By BRIAN JUSTICE
Tennessee is one of six states involved in a network geared to link vocational students before they finish high school with their prospective employers, and Tullahoma City Schools is looking further into developing partnerships to accomplish that goal.
Susan Cowden, accountability and budget and grants director with the Tennessee Department of Education’s Career and Technical Education division, presented the Tullahoma Board of Education last week with information about the Pathways to Prosperity Network — a collaboration developed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education; Jobs for the Future, a nationwide employment organization; and the six states: Tennessee, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri and North Carolina.
The network’s focus is to allow youths to enter into an initial career while keeping their higher education prospects open.
To accomplish the goal, the participating states are engaging employers and educators to build a program that starts in the seventh grade and extends through levels past high school.
Each state is led by a coalition of stakeholders — participating industries. The work initially focuses on two to three regional labor markets within each state, but the long-term goal is to create a statewide system of career pathways that can serve the majority of students.
“The goal is to build a skilled talent pool — a direct pipeline to certain industries,” Cowden said. “We still teach as if everybody is going to a four-year school.”
She said in many cases students who pursue two-year vocational degrees are more likely to get jobs that pay more than if they were to pursue four-year degrees. She added that in some fields, they could be guaranteed future jobs before they finish high school with the employing companies who participate in the program.
Cowden used an example about how the German-based automaker Volkswagen in its U.S. operations has had such beneficial programs.
“The students who enter the program know there’s a job waiting for them,” she said.
Cowden said grant opportunities are available through the state to help implement the program.
Dr. Dan Lawson, Tullahoma City Schools director, said Thursday that while Tullahoma has a program with Motlow College, where students earn college credits while in high school, a similar effort could be considered in the vocational direction with Tennessee Technology Center at Shelbyville.
However, he said the distance to the neighboring city could present transportation problems that would have to be dealt with, and whether the vocational facility has the means to accommodate additional students from Tullahoma would have to also be considered.
The Board of Education agreed to have Cowden attend an upcoming meeting to review the program’s details further.
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