Georgia State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge was given a tour of the career tech facilities of Cherokee High School by Principal Debra Murdock and students selected to represent each career tech field.
Barge was shown facilities such as the auto mechanic bay (complete with cars), the welding bay, the woodworking shop, the computer room where students are learning how to script in Java, and the nursing class which will soon allow students to springboard directly into Chattahoochee Technical College's Registered Nursing program that will be offered at the Canton Campus next year.
He also toured the school's greenhouse, maintained by the school's agricultural education program.
In each room, the career tech instructors explained to Barge how students are becoming work-ready and how the local business community is helping students earn crucial certifications and hiring students as they become more experienced.
As an example, students working in the school's garage have the opportunity to become ASE certified while still in school. Welding program students have the chance to earn their AWS (American Welding Society) TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding certification at reduced cost due to the donations of local companies in need of certified welders. Outside of the school program, attaining this certification can be prohibitively expensive.
"The opportunities these teachers have created for these young people to go straight into the industry as a career, I think, is phenomenal," Barge said of the programs.
The superintendent was pleased with the strong career tech program offered by Cherokee High School, and expressed hopes that schools and businesses would soon be able to enter partnerships that allow students to apprentice in their chosen career track while still in school. This European model of apprenticeship is winning converts among faculty and staff of schools on this side of the ocean.
"I would like every child to have the opportunity to experience the world of work in the particular field they're in through apprenticeships and internships," Barge said.
Barge believes a strong career tech program in Georgia schools will help bridge the "skills gap" that sees many Georgia jobs unfilled despite Georgia's high unemployment rate. Last year, nearly five thousand IT jobs went vacant in the Metro Atlanta area due to the lack of qualified IT professionals who could fill them.
"Before now, we weren't training our students with the skills they need in the job market," Barge said. He referenced the teaching philosophy of Martha Berry of Berry College fame, who stressed educating a young person's "head, heart and hands."
In a meeting with student leaders and department heads, the superintendent heard concerns of teachers on the poor perception of Cherokee County schools and how a career tech program may get in the way of traditional studies.
Barge said that in future editions of the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI), districts with large populations of students living in poverty, students learning English and students with disabilities would earn bonus points for achieving their educational targets. Principal Murdock said she wanted to "hug your [Barge's] neck" upon hearing this news.
"We have more challenges than most schools, but we meet them head on," she continued.
In Barge's vision, not every student will be in the welding shop or turning a lathe. A student who is interested in drama, for example, will have their coursework tailored to allow him or her to learn as much as possible about drama to prepare him or her for a life in the theatre.
Barge's final talk revolved around the budgetary concerns of Georgia's 180 school districts. Barge said that 121 of the 180 districts are currently operating at less than 180 days a year due to financial issues, and some districts have 20 or even 40 furlough days.
"I don't control how much money we take in," Barge said. "However, I'm worried that if we don't get budgets under control educational quality will suffer."