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Editorial: Career centers should be key piece in reform

Jan. 27, 2013 @ 10:40 PM

Many of the recommendations in last year's sweeping audit report on how to improve West Virginia's education system have sparked considerable debate from stakeholders with different perspectives and interests.

But most seem to be in agreement on one issue -- more attention should be paid to the state's career and technical centers.

The topic surfaced last week during a meeting of the House of Delegates' Education Audit Work Group, which was established to become the House's expert source on the recommendations found in the education audit commissioned by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

Among its dozens of findings, the audit recommends that education and workforce leaders work more closely to improve the state's career and technical centers, of which there are 30 including one in Cabell County.

Kathy D'Antoni, assistant state superintendent of schools, told the work group on Wednesday that the state board backs most of the audit's recommendations regarding those centers, according to a report in The Charleston Gazette. That applies to including career preparedness content in standard curriculum for all students and expanding "cross-counseling" to focus on both traditional curriculum as well as that offered by the career and technical centers.

Also urging lawmakers to give more attention to the centers were representatives from Vision Shared, a nonprofit that has hosted education forums around the state, and the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

As D'Antoni and Gary Clay, chairman of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association and Workforce Development Committee, told lawmakers, better exposure to possible career and trade paths could benefit many students. Clay noted that more than 70 percent of the state's high school graduates do not enter college, meaning they need to look for another avenue for more promising careers or jobs. That's where career and technical centers could make a difference in opening up possibilities and providing basic skill sets. D'Antoni said many students who do poorly in traditional classes do better than average in career and technical classes because they can more easily see they are gaining knowledge that can be applied in the future.

One program the state hopes to launch would transform career and technical centers into "simulated workplaces" so that students can become better prepared for the "real world." Such a setting, essentially turning class projects into ventures that rely on student success, would add to the relevancy for students and teach them the value of a good work ethic.

Workforce and industry representatives would have a hand in both developing programs and in evaluating the students' work, including giving certification to those who are successful. The involvement of the business community is important for tailoring programs toward fields where employment prospects for students are solid.

For businesses in the state, having more students trained in fields where there is the greatest demand should be a tremendous boost and help them operate more efficiently. Consequently, turning out students whose interests and basic skill sets mesh well with employers' needs can only benefit the state's overall economy.

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