Neil Gray

NEIL GRAY

Observer Columnist

An educational acronym that has become very prevalent lately is CTE. It stands for Career Technical Education. CTE provides students of all ages with the academic and technical skills, knowledge and training necessary to succeed in future careers and to become lifelong learners. In total, about 12.5 million high school and college students are enrolled in CTE across the nation. CTE prepares these learners for the world of work by introducing them to workplace competencies, and makes academic content accessible to students by providing it in a hands-on context. In fact, the high school graduation rate for CTE concentrators is about 90 percent – 15 percentage points higher than the national average.

With the goal that every high school student in the state has access to high quality CTE programming, Iowa House File 2392, Career and Technical Education Redesign Bill was signed into law on May 16, 2016. Basically, this bill requires school districts in Iowa to align their CTE curriculum, participate in collaborative CTE professional development opportunities, and to combine resources in a Regional Center concept.

Following the implementation of the Career and Technical Education Redesign Bill, the superintendents of Clinton and Jackson County school districts along with Eastern Iowa Community College administrators have been working together to develop a vision and a plan for a Regional Career Technical Education (CTE) Center in Clinton County.

The Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency (MBAEA) was charged with facilitating the conversation to begin this process from a regional perspective. The MBAEA North Region includes: Camanche, Clinton, Central DeWitt, Cal-Wheat, Maquoketa, Easton Valley, Northeast, and Bellevue. These district superintendents, together, visited each respective North Region district during the 2017-18 school year to view all the current CTE programming currently offered. After those visits, delegations from the AEA North Region districts made several visits to the Kirkwood Community College Jones County Regional CTE Center in Monticello. Eastern Iowa Community College also was part of each visit. The purpose for these visits was to see an existing regional center in operation and more importantly, to ask students, staff, and administrators questions about the success and value of the center.

The Jones County Regional Center occupies eight acres along Highway 151 in Monticello, strategically located near the midpoint between Cedar Rapids and Dubuque. At approximately 30,000 square feet, the center houses state-of-the-art classrooms, career and technical labs for academic programs, and administrative offices. The Jones County Regional Center provides a means for area high school juniors and seniors to take advantage of college-level courses, Career Academy programs, advanced high school curriculum and a wealth of other educational possibilities. A poll of recent Kirkwood graduates showed 75 percent still lived in the seven-county area.  

Visiting with the staff, students, and school administrators representing the Jones County Regional Center made it obvious to the MBAEA North Region superintendents that students in other parts of the state have better access to high-quality CTE programming than Jackson/Clinton County students. Speaking on behalf of the MBAEA North Region superintendents, we want the same access to a regional CTE center for our students, too! The superintendents see the value of a Regional Career Center and would like to move forward. 

Our vision is to collaborate with Eastern Iowa Community College to build a dynamic CTE regional center in Clinton County from the ground up and from the inside out. Ongoing discussions with community leaders and industry stakeholders about the possibility of such a facility have been very encouraging. From those discussions, curriculum and course offerings would initially be developed in the following areas: Advanced Manufacturing, Architecture/Construction, Health Services, Auto/Diesel, Agriculture, Computer Science, Human Services, Education, Culinary, and Transportation/Distribution/Logistics.

Research supports that nearly 70 percent of all new jobs will require some form of training beyond high school. Secondary and post-secondary institutions need to work together, now more than ever, to ensure seamless college and career transitions for our students. Because of this and other factors affecting rural education, the time has come to look at inventive ways to support our local school districts, and in the end, maintain a viable, educated workforce, as well as the quality of life in eastern Iowa. A Regional Career Technical Education Center in Clinton County would help ensure the lifelong learning and employability success of our students while strengthening our communities.

Neil Gray is the superintendent of the Northeast Community School District.