Panel recommends Taconic vocational education programs be retained
PITTSFIELD -- Public outcry may win out to save two vocational education programs on the verge of elimination from the city's high schools.
By a 3-0 vote Wednesday night, the curriculum subcommittee of the Pittsfield School Committee recommended the full school board retain auto body repair and metal fabrication. In all, the subcommittee supported a revamped vocational curriculum of 15 programs, one more than the proposed 14-course revision.
The three-member panel also voted to drop facilities management as an official vocational program and instead to offer it as an elective course at Pittsfield High School.
The entire seven-member school board is expected to vote on the latest proposal at its Feb. 27 meeting.
If approved, it will be forwarded to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for review and the state agency's approval.
The vocational education plan is the final step of the School Building Needs Commission and Massachusetts School Building Authority's (SBA) collaboration in laying the groundwork toward determining the scale and cost of a new or renovated Taconic High School. The full feasibility study for the project could begin as early as this fall, according to city school officials, and be completed by July 2014.
Finalizing an updated education plan would complete a more than 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.
Three weeks ago, the School Committee referred the vocational proposal to the subcommittee for further review due to opposition from local tradesmen and Taconic alumni to the elimination of metal fabrication and auto body repair.
"It's important to hear feedback from the community and it did make a difference," said subcommittee member Kathleen A. Amuso.
The revamped curriculum of 15 vocational programs is part of Taconic's overall education plan, which must be approved by Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education before the city and state can start planning a new high school project at the Taconic site.
"This is critical, picking the right number of programs," said Dale Caldwell of Skanska USA Building Inc.
However, the project management firm representative noted that state educators will ask city school officials to defend the vocational plan and make a financial commitment to it.
"It's about investing in equipment ... at least embrace the new technology," Caldwell said.
The School Department and School Committee are already on record saying the city's vocational programs have been underfunded for years.
"We aren't supporting the ones we have now," said Amuso.
The proposed new vocational curriculum also includes five new courses such as early childhood care and office technology, both garnering support at the subcommittee meeting.
Berkshire Community College professor Kathleen Gowdey teaches business software systems, preparing future office employees for a high-tech workplace.
"Today's office careers are much more than typing and filing," she said.
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