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
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. …