The Daily Southerner
ROCKY MOUNT —
A vocational education bill passed by the North Carolina General Assembly on Wednesday focuses on getting high-school students “career ready.”
The bill is headed to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature to become law. It mandates the State Board of Education to issue diplomas beginning in the 2014-15 school year carrying seals endorsing graduates as “career ready,” “college ready” or both, and to develop curricula for both.
Edgecombe County Board of Education Vice Chair Evelyn Shaw Wilson voiced her support of the vocational education bill.
“We actually need to do a better job with getting our students ready for jobs or moving on to two-year colleges or four-year universities,” Wilson said. “I do know and feel that we can step up our business of getting students prepared.”
Board member Olga Dickens spoke out in support of the bill, as well.
“We have to make sure that our kids are equipped with the skills to meet the job market, especially in the area of technology,” Dickens stated. “There has to be a connection with the business sector and education…I think industry needs to get in the schools and develop a partnership.”
The board at its Monday night meeting approved support of a grant linking educational experiences to industries in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. If the district receives the grant, it will teach eighth and ninth-grade students skills in the aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries, linking with local industries such as Keihin Carolina System Technology.
Vocational high-school programs can train students to “get a good, decent job” and become “productive citizens,” said Wilson. She cited agriculture as an example of a vocational field that high-school students would profit from studying.
“We need highly technical, qualified students in those areas,” she said
To Wilson, preparing students for life after high school, in a higher-learning environment or in a career, needs to start as soon as a child enters school.
“We have to get students on grade level at pre-K level and on up the ladder…That’s the beginning of keeping them in school,” Wilson said.
In Dickens’ opinion, the implementation of the Common Core (math and English/ language arts) curriculum this school year is a step in the right direction for the district.
“It embraces the idea of application of knowledge. It’s not based on the memorization of facts, or rote learning,” said Dickens. “When I look at the measures and objectives, I can see how it will get the kids ready for the 21st century.”
Another learning model that the district has begun to implement, called Kagan Cooperative Learning, focuses on collaboration, which in Dickens’ view is an important 21st century skill.
“We’ve got to learn to work together in teams for the common outcome,” she said.
Edgecombe County Public Schools (ECPS) recently developed a new mission, in line with career/ college preparedness:
“The ECPS community will collaborate to graduate all students ready to achieve success in a rapidly changing world.”
“We need to try to educate the kids in any way we possibly can and try to get all the kids in a position that they can carry on and have a good life,” said Board member William Keith Pittman. To him, the Edgecombe Early College High School does a good job of getting students “college ready” by offering college credit for courses and a smaller setting for students who might not have the same opportunities in a larger high-school environment.
“I think it’s a wonderful program,” he said.
In Wilson’s view, teachers are the difference makers when it comes to student success.
“You have to keep good, highly qualified teachers in place,” she said. For that reason, Wilson stressed the importance of not cutting classroom teacher positions, even as the district faces a tough budget year.
“I’m just hoping with these new (vocational education) requirements, there will be monies coming with that,” she said. Pittman agreed.
“We need money to implement new programs,” he stated, speculating that this budget year will be “even tougher” than last year.
Pittman did not comment on the vocational bill but said there is “definitely a place for vocational subjects” in schools.
As a former vocational/ economics teacher, Wilson sees the importance of life skills courses, such as home economics, food and nutrition, personal finances and child development.
“I don’t care what your major is. You need the life skills,” Wilson said. “It’s crucial.”