Our Opinion: Taconic vision is worth exploring

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There was a certain inevitably to the emergence of a concept in which Taconic High School would become a dedicated career and technical school. That has been a huge part of the high school's mission, and it inevitably became a larger part when students and faculty moved into a new building designed to accommodate changes in the vocational field. It would be a major step, primarily in terms of cost, but it is one worth considering.

This vision was floated last week by Superintendent Jason McCandless at a meeting of the Pittsfield School Committee ("McCandless ponders Taconic as vocational hub," E agle, Feb. 15.) Taconic principal Matt Bishop provided some eye-opening numbers to the committee, most notably that the number of students taking vocational programs has more than doubled since 2017. The 353 students enrolled in career and technical programs are expected to increase to 446 this fall and there is a lengthy waiting list for these classes.

This is not surprising, and indeed reflects workplace realities. Vocational education has come a long way since the days of wood shop and metal shop. Vocational subjects at Taconic include advanced manufacturing, automotive technology, health technology and horticulture, all of which fields need qualified employees in today's technology-based economy. This includes Berkshire businesses that are offering work opportunities to seniors through the school's co-op programs.

In Mr. McCandless' vision, Pittsfield High School would highlight arts and humanities, which is essentially its main focus now. This scenario would appear to assure the survival of PHS. In past years when Pittsfield officials pondered school consolidation in light of declining enrollments and rising costs, the closing of PHS would be floated, only to be shot down by angry residents. This is the third rail of Pittsfield politics and no elected or appointed official is likely to touch it in the foreseeable future. This leaves the condition of the building as the major issue facing PHS, as the landmark dome sits atop a shaky infrastructure.

Going vocational-only would open up more spots for Pittsfield students and school choice students from elsewhere in the Berkshires, but the drawback is that it costs about $30,000 a year to educate a vocational student, about twice the cost of a nonvocational student. High equipment costs and small student-teacher ratios are responsible for the higher price.

The superintendent's vision certainly calls for creation of a committee to study the pros and cons. But whether or not Taconic becomes a dedicated technical school it is clear that it is fulfilling its potential in educating students in the modern day vocational field. Pittsfield residents can be proud that they supported and invested in the new Taconic, a school that will long pay dividends for the city and its students.

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