McCandless suggests leaner curriculum for new Taconic High

This story has been amended to clarify that the superintendent did not recommend a specific number of courses to cut.

PITTSFIELD - Citing enrollment and cost figures, Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless gave the School Committee tentative recommendations Wednesday for trimming the vocational course curriculum planned for a new Taconic High School.

With a 15-course lineup set for a new or renovated Taconic, Pittsfield school officials are struggling to justify the number in terms of projected enrollment and cost. The curriculum likely will be reviewed again next month by Massachusetts School Building Authority as part of a preliminary project design phase now in progress.

The state, which would provide up to 80 percent funding for the work at Taconic, is expected to press Pittsfield officials to show that all of the courses approved by the committee last year are feasible. The 15 courses given a green light represent an expansion of the current vocational curriculum and include some courses that were a target for phasing out before impassioned pleas from students, teachers, local business owners and others.

McCandless, providing next fall's expected enrollment levels for the current programs, along with figures for each grade and the per-pupil and overall cost of the courses, urged committee members to consider whether cuts should be made.

He did not recommend a specific number of courses to be cut.

The committee, which includes four new members following the November elections, also should come to some decisions by mid-May to allow the project design phase to proceed, McCandless said.

Overall, he cited a total vocational enrollment of 455 for next year, compared to the estimated level needed to sustain 15 programs -- from 620 to 650. The schools have an obligation "to appropriately fill those courses," he said.

"We are really at the point we have to make some decisions," McCandless said. "Some of those are going to be unpopular, but we have to move forward."

Among his tentative recommendations was to drop a new course, engineering, from the curriculum, and also to consider dropping any course that could not maintain more than 20 students after two to four years.

In addition, McCandless said space freed up at Pittsfield High School by moving all vocational programs to Taconic might allow some "voc-like" courses to fill gaps created by elimination of any certified vocational programs, which must meet state standards and are generally more expensive to offer.

In the enrollment and cost comparison, McCandless displayed a chart that showed auto body with 17 students projected for next fall, graphic arts with 10, and four others at 21 students -- auto mechanics, carpentry, manufacturing tech and metal fabrication.

Comparing costs, manufacturing tech was highest per-pupil at $11,350, metal fab second at $9,589 per student; auto body third at $9,034, and graphic arts fourth at $7,198.

Of the new courses recommended but not yet in place, McCandless strongly defended early child care and office technology as projected to be a growing employment sector and worth preserving in the new Taconic High.

Other courses in the 15 approved by the committee last year included health and medical assistant, culinary arts, cosmetologly/barbering; horticulture, electrical, and information support technology.

To reach Jim Therrien:,
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