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Gearing up for the future: Douglas County CTE

May 4, 2019

Editor’s Note: This is the third of a four-part series that will conclude Sunday.

As a way to boost graduation rates and enhance existing career education programs, South Umpqua, Riddle, Days Creek, Glendale and Winston-Dillard school districts agreed to pool resources in 2018 to build a South County Career Technical Education hub.

Douglas County commissioners donated nearly 11 acres of land for the state-of-the-art center that is planned near the Tri City interchange on Interstate 5.

The group was inspired by Salem’s Career and Technical Education Center, according to Douglas Education Service District CTE Regional Coordinator Melody Cornish.

“Rural students deserve the same opportunities,” Cornish said.

Glendale, Riddle and South Umpqua will start career technical education classes at South Umpqua High School to see how the program will work logistically. The first semester the school will offer construction, the following a drafting course.

While all the South County districts can see the benefits of the hub, the cost per student has caused Days Creek and Winston-Dillard school districts to take a step back in the effort. Both districts are still involved in meetings while analyzing programs already in existence at their respective schools.

Winston-Dillard School District Superintendent Kevin Miller said he is concerned about the high cost per student.

“The cost per student is really very high. It’s between $8,500 and more,” Miller said. “The county was kind enough to donate the land, which is an awesome piece of land. Perfect for what we need it for, but that doesn’t drive the student cost down.”

Douglas High School offers metals, woods and agricultural science, but the South County hubs would also include a construction course.

“It was hoping to be another offering for the students who would be participating. It would still be great, but that much per kid and you’re only serving a handful of kids it gets real expensive, real quick,” Miller said. “I think it’s a model for the future, but I don’t know that we have the economy down here and the population base to support it, yet. Maybe we’ll have to get some kind of hybrid program.”

“We’re going to hit 2020,” Cornish said, “which is a mark for people in construction to start retiring and we’re not going to have the workforce to fulfill the demands. We also did student surveys and came to a conclusion on what course to offer.”

The collaboration between the schools earned Oregon Solutions project status from Gov. Kate Brown. Receiving Oregon Solutions status is not just an honor, but also comes with a significant contribution of state funds and support designed to move the project forward. The Ford Family Foundation and Oregon Community Foundation are also among supporters.

Cornish has also worked on the revitalization of health care courses in all of Douglas County’s schools.

The program was expected to have 200 students, but now has 400 students registered for the course that can provide high school graduates with 15 college credits.

“It’s an amazing thing that these students have been able to take traditional classes and take 15 college units in addition,” Cornish said. “Any student who completes the program and completes the prerequisites for the nursing program will get an additional five points on their nursing application.”

She has also been working to make health care related programs available to students during summer vacation, including a free of charge emergency medicine camp through Douglas County Partners for Student Success’ Expanding Horizons camp in June.

For schools throughout the county, Measure 98 funds have helped to add new programs, purchase new equipment and plan for future classes.

Glide High School has enhanced its shop classes and continued to work with industries in the community to provide its students with real-life, hands-on experiences.

“Skills and connections are the biggest benefit for students,” said Glide High School instructor Benjamin Kercher to The News-Review in February. “Most jobs are obtained because of a connection. My students have connections.”

At Yoncalla High School, a natural resources program started with two classes and will extend to three classes next school year.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to give the kids some experience to know if they want to be in natural resources, and besides the classes are just fun because they get to go out and do stuff,” Janelle Wilde, natural resources teacher at Yoncalla High School said.

Yoncalla High School also offers business courses on a case-by-case basis and woods and metals courses, which are not registered programs of study with the Oregon Department of Education.

Funding for the next biennium will like go to the natural resources programs, more career development events, and stations such as axe throwing and chainsaw skills.

“I’ll tell you what, I know that axe throwing is not something you would use in the real world, but it’s fun and that’s what I’m trying to capture with the kids,” Wilde said. “It gives the kids a satisfaction, they’re all paying attention, they want to participate and it’s outside, it’s getting active and so I really think we will see this pay off in the end.”

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