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Currituck taking CTE case to Trump

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William Dobney

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Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Monday, February 12, 2018

CURRITUCK — The Currituck Board of Education is taking its case for restoring a career and technical education track in North Carolina public schools to both state and federal officials, including President Donald Trump. 

At its regular monthly meeting last week, the school board agreed to write letters to N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, N.C. State Board of Education representative Rebecca Taylor and President Trump seeking support for the career and technical education initiative.

Board Chairman Bill Dobney said that prior to 2008 public schools in the state offered a vocational or technical education track. Since then, however, the high school curriculum has been based on the assumption that every graduate should be prepared to enroll in a four-year institution.

That assumption is wrong, Dobney said, because not every student needs to earn a four-year degree.

Dobney noted projections showing a sharp increase in housing construction in Currituck County. He said when he drives by houses that are being built, he often notices that most of the vehicles at the construction site have Virginia license plates.

That represents a missed opportunity, according to Dobney. He said he would like to see Currituck students have good opportunities to work in the construction trades or other technical or vocational careers.

To draw attention to the need for creating those opportunities, the school board agreed to send letters requesting a new CTE track for the schools to both Johnson and Taylor. The board agreed by consensus to send the letters, but agreed to board member Will Crodick’s request to review the letters’ language before they’re sent.

Crodick said he is very supportive of career and technical education but wants to make sure the board is not moving in a direction that would award some students diplomas that would not prepare them to advance in their careers. He noted that to achieve higher-level certifications in most trades it’s necessary to have a strong background in areas such as math. He said he wouldn’t want students to receive an education that prepares them only for entry-level positions in their trade.

Dobney and other board members indicated they understood Crodick’s basic premise.

Dobney also said he was encouraged about the possible renewal of a CTE track when he heard President Trump mention in his State of the Union address last week that he wants the country to invest in worker training.

After Dobney mentioned Trump’s State of the Union message, school board member Karen Etheridge suggested a copy of the board’s CTE letter also be sent to Trump, specifically mentioning his reference to worker training in the speech. The board agreed to send the president a copy of the letter as well.

In a follow-up interview on Friday, Dobney said school officials in Currituck have been concerned for some time about the “one-size-fits-all diploma” that assumes every student “needs to be able to go to UNC Chapel Hill.” He said there used to be a vocational track in which students could take, for example, “vocational math” or “technical math” and still earn a high school diploma.

What happens in too many cases is that students with a vocational or technical bent become frustrated as seniors — or even earlier — and end up dropping out of school, according to Dobney.

“Unfortunately those kids are dropping out,” Dobney said. “We try to convince them to stay in school and we have a really hard time. Not all kids want to go to college.” 

One concern board members hear from parents is that students graduate from high school and then leave the county to work elsewhere, Dobney said. A renewed emphasis on CTE could help alleviate that problem, he said.

“Here we have an opportunity for people to stay in Currituck County and earn a good living,” Dobney said.

“I think there is an opportunity now because the president mentioned it, and because Mark Johnson, the state superintendent, seems to support it, to get vocational education or CTE back on-line,” Dobney said.

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