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Career Technical Education classes provide options for students not on four-year college track
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There are many respected and well-paying careers that don’t require a four-year college degree. Law enforcement. Nursing. Firefighting. Plumbers and electricians. Even many jobs related to ag.


As much as high school students are encouraged to pursue a college education, officials in the Denair Unified School District recognize not everyone will choose that path. So, preparing those students by offering classes that emphasize vocational and other skills that can provide a respectable future income is a priority.


That’s one of the objectives behind the Career Technical Education, or CTE, programs at Denair High School and Denair Charter Academy.


Through a combination of courses taught by Denair instructors as well as online classes, high school students can explore different options that may require only two years of college or time at a vocational school instead of four years at a university.


The offerings — known as pathways — at Denair High include agriculture mechanics, agriculture welding, animal science, plant science and criminal science investigation. Also available for students at DHS and DCA are online classes in health science and medical technology, information technology, and hospitality and tourism. To earn a certificate in a pathway, students must complete multiple classes over their high school careers.


At the Jan. 9 school board meeting, district trustees heard a report about the various CTE classes currently available as well as a vision for how to expand the program.


Since its inception in the 2016-17 school year, 10 Denair High students and one from DCA have graduated with certificates of completion in CTE courses. The certificates show potential employers they have skills that may allow them to start at more than minimum wage in various fields.


Denair High Principal Kara Backman said there are five students on her campus in the CTE program this year working toward a certificate this year. At DCA, Principal Breanne Aguiar said there are nine.


“The numbers may be small, but these certificates can help them at a two-year college or to earn more in an entry-level setting,” Backman said.


Denair officials would like to expand their CTE offerings, possibly including more ag-related courses that already are popular with students as well as technical classes in fields such as robotics and aviation. To do that requires more money — for classroom space, to hire teachers qualified to teach the courses or to pay for additional online classes that cost about $250 per student per semester.


Middle school Principal Amanda Silva said part of growing overall interest in the CTE program involves letting families know early on what is available. With more emphasis placed at younger ages on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), it is important that students have tangible options when they reach high school.


“A lot of it is informing families about the pathways,” Silva said. “Families have a lot of questions in middle school about whether their children should be on a four-year college track, a diploma track or maybe a pathway. …Families don’t always know how to start that conversation.”


Trustee Ray Prock Jr. asked if courses such as ag robotics or ag aviation (drones) could be added to build upon the strong ag pathways already available at Denair High. Backman said that was a possibility, but that having appropriate classroom space is a consideration.


Trustee Crystal Souza asked about sharing a teacher in CTE classes composed of both DHS and DCA students, as already is done with art and physical education. Superintendent Terry Metzger said that could be a solution, as long as there was enough student interest.


Added Aguiar: “We’re still figuring out the next steps. There are questions about how to select the right classes to generate enough interest.”


In other action, trustees:

• Adopted the 2020-21 school calendar. Classes will begin Wed., Aug. 12; finishes week of May 24, 2021.

• Approved a raise for the lowest-paid members of the California School Employees Association, which represents secretaries, classroom aides, maintenance staff, cafeteria workers and other non-teachers. The specified entry-level employees will start at $13.26 an hour — 2% more than the minimum wage, which rose to $13 per hour beginning Jan. 1.

• Heard a report from the district’s auditor, which came back positive for the 2018-19 school year. The report included recommendations to assure clear lines of accountability for various fund-raising activities at Denair High.

• Received an update from Special Education Director Suzie Ramirez. She told trustees there are 157 special education students in the district this year, all but 14 of whom attend classes on Denair campuses. Metzger pointed out that securing more state and federal funding for special ed programs is a shared goal for districts across California. “Schools are drowning in special ed costs,” she said. “If state and federal paid their fair share, school districts wouldn’t be struggling financially.”