County education officials react to proposed career tech changes across the state

Education leaders across the state are concerned that career technical education could be victimized as the result of a controversial proposal by the Alabama State Department of Education superintendent. Last Friday, an email circulated from Alabama Association for Career Technical Education Executive Director Ann Gilmore, who informed education officials that the office of career and technical education and workforce development in Alabama would be abolished. It has since been reported, however, that the career tech office will not be removed, but rather be placed under the office of academic affairs for the state, as recommended by Superintendent Michael Sentance, who has been the state department of education superintendent since September. Education leaders in Walker County have mixed reactions about the reorganization of the state’s career tech office, but all agree a lack of communication has resulted in confusion as to the future of career technical education (CTE) in the state. “There seems to be a breakdown of the communication process between the state superintendent and the state board of education,” Walker County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jason Adkins said. “It seems that career tech is going to be placed back under the curriculum sphere of influence.” Walker County Center of Technology Director Chris McCullar said reorganizing the state career tech office will negatively impact the progress that has been made in career tech education over the past several years. Officials have also been discouraged to learn that Alabama Deputy Superintendent Dr. Philip Cleveland has resigned his position as a result of the proposed changes to career tech. “In the past, CTE has been neglected. Due to the fact that only 20 percent of Alabama jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher, neglecting career tech education is equivalent to neglecting 80 percent of Alabama’s future workforce,” McCullar said. “We have been moving forward at an accelerated pace in recent years that proves we are serious about getting students ready for high-wage, high-demand careers. Dr. Cleveland is the educational leader that has made this happen. Career and technical education is now a critical component of the overall education of students. Reorganizing the department of education and putting CTE under education curriculum will not only marginalize career and technical education again, but it will set back all the hard work that has been accomplished.” Margie Bookout, the president of the Alabama Association of Career and Technical Education and business instructor at WCCT, said, ”We have always been told that Alabama is the leader in CTE. I am puzzled as to why they want to change Alabama career tech education to what other states are doing. ... They say the changes being made were just changes in the organizational chart. If that is all they are changing, why bother? I think we have earned our own spot on the organizational chart.” Adkins and Jasper City Schools Superintendent Dr. Ann Jackson said they believe Walker County’s career tech programs are strong, and they are confident the success of those programs will continue. “Somebody that all the superintendents do respect is Dr. Dee Fowler (chief of staff for the Alabama State Department of Education), somebody that Mr. Sentance brought in to be the voice for locals superintendents,” Adkins said. “Mr. Fowler sent out an email that spoke specifically to superintendents and assured them that nothing was being done to career tech long-term.” Adkins said that, according to Fowler, PARCA (Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama) suggested the reorganization to place CTE under the academic affairs department. “We do not anticipate a lot of changes at the local level with our career tech program. We will continue to strengthen and grow our high school programs,” Jackson said. “Dr. Cleveland has made a tremendous impact on career tech education in Alabama and everyone is upset that he is leaving. Not having him at the helm of the department is off-setting, and we are all very saddened to be losing him.” McCullar said he has continued to see the county’s career tech program grow. Between Walker County and Jasper City Schools, he said 750 students attend WCCT each day to participate in one of their 13 different programs. “We feel like we have an outstanding center here at the Walker County Center of Technology, with an outstanding staff,” Adkins said. “We want people to understand that they need to remove the stigma from these fields of trade where a student can probably come out and not spend $100,000 getting a four-year degree and still be making more money than somebody that might have paid that price to go to college and had a lot of difficulty finding a job in our area.” With a determination to see the county’s career tech program flourish, McCullar said he hopes the CTE reorganization won’t hinder the progress that has been made. He said the state department of education has scheduled a meeting today to discuss the concerns educators have regarding the recent proposal. “We’re just moving forward so fast right now. I hate to see something put in our path to make us stumble,” McCullar said.