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Is Career Transitioning Getting Lost in the Shuffle?

October 15, 2013

Like many high school assistant principals, my assistant principal, Tim McGee, handles most of the discipline issues at North Smithfield High School.  One of Tim’s greatest strengths as an administrator is his ability to earn the trust and respect of the students, especially those who find themselves frequently in his office for demonstrating less than exemplary behavior.  Tim is able to do this because he takes the time to listen to students and consider and understand their perspective.  He treats them fairly and with dignity, and he always holds them accountable for their actions in a way that is nonjudgmental and consistent.  I’ve worked with him directly for the past five years.  I trust his judgment and perspective as much as anybody else I work with.  Recently, he spoke at length with me about the need to provide students with real career exploration opportunities.  Too often, he said, he deals with students who possess the potential to excel in “hands-on” skills that require the application of learning to actual scenarios.  Frequently he cites his frustration with the fact that so many disengaged students could be successful if we could allow their skills to be showcased.  Himself a builder, Tim speaks frequently of the fact that his students could learn and apply high-level math within a career-oriented program.  Rather than force-feeding them algebra and geometry in a traditional classroom, he contends that they would best be able to apply these concepts in a setting that simulates an “on the job” experience.

It saddens me when student strengths cannot be displayed to their full extent.  Students who may excel at web design, applied technologies, multimedia applications or other career-oriented skill areas are being short-changed in today’s educational climate.  In North Smithfield, we have seen significant cuts in recent years that resulted in the loss of our block schedule, the reduction of teaching staff, and the loss of elective offerings for students.  Furthermore, the new standardized testing requirements have compelled us to offer ramp-up classes in math in order to remediate the skill deficiencies for students who are entering high school.  This shift has further diluted the elective offerings for students.  The subject areas most affected by these changes are applied technology, family and consumer science and business.  When students are not able to study content and apply knowledge in areas that are of genuine interest to them, it weakens a school and leads to further disengagement and struggle.  Tim sees this on a daily basis, as this disengagement, which exists primarily in a relatively small (but consistent) minority of students, manifests itself in negative behaviors.

So what can be done about this?  Can the forces of limited budgets and increased emphasis on standardized testing be overcome?  Is there room for career-focused programs in today’s typical high schools?  These are the questions that we at NSHS will be exploring at length in the coming months.  One thing is certain: in today’s fast-moving economic climate schools cannot afford to deprive students of real opportunities to research and explore potential career fields prior to graduating,  In all likelihood, we will have to consider “outside the box” solutions such as the school-within-a-school approach.  Perhaps there are also opportunities to join with neighboring districts and offer regionalized options.  I am convinced, however, that the time has come to begin addressing this issue and moving forward with real solutions.  Enjoy the week, everyone!



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