10/05/10 — Members clash over vocational education

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Members clash over vocational education

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 5, 2010 1:46 PM

School board member John Grantham says it is a "discouraging" trend to steer high school students toward vocational programs that ultimately don't prepare them for the academic regimen of college.

"A child in high school, most of them don't have a good handle on what they want to do," he said. "They would rather take a course in a trade even if they don't have any ambition of going into that field, so take it just to get out of high school ...

"I don't think that there's not any merit to that but I think we should concentrate on academics through high school and let the trade schools take care of the trades."

Grantham said if more emphasis was placed on the core subjects, Wayne County's young people would be better served.

"I have never heard of a child being in college and having a problem because they didn't have Latin, but they do if they haven't had math or reading," he said. "The other thing, we're competing against countries for science and math and engineering that spend the larger portion of their funding on the best and brightest kids. We're not spending anywhere near close to our funding on that (in this country)."

Grantham, who is seeking his fifth term on the board, represents District 4, the Grantham area.

During board comment at Monday's board meeting, he said he had concerns about students taking some of the vocational courses as an alternative to the academic requirements.

"That's not our mission, to be a trade school," he said. "I think that should predominantly be left up to the trade schools. Our mission is to give them a good academic background for whatever they go into."

Board Vice Chairman Thelma Smith shared a different view of the subject, referencing an initiative between businesses and community colleges.

The effort is important, she said, "because they feel like this is the only way we're going to get out of the economic mess we're in -- to train and retrain people for jobs ... for the workforce. This is the way the country is going. People gotta work."

Rick Pridgen, board chairman, said Grantham and Mrs. Smith were both right.

"I think that we can always strive to do more as far as educating our students, offering bigger and better programs to the best and brightest," he said. "I'm excited that we do prepare children for that."

The state's push is to have college-educated students, Pridgen said, adding that the school system does a good job of that and has developed a "wonderful partnership" with Wayne Community College to provide vocational programs and career tech.

And yet, public perception might not reflect all the efforts that are going on in the county's schools, he said.

"It seems I'm always asked (about the vocational programs)," he said. "It's really interesting that our general public does not think that we have vocational education, career technical programs.

"I think that we have a great deal more than we ever have before. Just because we're not building a house at Goldsboro High School like we did in the '70s does not mean that we're not offering programs that students can get involved in, to learn trades and things of this nature."

Vocational programs have actually proven successful in the schools, said Tonya Faison, lead teacher for career and technical education.

Citing an assessment report, Ms. Faison told the board that Wayne County has exceeded the state's standard for students enrolled in vocational and technical programs.

"The state required that all districts have a proficiency rate of 73 percent," she said. "Wayne County had 79.9 percent."

Responding further to Grantham's comments about competing against other countries in education, Pridgen said that part of the reason the U.S. lags behind countries like China and Japan is because of the amount of time allocated for a school day.

"The majority of those children (in other countries) have three and one-half years more of education at the time they graduate from high school," Pridgen said, noting that in some cases students attend classes for 12 to 14 hours a day. "It's a way of life there.

"We have got parents that complain that their child is going 30 minutes after school."

In other business, the board approved a donated parcel of land adjacent to Grantham School.

Dr. Steven Taylor, schools superintendent, said a letter had been received from the Grantham Fire Department offering the approximately one-third acre property to the district free of charge.

"It's land that we can use and do need," he said, indicating it would likely be allocated for parking.