For example, we’ve invested over ten million dollars in renovating and updating our provision manufacturing machine equipment. If you look at our sustainable architecture program or carpentry program, technology is used for blueprint reading, or to design a home, or to create a roof. If you look at our digital media shop, technology is used there to produce sound and images.
eSN: With all these different needs in all of these different programs, how do you ensure that the students are getting to use the technology that they’d be using out in the field? How do you prioritize within the district which upgrades get funded?
Torres: We have a coalition of business and industry partners. At each of the schools we have what we call a trade advisory committee. Those are folks from the field who can really help us get a better understanding of what is needed out there so that our program really emulates and aligns with business and industry expectations. And based on that, we review our curriculum. We prioritize our purchasing because there are areas that need more updated equipment than others. We also have a lot of support from the state. We are a completely state funded system. We work very closely with our sister state agencies to ensure that we have access to bonded monies to update equipment. So, for example, the $10 million in manufacturing upgrades was an allotment that we got from the governor and the bond commission, because they truly understand that we play a pivotal role in workforce development in the state.
eSN: It sounds like the relationship that you have with business in the surrounding communities of each of your locations is probably pivotal to your program’s success. Is there a lot of interaction outside of the trade advisory committee?
Torres: Those partnerships are very active. Our teachers and principals are responsible for coordinating two meetings a semester. Soon we’ll be having a career recruitment fair with different industry partners so they can get access to our talent pool and help us with job placement.
We also have many business and industry partners who come into the school and serve as mentors and guest speakers providing that perspective to students. And then the most important partnership is our work-based learning program, where all of our 11th and 12th grade students get placed within a local business so that they can have access to that full experience of working out in their industry. And there’s no way that we could do that without our business and industry partners who partner with us and help us create those placements for our youngsters.
eSN: Do you have any advice for superintendents at traditional districts who are looking to implement a more career-focused program at their district?
Torres: You really need to take the time to identify the needs of your local city or town. You really shouldn’t be starting a career and technical education program for which there’s no career pathway. Right now manufacturing and Information Systems Technology are great for our district, but we started phasing out fashion merchandising and fashion design state-wide because labor projections really don’t support that. So my best advice would be when starting a program, you really need to understand the unique needs of that community. You want to be able to prepare students to move directly into a job or a career in the future. That should be the ultimate goal.
Jennifer Welch is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y.