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Enrollment in Evanston Township High School’s Career-Technical courses has gone up 30% in the past five years, in contrast to an overall enrollment increase of 9% at the school. Growth in the Career and Technical Education program comes at a time when a majority of jobs in the coming years will be looking for workers with a high school diploma, according to Shelley Gates, CTE Department Chair.
In her annual update on the CTE program to the District 202 Board of Education, Ms. Gates said that of the 55M job openings predicted through 2020, 35% will require at least bachelors, 30% will require some college and 36% will not require training beyond high school. As such, the post-secondary model of college versus career is “a relic”; the two are not mutually exclusive so to focus on one or the other is a “disadvantage to all students,” she said.
Ms. Gates told the Board about how the CTE Department is helping students explore real world careers and learn job related skills so that they can successfully pursue a variety of post-secondary options.
Through project-based learning and interdisciplinary collaborations, CTE teachers are exposing and preparing students for multiple pathways. Geometry in Construction, and Algebra in Entrepreneurship are newer courses that pair CTE with the math department. Project Lead the Way (PLTW), now in its 10th year, offers six nationally recognized engineering courses to introduce students to many facets of engineering. Some offer engineering-related college credit and some carry additional grade weighting equal to Advanced Placement courses. PLTW has steadily grown, with next year showing a13.5 percent increase over this year. The CTE Department also offers students the opportunity to earn a variety of industry-recognized certifications, such as Pharmacy Technician; Gateways to Opportunity Level 1 Early Care and Education (ECE); ServSafe Food Handler and ServSafe Food Protection Manager; National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), and OSHA 10-Hour General Industry.
In total, the CTE department offers 44 courses in 15 different pathways, said Ms. Gates. She also spoke of how the Department is working to raise awareness of various post-secondary options through field trips and tours. Summer camps for middle school-aged students gives many an earlier glimpse at CTE options.
Direct job pathways are also opening up for CTE students. Ms. Gates told the Board that there is an “abundance of jobs in Evanston that do not require a college degree,” and that ETHS is looking for ways to identify those opportunities and prepare students for those positions. Currently, CTE has partnered with the City of Evanston Water Department to train students to become water operators right out of high school.
Board Member Pat Munsell asked how the CTE department was “spreading the exposure” of career paths and job skills to other students. Ms. Gates said her department is “increasing connections with the science department” and that more connections are being created to job skills with writing, like technical writing and dealing with nonfiction.
“We are no longer working the ‘or’ but the ‘and’ in college and career readiness,” said Pete Bavis, Assistant Principal of Curriculum and Instruction.
Board Member Jude Laude asked how many paths the department would be able to accommodate. Ms. Gates said that the Department has continued to increase offerings and that the number of teachers has grown from 13 to 16. There is a wait list for Geometry in Construction right now but we “can’t grow it more right now for a million reasons.”
“CTE classes are dominating, kids are gravitating to CTE,” said Assistant Superintendent Marcus Campbell. He said he has “challenged other departments to be as innovative.”
Board Member Jonathan Baum said the high school has previously gotten “flack” about whether it really prepares kids for jobs. “Do we have a means of tracking employment after this wonderful preparation?” he asked.
Ms. Gates said that is “challenging”. The National Clearing House Data provides information on two- or four-year schools, but it is challenging to collect information on apprenticeships, short-term certificates and other types of post-secondary training.
“We’re totally aware of the flack,” said Ms. Gates, “And part is true; we don’t reach all students, some have left and floundered.” “Employers need to step up a bit more,” she added, saying that, “hiring high school students does require employers to have a slightly different mindset.”
“Can the City report on the ETHS grads hired? A lot of people would like to see that,” said Mr. Baum.
Board Vice President Monique Parsons said one way to “dispel the myth” that ETHS is not preparing students is to share more information about the efforts of the CTE program, that they should be “highlighted as much as the athletic program.” Ms. Parsons also praised the early exposure in middle school.
Mr. Laude asked if there were any prerequisites for the program for reading. There are not, said Ms. Gates; the program is “open to everyone” and there are Honors and AP credit available. “It can be challenging with different levels in classes together but it is another way to bust the ideas of who is capable. Some kids can shine in CTE like not in other classes. We have a wide range of students and a lot of resources in the building to help.”
ETHS is constantly working to “understand the changing landscape and different measures of success in an increasingly automated world,” said Ms. Gates. “We continue to align our curriculum to the rapidly changing workplace.”