The NO VACANCY sign has been hanging out at the Columbia-Montour Area Vocational-Technical School (CMAVTS) for the past several years. A variety of reasons may have contributed to the building being at full capacity. A new administrative director, Steve Walk, was hired in 1999 to change the image of the school. Since his arrival, High Schools That Work has listed CMAVTS as one of the top 50 career-technical schools in the nation. Other incentives for students to attend include the dedicated faculty and staff available to meet the students' everyday needs.
Special needs students at CMAVTS are not only educated by five special education teachers, but also by the career area faculty. Marginal students--those who are not labeled special needs but still require support--have a host of tutors to help in academic and career areas.
An English teacher team teaches with the building reading specialist for three periods of ninth grade. The reading specialist does pre/post reading level tests to monitor the progress of those ninth graders.
The guidance department offers ongoing advisement and support whenever and wherever needed. Annually, the guidance staff visits the eighth graders in the seven sending school districts to market the advantages of attending CMAVTS.
The faculty sponsors a summer careers program for elementary-age students. The faculty and staff annually conduct open houses for students, parents and the community. Shortly after the school year starts, the students in food preparation run a restaurant that is open to faculty, staff and the community. The school always participates in the Bloomsburg Fair with competitive booths.
Recently, a new, young, energetic principal, Cosmos Curry, was hired. Curry has a strong background in sports, and he often uses motivational techniques with the entire school population.
All of these are among the reasons that this career-technical school has a waiting list.
CMAVTS is located in Bloomsburg, Pa., in Columbia County. The school is supported and administered by seven sending districts--six in Columbia County and one in Montour County. It maintains a student population of slightly more than 670 students. It is a comprehensive school with academics, career areas and extracurricular and co-curricular opportunities. Fourteen school board members, two each from the sending schools, meet monthly to conduct the business of the school.
Academically, the students receive instruction in mathematics, English, social studies and science. Special needs students receive their core academic program directly from a special education teacher with support from the academic teachers. There are a total of 17 career areas divided into four cluster areas--Transportation/Manufacturing, Technology, Service and Construction.
Additional student support is provided by two full-time guidance counselors, a school nurse, a librarian, a blended person (an intervention specialist funded through a grant) and a vocational evaluator who has the responsibility of providing career assessment and occupational counseling for special education students.
All of the positive aspects of CMAVTS had the faculty and staff really tuned into the needs of the students. Then along came this new federal law called No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The law requires that all students in grades three, five, eight and 11 be tested annually in reading and mathematics with a state-designed test called PSSA (Pennsylvania State System of Assessments). Students in grades six, nine and 11 were mandated to be tested in writing annually, and these testing results were to be reported to the public in what the state calls a building report card. The results brought mixed reactions from the faculty and staff, but little reaction from the parents or public.
After some soul searching, blaming the sending schools for the students they send to the school (20 percent special needs), focusing on lack of preparation, and discussing the lack of student motivation and drive, the overall reaction of the faculty was that we could do better. …