PITTSFIELD — Taconic High School in Pittsfield could become a full vocational school, exclusively enrolling students seeking career and technical education classes.
The move would mean that as of the fall of 2023, Taconic would only enroll students in career and technical ed classes — known by the shorthand CTEs — in its freshman class.
The school would not have a full CTE student body until the fall of 2026, allowing the last class of non-CTE students, who will be freshmen this year, to graduate.
Administrators say the move would help with funding for CTE programs and allow students more opportunities as a result. It would also help Pittsfield High School with its enrollment numbers, as non-CTE students could enroll there as a next step.
The conversion to a full vocational school is still a while off. Administrators will need to have listening sessions with students, families and community stakeholders and ultimately put it up to a vote for the Pittsfield School Committee. As of now, they have presented their plans for the school.
CTE classes provide students with technical skills, certifications and job training for a specific occupation while maintaining an emphasis on academics.
This is a common path for students who want to work in technical fields, such as construction, health services, early education training, manufacturing and information technology, among others.
“We want to start thinking of CTE as a concentrated, rigorous elective pathway that has these lifelong benefits for our students,” said Taconic’s principal, Matthew Bishop.
Among those benefits are opportunities for students to finish with college credits or advanced placement in their fields of study, plus industry-recognized certifications.
Taconic’s enrollment trends have seen consistent increases for CTE courses over the years. In the 2022-2023 school year, only 45 students out of 236 in its incoming freshman class will be non-CTE students.
Tammy Gage, assistant superintendent for college and career readiness at Pittsfield Public Schools, said the shift would help manage costs for CTE classes, which add up quickly.
Between mechanical equipment, maintenance and repair, licenses, safety and personal protective equipment and more, CTE classes tend to receive higher state reimbursements, Gage said.
“Vocational education is expensive,” Gage said. “By limiting enrollment at Taconic, which is where we may be headed, we are reducing the funds that it’ll take to maintain these programs for a state-of-the-art school that was built with taxpayer funds.”
The plans would also serve to help Pittsfield High School with enrollment. Over the last five years, Taconic gained 126 students and Pittsfield High has lost 189 students.
If Taconic became a full vocational school, Pittsfield High would take in a number of its non-CTE students. Some students would have the opportunity to go elsewhere, as well.
The shift would give non-CTE students more options for electives and internships, too, said Pittsfield High School Principal Henry Duval. Moving non-CTE freshmen to Pittsfield High, where class sizes have decreased over the years, would be mutually beneficial, he said.
Still, some members of the committee were concerned that Pittsfield High needed renovations before it would take on the added responsibility of the students.
The School Committee’s vice-chair, Daniel Elias, said that he had no doubts the Taconic program would be a success, but noted that some physical attributes of Pittsfield High School, such as original carpet, tiling and pieces of the building, needed to be updated before more students were diverted there.
“If you fix up an old car but you don’t fix the engine, you still have an old car,” Elias said.
Committee Chair William Cameron also voiced concerns about the transition period, noting that Taconic administrators would essentially be “running two schools in the same building” as non-CTE classes were phased out.
Bishop made the case that as it stands now, he’s essentially “running three schools” because of scheduling issues. CTE students in 9th and 10th grade run on a different schedule than their counterparts in 11th and 12th grade, and non-CTE students are on a different schedule too, essentially resulting in three schedules with some inefficiencies.
Focusing on the CTE program would allow more flexibility in the schedule for students, he said, and provide them with more opportunities for different classes.
The members of the committee were receptive to the plans. Elias said he liked the focus on this particular group of students. Committee member Sara Hathaway also shared an anecdote about a student she encountered some years ago who said “I only go to school because they let me weld stuff.”
Focusing more on these options will help kids find a path, she said.
“Take the welding and the love of welding and build on it,” Hathaway said. “He would have stayed in that building all day had these options found him.”
Administrators plan to hold listening sessions with students, families and potential stakeholders in the coming months.