Our opinion: Critical moment for vocational education

Saturday February 16, 2013

Good arguments were made at public hearings for retaining auto body repair and metal fabrication in Pittsfield’s vocational education curriculum, and the three-member curriculum subcommittee of the Pittsfield School Committee has recommended to the full board that those two disciplines, which had appeared to be doomed, be kept instead. However, individual programs aside, the city needs a vocational educational plan with a funding mechanism for it to achieve its potential as a vocational education hub.

Vocational education is increasingly high-tech to reflect the presence of computer technology in nearly every field. Cars, for example, are heavily computerized and those in the repair field need a thorough knowledge of the relevant software. It was made obvious in recent hearings, however, that Berkshire County maintains a thriving traditional manufacturing base that needs workers educated in auto body repair and metal fabrication, and Taconic High School should continue to supply those workers.

The larger problem is that Pittsfield was slow to respond to dramatic changes in the vocational field and is now playing catch-up. This is of critical importance now as the city prepares to pursue state funding for either a renovated Taconic, or ideally, a brand new Taconic with a focus on vocational education. School officials will have to make the case to state counterparts who have in the past expressed concern about vocational programs in the city.

Along with a vocational educational program that reflects current realities, the city will also have to demonstrate that it will finance this program for the long-term, and as subcommittee member Kathleen Amuso said Wednesday night, "We aren’t supporting the programs we have now." Pittsfield schools have generally been funded well in recent years in spite of the recession and slow recovery, but there appears to be a consensus among school committee members and school officials that vocational funding has not kept pace.

While college education continues to be a good long-term investment economically, a study by the Washington-based Center for College Affordability and Productivity found that nearly half of Americans with college degrees are currently in jobs that don’t require higher education, such as retail sales. ("Accentuate positive, face the negative," Clarence Fanto, Eagle op-ed, Feb. 15). This is among the reasons that vocational education, both traditional and high-tech, will be of great importance in the years ahead. A new Taconic High School focused on vocational education will not only benefit Pittsfield students but should draw vocational students from all over the Berkshires. This is a critical period for school officials and the School Committee as they plan the city’s future in vocational education.


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