantage of an alternating week schedule.   

“We need to fit the needs of every child,” said Mordica, who presented the plan with Haney and Windsor High School Principal Laura Sullivan. 

“It’s more than just a schedule change. It’s allowing every one of our kids to have an education plan that’s individualized with their special interests and preparing all of our kids for high-wage, high-skilled, in-demand jobs,” said Mordica.

Sullivan discussed a recent staff visit to Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School (UCT) and compared it to Smithfield and Windsor High School’s CTE programs. 

UCT students attend their technical and academic studies on an alternating weekly basis similar to that presented during the School Board meeting: freshman and juniors attend their academic classes during “A” week, while sophomores and seniors attend theirs during “B” week. On the opposite week, they attend their technical certification courses. 

“One of (the differences) was the level of the projects that they were completing and the ability of the students to spend time on those projects,” said Sullivan about the UCT students, also emphasizing “the amount of work that the school was doing to bridge the gap between high school and the life after high school.”

While current CTE programs offers courses in agriculture, business and information technology, marketing, technology education, military science and trade and industrial education, only some of these programs would be represented in the alternating week schedule at this point in time. 

“Wouldn’t it be more difficult to switch into or out of a program if in an alternating week?” asked School Board chairman Vicky Hulick. 

In response, Thornton said switching programs during the year might be problematic, but switching between school years wouldn’t. He emphasized that the alternating week program would allow more time for additional or alternative technical certifications to be earned if a student wanted to redirect their career path.

“How does the (Virginia) Department of Education feel about this?” asked Hulick. 

Thornton responded that he had spoken with a contact “about a year and a half ago” who was very excited about the possibilities of the alternating week schedule. 

On Tuesday, Virginia Department of Education spokesperson Charles Pyle said that as long as state minimums for instructional time are met, class schedules are a local matter. 

Efforts to reach the Virginia Department of Education by press time were unsuccessful.

School board members Kirsten Cook and Jackie Carr raised concerns that students in ninth grade may not be ready to decide on their future career paths. In response, Mordica said that the fact that students are enrolled in the CTE schedule “doesn’t mean that they’re not going to college,” but that technical training can lead to career positions with companies that might later on fund higher education for their employees. 

The proposed schedule has an empty fourth block built-in for an additional academic class, job shadowing and/or CTE-related internships. For CTE teachers, this is their planning block. 

According to Thornton, students not enrolled in CTE may still take advantage of technical training through the program as long as they have room in their schedule and there are available training slots.

Academic weeks will still have 90-minute blocks for CTE students, which is the way it is now for non-CTE high school students in the county. 

First and second reads for the proposal are scheduled for early 2019.  {/mprestriction}