Director of Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education Talks about Goals for CareerTech

Article excerpt

The new leader of the state's CareerTech education system is all about change.

That change has to be the right type, however.

Robert Sommers, the seventh state director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, said the state and the rest of the country must continue to push for changes to educational systems. Those changes should focus on the end user, he said, and not classroom schedules.

"If you look at other states - Texas, Indiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Oregon - they are suddenly recognizing they have spent a ton of time and energy trying to improve public education, and none of the performance has gone anywhere," he said. "We are finally returning to the notion that we need to start with kids' passions and not adult schedules."

Sommers, of Middletown, Ohio, began his new job this month. Before coming to Oklahoma, he served as the CEO of Carpe Diem Learning Systems and as an executive in the Ohio Department of Education. He served as CEO and superintendent for a career- technical district, Butler Technology and Career Development Schools in Hamilton, Ohio.

Sommers replaced Phil Berkenbile, who retired in February.

While Sommers was generous in his praise of the state's CareerTech system, he said it must be more aggressive in documenting its successes and more proactive in telling its story.

"CareerTech has to prove that we add value, speed and responsiveness for both companies and the individuals," he said. "We have got to put those in quantitative numbers and compare them with the rest of the state and the rest of the world."

The goal, he said, is to change the way people see CareerTech. Even with its successes, Oklahoma's system must continue to push to remain innovative and accountable.

"I think we have to break down a lot of the traditions on how programs (are) managed," he said. "On accountability, I think we can be more sophisticated. Oklahoma is the perfect place to pilot programming that blurs the lines between common education, CareerTech education and higher education.

"Notice I said the word pilot," he said. "Mandates are a thing of the past."

By keeping the CareerTech system nimble and flexible, Sommers said, it can be a catalyst for reforming and improving the education system. …