The Career and Technical Education (CTE) Department at Evanston Township High School provides students “with real-world career and job-related skills so that they can successfully pursue post-secondary options upon graduation,” according to a report presented to the District 202 Board of Education on Nov. 5.

“In today’s knowledge economy, most career opportunities for young people require some form of post-secondary education, whether that is a certification program, an A.A. or A.S. degree, or an apprenticeship program. It is vitally important for high schools to provide students with opportunities to build a strong foundation in all three of these skill areas – regardless of the career path they choose,” Shelley Gates, CTE Department Chair told the Board.

According to administrators, the CTE Department offers 42 classes in 13 different career pathways, and 1,396 ETHS students are enrolled in CTE classes. This represents a steady increase in enrollment since 2008-2009.

CTE offers numerous certifications, dual-credit and articulation opportunities, as well as clubs and community partnerships, among them Pharmacy Technician, Automotive Technology, Cooking Club and Evanston Police and Fire Departments, respectively.

To further underscore the value of the offerings and the community partnerships sponsored by the CTE Department, Ms. Gates showed a video featuring Kim Aristide and Greg Klaiber, both ETHS alumni. Dr. Aristide, a pharmacist at Walgreens, teaches the Pharmacy Technician preparation class. Greg Klaiber, Evanston’s fire chief, has recently hired four ETHS graduates for his department.

“Our goal is to provide a rigorous, relevant curriculum that focuses on academic, employability, and technical skills so that our students are ‘career ready,’” Ms. Gates told the Board.

Future plans for the department focus on “increasing the number of students who are interested in and prepared for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)-related careers, and on integrating employability skills into the CTE curriculum,” she said.

Ms. Gates said a new course, Geometry in Construction, to be offered in conjunction with the Math Department, is being proposed for the 2013-14 school year.

“This is an interdisciplinary course that teaches the geometry curriculum through the building of a significant construction project,” said Ms. Gates. Administrators said the course was developed by teachers in Loveland, Col., and students taking the course scored higher in mathematics.

Ms. Gates also said “we are in the initial stages of reviewing the curriculum for Project Lead the Way’s biomedical sciences program, which would be offered in conjunction with the Science Department.”

The CTE Department, Ms. Gates said, is not only interested in adding courses, it is committed to “increasing the numbers of female students and students of color in Engineering classes, integrating employability skills across the CTE curriculum and developing a common assessment for financial literacy.”

Board member Rachel Hayman said she hoped that the Geometry in Construction course would be designed so that students taking it could earn honors credit which would avoid a traditional vocational model. Ms. Gates said “we are looking at that. We want a more diverse group of students in the class. It has to be a cross section of the school.”

Ms. Hayman also applauded the focus on employability skills. “It is critically important for all students in our school. I would encourage other departments to include teaching of these skills in their courses.”

Board member Jonathan Baum suggested that perhaps the State’s requirement to take consumer education could be accomplished through an on-line course, thus freeing students to take other courses.

Ms. Gates did not appear enthusiastic. “There’s a significant benefit to kids’ being in a class. I’m not a huge fan of online learning,” she said.

Superintendent Eric Witherspoon voiced another concern. “We have to think in term of our overall staffing. If we did courses online, we would lose faculty members. We have to have a healthy department with faculty who can teach different courses,” he said.

Business Practicum and SmartLab teacher Brian Stone said that with the market crashing and students in college getting credit cards and getting into debt, having students study consumer education in class is important. “Online wouldn’t come close,” he said.

Another CTE teacher, Darlene Gordon, said, “They need to be exposed to online learning but with enhancement by a teacher.”

Mr. Baum asked, “How do we guide students in this choice between career and college? Do we wait for the student to initiate it? Do we encourage them one way or another?”

Dr. Witherspoon said, “Career readiness and college readiness are indistinguishable now – more and more blurred – student doesn’t have to choose … they have the flexibility all the way through – you don’t necessarily get to a fork in the road.”

Ms. Gates agreed. “We have to have kids be much more aware of their career interests starting as freshmen… really thinking about this the whole time they’re in high school …just a high school diploma is not enough.”

She also emphasized that following a career path based on a course taken at ETHS could go in many directions. For example, she said a student could take the Autos class and, after graduation, work at Jiffy Lube or get a B.S. in automotive engineering.