Vocational Education Push Urged Include Every Child, School Panel Suggests

Article excerpt

Ira Allen knows what vocational education means to many people:

high school shop classes for the academically aimless, the bored

drifters with no hope of college.

Forget those stereotypes, says Allen, owner of Allen Motors.

Think highly technical training that leads to good jobs;

workplace skills, like teamwork and problem solving; elementary

students learning about different jobs.

Now think about making those things part of school for every

child in Duval County.

"It's a cultural change," Allen said. "Our focus has been on

the school-to-college transition. But 75 percent of our students

don't go on to college. Our mission might, ought to be, a

little different than what it is."

Allen is one of five members of the committee on curriculum,

instruction and accountability for the New Century Commission on

Education, the citizens' group charged with improving public

education in Duval County.

Last week, the committees presented their first round of ideas

to the New Century Commission. Among those from Allen's

committee: Make vocational education part of every student's

program, from elementary to high school.

The idea comes not only from Allen, a longtime advocate, but

from comments made in public hearings this summer, said Tom Rusk

Vickery, the Jacksonville University education professor

assisting the committee.

People want more vocational education available to students, he

said, and they ask for an emphasis on "soft" work skills, such

as communications.

In a second round of public hearings beginning next week, the

community is being asked for more ideas about vocational

education and how to implement changes.

Don Brewer, the New Century Commission member co-heading the

committee, emphasized the committee's ideas so far are just

ideas in broad strokes. Recommendations aren't due to the School

Board until December.

"We want to hear what areas of vocational education are of

value to people," Brewer said. "What kinds of computer literacy

do they want? What kinds of options would they like to have for

their children to take vocational education courses while still

staying in academic programs, and vice versa?"

The committee's report doesn't list specific programs or

recommendations, and different committee members have different

ideas about what they'd like to see. For example, Brewer is

interested in making certain every child is computer literate.

Here are some of the ideas mentioned by committee members, and

how they fit in with programs in Duval County schools:

CAREER EXPLORATION -- A focus on career awareness begins in the

fourth and fifth grades, with activities such as career days and

guest speakers. The scope of activities is largely up to

individual school principals. A districtwide career-interest

survey is given in the eighth grade.

Committee members want a more structured program in the

elementary grades, and question whether the career survey

shouldn't be given earlier.

WORK KEYS -- In an effort with the Jacksonville Chamber of

Commerce, the school system this year begins a program that asks

eight major local employers what skills they want in entry-level

workers. The school system uses the information to tailor high

school curriculums to provide those skills.

Committee members like the interaction with the business

community, and want to add more businesses to the list.

WORKPLACE SKILLS -- Concepts like teamwork, critical thinking

and personal responsibility in the workplace are taught as part

of vocational-education classes. …