‘Best Value for Money’: Claremont Facing Decisions About Professional Technology Education |
CLAREMONT – The Claremont school board is to begin answering long-standing questions about the district’s vision and commitment to technical and vocational education, with the district’s contract with its regional partnership set to expire in June.
The school board had an unscheduled discussion on Wednesday about the future of the district’s vocational technical education offerings, with the district’s partnership with the Newport and Sunapee Vocational Technology Centers scheduled to be renewed this school year.
Under the current regional partnership, Claremont students can enroll in professional courses offered on the Claremont or Newport campus, while waiting for space (since Sunapee is a âsending districtâ). Districts are supposed to coordinate their high school schedules to allow students full access to the other campus’s curriculum and to avoid having the same or overlapping classes.
But some members of the Claremont school board want to assess the benefits of breaking away from the regional partnership and providing professional programs independently.
There are questionable benefits to leaving the partnership, school officials noted. The different schedules at Stevens High School and Newport High School have posed long-standing challenges, and there are some programs, such as welding, that Claremont might prefer to offer locally, given Claremont’s proximity to key resources such as River Valley Community College, Valley Regional Hospital and Whelen Engineering.
Another advantage – although controversial – would be the control of the use of the technical center.
A state law adopted in 2015 stipulates that buildings intended for vocational technical education must be used âexclusivelyâ for vocational technical education, without exception. While the law has proven difficult to enforce – judging by the number of school districts encroaching on space – Claremont has several unauthorized programs occupying its career technology center, including special education programs at second floor and district preschool, which ironically replaced a long-term vocational program for early childhood education (ECE).
When the school board cut the ECE program in 2016, the district said it planned to create a new teacher preparation program in its place. However, this program has not yet come to fruition.
Alex Herzog, director of the Claremont Technical School, said he presented a proposal for the teacher preparation program for school board members in 2019, along with other new vocational programs, but board members school postponed for budgetary reasons, stating “maybe next year.”
Herzog says he understands the school board’s desire to reduce the budget and the tax burden, which has been common in years past and today. But investing in vocational technology training is arguably the âbest valueâ in the district.
âFifty percent of our students don’t go to college,â Herzog noted. âAnd of the 50 percent who do, I would venture to guess. . . that only about 50 percent of these children stay in college and finish. So what are these kids doing? Do they have jobs or skills? “
Superintendent Michael Tempesta has expressed support for the teacher preparation program as part of the district’s five-year plan. Although the school board has yet to officially discuss the proposal.
Meanwhile, the school board’s general lack of discussions regarding technical and vocational education was arguably visible last week, as illustrated by the lack of knowledge of school board members about existing programs and the use of the building. .
For example, school board member Steven Horsky spoke frequently on Wednesday that the center was “underutilized” and class enrollment was low.
In reality, Herzog said, many class sizes in technical programs are standard for the state and should be limited for safety reasons, given the tools and machines used in the workspace.
The center is also “used” a lot more than high school programs, Herzog said. Using county money, the center provides adult education opportunities during the evening hours. During the summer, the center offers camps for middle school students, intended to spark an early interest in learning professional skills.
âSo we use the classrooms at night and use them in the summer, which they weren’t used for before,â Herzog said.
There appears to be a glaring lack of interaction between the school board and the technical center.
Herzog said his last substantive school board presentation was in 2019 and the district typically only schedules tech education presentations to the school board once a year.
In contrast, the Newport School Board, which its principals attend almost regularly, receives updates on its technical education program at least once a month.
Only three active school board members – Joshua Lambert, Rob Lovett and Frank Sprague – visited the tech center, Herzog recalls.
Meanwhile, as Newport continues to add programs – including emergency medical education and nursing assistance courses – Claremont has just four courses this year, one less than in 2020-21.
According to Herzog, the district had to give up offering accounting this year after the departure of Jim Galla, the professor of accounting and business.
Originally, the district intended to cut Galla’s position this summer, although Galla’s accounting class has the highest number of students enrolled in any professional course in Claremont, Herzog said. When Galla brought this to the attention of the district, they offered him a part-time contract with benefits this year, with the intention of offering full-time work in 2022-2023.
âHe got to a point where he said he would find another job,â Herzog said. âThen they got him a full time role, but he said he wasn’t coming back. “
The course was not dropped, Herzog explained. There was simply no time until the new school year to fill the vacant position.
On a positive note, the reason for the success of Galla’s registrations could point to a way forward for expanding the offerings at Claremont.
Accounting enrollments tripled when the course moved from a two-year program to a one-year program, Herzog said. Before the last school year, the accounting course had between six and eight students. During the 2020-2021 academic year, the first year of accounting in a year, enrollments jumped to 27 students.
Not all trades can be condensed into a one-year course, due to the required amount of classroom instruction and applied learning, although developing programs longer than one year will appeal to students who wish to use center but are worried about their credit balance, Herzog mentioned.
New programs such as teacher preparation, cybersecurity or electricity can operate at low cost for supplies, Herzog said.
Herzog also believes there would be a high demand for a small business entrepreneurship program or a Claremont-based welding program, although the district should investigate if this would be permitted due to duplicity with the Newport program. .
âStudents at Claremont would be more inclined to follow welding if it was here rather than in Newport,â Herzog said. “We talk 20 minutes each way and some students don’t want to travel every day.”
Another way to increase enrollment in career technology? Continue to fight the stigma of the trades, Herzog said.
âI wouldn’t have come here from my higher education background if I didn’t think there was so much merit in giving students an edge in the job market,â Herzog said. âAnd not just to find a job, but to grow in their careers and acquire great skills. Not just the professional skills, but also the professional skills of the workforce and the critical thinking skills to be successful in college.
Regarding the breach of the regional contract, Herzog said there could be a significant loss of key federal grants, such as the Perkins grant, if the center does not qualify by state standards as a vocational training program in technology.
âSo I guess we can do whatever we want,â Herzog said. âIt’s just a matter of whether we can fund it ourselves or not. “
The Eagle Times attempted to reach Claremont School Board Chairman Frank Sprague for comment, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.