Educators hope for more freedom in class choice after legislative session

For high school graduates, traditional four-year college is not always the best next step. Magnolia and Tomball educators are looking for more ways students can earn technical certifications and specialized skill sets at the end of a high school career. Magnolia ISD leaders are hopeful the next legislative session starting in January will open up more possibilities for these programs.

"My entire focus in the next session is to make sure students graduate from high school prepared for college and better prepared for a career," said Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and chairman of the Texas Senate Education Committee. "Businesses are in need of skilled workers."

Patrick cited the Hwy. 290 project and how it has sparked a need for hundreds of workers. Among other issues, such as STARR results, he said he plans to put more emphasis on career preparedness in Texas school districts.

Pathways to success

The National Career Clusters Framework defines 16 pathways recognized by the Texas Education Agency that students can choose, which range from architecture and construction to marketing. The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium defines them as an "organizing tool for curriculum design" and give students an edge in a particular industry. Magnolia ISD offers courses in 12 of the 16 clusters, and Tomball ISD offers courses in 13.

"One of our many priorities is for our students to succeed academically and in the workplace," said Gary Moss, director of Career and Technical Education at TISD. "Although we currently offer several CTE courses, we are making a recommendation to our board of trustees to expand the number of CTE courses that we offer."

In the 12 clusters, MISD lists classes relevant to each subject and students can choose whether they want to take one or all. Director of Career and Technical Education at MISD Matt Clark said the district is working on rolling out specific curriculum pathways that will define exactly what courses the student needs to take to successfully complete the cluster and in some cases earn a certification.

For example, MISD currently offers three health science courses: medical terminology, principals of health science and health science. A potential curriculum pathway would string the courses together in an orderly fashion and allow students to earn a CPR certification as well as an EMT-Basic certification.

Earning the certifications early gives students an edge when applying for nursing school or looking for a position as a nurse's aide, Clark said.

"We have always had these classes, but not organized this way and not always leading to a certification," Clark said.

Although the existing career clusters provide students a chance to receive certain certifications, Clark said standard and required classes that may be irrelevant to the career strand can stand in the way. In the next legislative session, educators are hoping the state will ease up on the required standard classes students must take to make room for more specialized and technical courses. The state pre-determines 24 credit courses for students.

"There are only so many hours in a day, and because of the other required classes students may not have time to get the certification," he said. "With a little wiggle room, they can accomplish that."

With the wiggle room, the school district could remove basic, required courses from a student's schedule and replace them with hybrid classes that still incorporate the basics, but include information relevant to the industry of interest.

MISD Superintendent Todd Stephens said increasing CTE opportunities would provide an obvious boost to the local economy. If companies are looking for a skilled workforce, Stephens said, he believes training should be introduced in grade school.

"We want our students to be ready for the workforce if that is the path they choose immediately after completing high school," Moss said. "Therefore, we are looking to add courses that offer a national or state certification, which allows our students an opportunity to earn a higher salary upon graduation."

Looking forward

Lone Star College–Tomball maintains a close relationship with both MISD and TISD. Vice President of Instruction for LSC-Tomball Lee Ann Nutt said the college is discussing with MISD how to create dual-credit CTE courses to complement the existing dual-credit courses for basic classes.

"I'd love to find a way to collaborate with all school districts to create [dual-credit CTE classes]," Nutt said. "The biggest challenge is space."

For equipment-heavy classes, Nutt said, the school districts and LSC-Tomball may have to be creative in finding a mutual space that will not conflict with other programs.

Industries MISD is most interested in incorporating into high school careers include health care, oil and gas, construction and welding. Its goal is to cater to local worker demands, as well as nationwide career trends.

"If you look around, it's obvious where the jobs are," Clark said. "There are new pipeline companies in the area, and they need workers. We want to give our students those skills in the industries [that need them]."