Advocates push to retain vocational programs at Taconic
PITTSFIELD -- Conner Craw has made the best of his vocational education at Taconic High School.
At 19, the 2011 graduate of Taconic has become one of the few licensed underwater welders in the state. Craw credits the school's metal fabrication program for developing a skill set that has led to early success in his career.
"The things I learned also build character," he said. "So shutting down [the program] is kind of a stupid decision."
Craw was among the 20 Taconic alumni, local business owners and leaders on Wednesday night who urged the Pittsfield School Committee to keep offering metal fabrication, along with auto body repair, at the Valentine Road campus.
"These are trades that aren't going away and they can't be outsourced," said Peter Dus, owner of B&P Supply, a Pittsfield auto parts store.
The school committee is considering the elimination of the two vocational programs and a third, power equipment technology, as part of a revised curriculum for Taconic and Pittsfield high schools. The new course of study is intended to meet local employer needs for the next decade, according to city school officials, and it is part of the overall planning process toward the city and state choosing an option between renovating Taconic or building anew.
If approved at the school board's Dec. 12 meeting, the updated education plan will be forwarded to state educational officials for approval.
Based on her research, school committee member Katherine L. Yon said metal fabrication deserves a second look.
"Metal fabrication is used for wind turbines, solar panels and other up-and-coming industries," Yon said.
The education plan for Taconic is the final step of the Pittsfield School Building Needs Commission and Massachusetts School Building Authority's collaboration in laying the groundwork toward determining the type and price of a high school project.
However, the SBA hasn't said when the full feasibility study would begin, which would provide an estimate for the cost of a project. The full feasibility study could take up to 18 months.
In early November, the commission recommended the school committee back the revised curriculum that calls for 14 vocational programs expected to meet the Berkshire's future workforce needs, according to city school officials. In addition to dropping three courses, five would be added under the plan: Electrical, early childhood care office technology, engineering and electronics and information support networking.
As of Oct. 1, Pittsfield High and Taconic have a combined 630 students in vocational education, nearly 40 tuitioned in from surrounding school districts.
A former four-year member of the School Building Needs Commission, Christopher White, felt downsizing vocational education shouldn't be an option.
"As we strive to move forward, we should look to enhance vocational education programs -- not eliminate them," White said.
Finalizing an updated education plan would complete a two- year preliminary study that also included assessing the physical condition of the current 43-year-old Taconic and more than 80- year-old Pittsfield High.
Once the preliminary review is complete, the full feasibility study would begin, which will estimate the cost of several options the commission is considering for the Taconic site. Among the options are renovating, renovating with additions, building a new school or doing nothing.
If a project is approved, the state will reimburse the city 78 percent of the construction cost.
While the SBA process forced the city to put forth just one high school for consideration, the state agency has viewed both Pittsfield High and Taconic as part of any overall building project proposal, which most city and school officials have been advocating from the beginning.
Even though Pittsfield High, built in 1931, is nearly twice as old as Taconic, which was built in 1969, SBA officials have said they prefer to renovate, rather than replace, Pittsfield High because architecturally and physically it's in better condition than Taconic.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
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