CTE STATUS CHECK: Changes are already apparent

(CLARE) – Five months after voters approved a dedicated millage for Career & Technical Education students in Clare and Gladwin Counties, big changes are afoot. But even bigger improvements lie in the months and years to come.

Leaders at CTE and the Clare-Gladwin Regional Education Service District, which oversees the program, provided some details recently.

“First and foremost, CTE enrollment is up almost 100 students, or 30 percent, for a total of 329,” said CTE Director Sandy Russell. “That’s a welcome increase, driven in part by our ability to restore Welding Technology and add Business Management, and also through awareness about CTE raised early in the year.”

The Welding Technology program has 26 total students in its morning and afternoon sessions, and Business Management has 15 in its afternoon session. Beyond that, an additional 60 students joined existing programs in comparison to the previous school year.

Other notable current improvements include a new hoist for afternoon Auto Technology students, whose class is housed at Gladwin High School; a new mobile computer lab obtained for Business Management students, providing the proper technology for their focus of study; a registered nurse who serves as the paraeducator and certification trainer in the Health Occupations classes; and new textbooks in several classes.

The upgrade making the biggest splash in 2017 will undoubtedly be the construction of a new building designed to house students in the Construction Trades program, who in the absence of a dedicated project have spent much of their time in the classroom working on scaled-down projects. That project will be especially meaningful because the students themselves will provide as much of the labor as possible.

“That’s going to be a big deal, both for the long-term advancement of the class, and for the immediate hands-on experience our Construction Trades students will gain working on their new home,” said CGRESD Superintendent Sheryl Presler. “We’re eager to get started on it, and we’re proceeding with a pragmatic sense of not only the immediate educational benefits to the Construction students, but of the long-term potential for that building to also house other high-demand classes, like Manufacturing.”

While students in the morning Construction Trades class are splitting time between their classroom and the work site at the John C. Magnus Center – the location of the new building – their afternoon counterparts are already well into an exciting year-long project.

“Our relationship with the Gladwin County Land Bank Authority continues to provide benefits to everyone involved,” Presler said. “We’re very pleased that our afternoon Construction students are about five weeks into building a brand-new home in Gladwin which the LBA will then put on the market. Our students will spend the school year gaining a wide variety of hands-on employable skills, and the LBA will be able to use the funds to continue securing new properties for future projects.”

Russell said staff and students alike are showing great enthusiasm for the upgrades to their classrooms and workspaces, and that the overiding feeling at CTE is optimism for what the future holds.

“Students are excited about the opportunities CTE can provide in their post-high school lives,” she said. “And there’s a real sense that CTE is making huge strides for our high school students in Clare and Gladwin Counties.”

 

 

Right Place, Right Time: New CTE Director is Ready to Work

Sandra Russell brings a wealth of experience and skills in education to her new position as CTE Program Director.

(CLARE) – For new Clare-Gladwin Career & Technical Education Program Director Sandra Russell, it’s all about timing.

Russell officially joined the CTE staff at the Clare-Gladwin Regional Education Service District in early July. She comes to the organization at an exciting juncture for CTE, following voters’ approval of a dedicated CTE millage this spring. Both the short-term program improvements and the long-term potential were enticing to Russell.

“I am here because I fully believe that education is the foundation of the success of our communities and our world,” Russell said. “Training an innovative, highly skilled workforce is the key to a highly prosperous community. I am passionate about helping to build productive, skilled, well-educated employees to ensure prosperity for our families and businesses.”

Russell joined CTE after 18 years as a school administrator, particularly at the middle school level, with additional leadership responsibilities in Title I, athletics and special education. Most recently, she was the principal at Alma Middle School. CGRESD Superintendent Sheryl Presler believes Russell is the right person in the right place as the CTE program takes a profound leap forward.

“Sandy’s a proven leader whose credentials to manage CTE are hard to beat,” Presler said. “She’s hitting the ground running at a time when the program is really taking off, and she’s already done a lot of homework, getting to know the program, the instructors and the working environment.” 

Russell and Presler have seized the opportunity afforded by the millage’s passage to make sure students receive maximum benefit.

“CTE is an essential component bridging local businesses and this emerging workforce of young adults,” Russell said. “We’ll continue to strengthen our relationships with those stakeholders to ensure that our students receive viable opportunities – in terms of both training and placement – to best use the skills they’ve learned in our programs. We want to build this CTE program into a world-class training ground so our students can skillfully compete in local and global job markets.”

Helping train young adults to enter the workforce has always held appeal for Russell, who was inspired as a child to become an educator in part as she watched her family struggle to find viable education options for her older sister, who is developmentally disabled.

“What gives me the most satisfaction is seeing students become hardworking, committed members of their communities,” she said. “I love walking into a business and seeing one of my former students being successful and productive in a job that they love. Knowing that you had a small part in that life-long success for a young person is such a gift.”

PRESLER: Our high school kids need CTE, and so do our communities

Sheryl Presler

Sheryl Presler

Back in the day, they called it vocational education or skilled trades training. Today, we call it CTE. And it’s never been more essential to the future of the students it serves, the communities it builds and the employers it stocks, right here in central Michigan.

A generation ago, our local high schools in Clare, Beaverton, Harrison, Gladwin and Farwell offered a variety of instruction in areas like wood shop, drafting, business, home economics and many more. For reasons that are painfully obvious, local school districts are, for the most part, unable to provide classes like those today.

That’s the bad news; here’s the good news. For many years, the Clare-Gladwin Regional Education Service District has pooled resources and collaborated with those districts to do an admirable job filling the void in local vocational education.

The problem is paying for it. That’s the issue before voters in Clare and Gladwin Counties on May 3 - the RESD’s one-mill, ten-year proposal is the only issue on the ballot, in fact. For those of us who believe so fiercely in CTE and its enduring impact on local students, communities and workplaces, it’s imperative that voters have a clear understanding of exactly what’s at stake.

With that in mind, here are some frequently-asked questions to help ensure informed decisions on Election Day.

The millage request represents a chance to see what our kids AND our staff can do without their hands tied behind their backs; we believe the impact on our students, our schools, our communities and the local economy will be a profound game-changer in Clare and Gladwin Counties.

What does CTE stand for and who does it serve? Career and Technical Education - or CTE - used to be known as vocational training or skilled trades education. In the past eight years, 2,720 juniors and seniors from high schools in Harrison, Gladwin, Clare, Farwell and Beaverton have received valuable college and career preparation training through CTE - training that probably wouldn’t have been obtainable without CTE.

When I was in school, each high school had its own shop class, drafting class, business class, etc. Why isn’t that possible now? Some larger high schools still maintain a few classes like those named above. But a multitude of factors, including declining enrollment, demanding graduation requirements and increasing costs for specialized equipment and technology has made offering vocational education nearly impossible for local high schools.

What programs does CTE currently offer? Construction Trades, Culinary Arts, Criminal Justice, Automotive Technology, Digital Media, Health Occupations and Education Occupations. Before budget concerns forced their suspension, we also offered a host of in-demand programs, including Welding, Graphic Design, Pre-Engineering, ROTC and others. Additionally, there is a high demand for courses in areas like Agri-Science and Manufacturing. But we simply can’t offer additional programs without additional resources.

If the RESD has been able to financially sustain the CTE programs in the past, why can’t it now? Because costs continue to rise and revenues continue to stay flat, at best. In 2015, the CGRESD, affirming its belief in the importance of vocational education, invested an unprecedented amount of its general fund to maintain a reduced slate of CTE programs. While stakeholders throughout the community continue to tout the crucial role CTE plays for local students, the current funding model has become dangerously unsustainable. 

How do other communities pay for CTE for their kids, and how do we compare? The majority of CTE programs in Michigan are funded by dedicated taxpayer millage, including those around us. Bay-Arenac’s CTE program receives $6.3 million annually through its millage, as do programs in Gratiot-Isabella ($2.57 million), Mecosta-Osceola ($2.89 million) and Wexford-Missaukee ($4.5 million). Our kids in Clare and Gladwin Counties receive zero CTE millage funding, and while our instructors do an excellent job with the hand they’ve been dealt, those numbers represent a significant disadvantage for our kids, as well as for our local economy, which benefits greatly from the CTE program.

Why is Clare-Gladwin RESD proposing the millage for 10 years? The program is at a funding crossroads where it will either grow or shrink significantly, and the RESD will need to properly maneuver in either case. If the path is growth, in order to provide our local students with a CTE learning experience like their peers experience in Mt. Pleasant, Big Rapids, Cadillac and Bay City, there’s a lot of catching up that needs to be done. As a priority, our Construction Trades class needs a permanent home. All our classes are in desperate need of upgraded, modern equipment and technology so our students can compete with other CTE graduates in the region for good-paying jobs, and so they have the opportunity to learn the essential skills that local employers expect for entry-level jobs. In addition, we have heard for many years from local community members that we need to offer a Manufacturing class, as well as an Agricultural Science class. In both of those sectors, the people working locally are nearing retirement age, and they are worried that there aren’t enough young people with the necessary skills to take their place.

Can the millage money be spent on anything other than CTE expenses? No. State law requires that these millage funds are to be used specifically and solely for CTE-related programs.

What will happen if the millage doesn’t pass? Our CTE program will look very different. Over time, we’ve employed several strategies to cut expenses when revenues haven’t kept up, and every time, it’s resulted in fewer opportunities for students. We’ve also increased class sizes and eliminated funds for supplies, tools and equipment, technology, student field trips, student competitions and continuing education for teachers. It’s a tribute to our teaching staff that we’ve been able to offer quality instruction despite the mounting barriers they face. The millage request represents a chance to see what our kids AND our staff can do without their hands tied behind their backs; we believe the impact on our students, our schools, our communities and the local economy will be a profound game-changer in Clare and Gladwin Counties.

There’s so much more information I’d like to share. I urge you to visit www.CTEitsworking.com for a comprehensive look at the facts behind the program, lots more FAQs and, most importantly, the success of the students who have gone through CTE programs. And there are many. When you hear their stories - of how CTE gave them a chance to learn and excel in a way like no class ever had - I know you’ll understand why May 3 represents a critical moment for our kids, our schools and our communities. Please remember to vote, and please spread the word.

(Mrs. Presler is the Clare-Gladwin RESD Superintendent.)

CGRESD Career & Technical Education Millage on May Ballot

(CLARE) – The Clare-Gladwin Regional Education Service District will ask voters to consider a millage request this spring that would help fund its Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs.

At its regular meeting Wednesday night, the CGRESD Board of Education unanimously approved placing the 10-year, 1-mill request on the May 3 ballot in Clare and Gladwin Counties. The funds generated would support the organization’s CTE program, which delivers essential vocational instruction to juniors and seniors from Clare, Gladwin, Harrison, Beaverton and Farwell every school year.

CGRESD Superintendent Sheryl Presler said the board feels that this is a crucial juncture for CTE, which provides courses that have been cut in local school districts. Those courses include study in areas such as construction trades, health occupations, culinary arts, automotive technology, education occupations, digital media and criminal justice.

“CTE meets an essential need for our local schools, which for budgetary reasons have been forced to drastically reduce their vocational education programs over the past several years,” Presler said. “A generation ago, your local high school was able to offer a host of skills-based courses, everything from wood shop to home economics to machine tool to business. Today, those options have largely disappeared, and by leveraging its numerous partnerships, the CTE program has done a good job trying to fill that void. But to maintain what we’ve got – and to better meet the evolving needs of our students, communities and employers – we need help.”

While the majority of Michigan intermediate school districts benefit from dedicated funding for CTE programs through their local tax structure, that has never been the case for students in Clare and Gladwin Counties. Administrators are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain their current CTE offerings, let alone add in-demand new programs like welding, agri-science and manufacturing.

“If you look at your local tax bill, you’ll see line items for essential services like 9-1-1, community transit, programs for the elderly, sanitation pickup and so on,” Presler said. “What you won’t see is funding for Career & Technical Education.

“That’s because, unlike many surrounding districts, the Clare-Gladwin RESD has never utilized dedicated taxpayer funding for its CTE programs. But this year, we had to take an unprecedented plunge into our fund equity to cover CTE, and the writing is on the wall - to continue these crucial programs that impact so many students and communities, we need dedicated CTE millage funding.”

Passage would bring about immediate, sorely-needed upgrades to CTE programming and equipment, including the restoration of the popular welding course, which was cut last year. Other near-term millage benefits would include the implementation of programs for agri-science and business management, as well as the provision of a permanent home for the construction trades program, which has seen its classroom relocated at least six times in the past decade.

Beyond providing the actual instruction, Presler said CTE’s impact on communities and the local economy is significant.

“CTE doesn’t just offer kids a marketable skill set immediately out of high school,” she said. “It also funnels trained, experienced workers into a local workforce that needs them, benefiting the local economy and keeping good jobs and good people right here in central Michigan. Our students graduate high school ready to begin a career in the trades or work at a good job while attending college. Either way, our communities reap the benefits.”