Currituck supports vocational diploma track, passes resolution to send to Raleigh

Published 7:02 am Monday, February 20, 2023

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Currituck commissioners passed a resolution that they hope will serve as a pilot program to nearby counties – and perhaps the entire state – that could once again allow high school students an additional diploma track geared toward vocational education.

The resolution requests that the North Carolina State Board of Education amend the career and college-ready graduation requirement framework to allow for a second diploma track: Career and Technical Education (CTE).

The proposed diploma track would be a vocational focus allowing students to choose a CTE pathway that leads to employment in HVAC, construction, plumbing, electrical, welding or machining.

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“We’ve done a couple of things really badly in education and in the world of education over the last 15, 20 years. One is we’ve said everybody needs to go to four-year school to be a success. Wrong. We messed a lot of people up in the process,” said Jack Bagwell, College of The Albemarle president, in a February 6 presentation to Currituck commissioners, along with former county commissioner and Representative Paul O’Neill and Currituck County School Superintendent Dr. Matthew Lutz.

In 2009, the state enacted standards as part of its Future Ready Core graduation requirements for all students that includes four math classes: Math 1 (algebra); Math 2 (geometry); Math 3 (algebra II, trigonometry, pre-calculus) and a fourth math course. At least 95% of students in the district must pass Math 3 for meeting math rigor standards.

The resolution states that these math standards may present a barrier for students and increase the number of high school dropouts. The resolution suggests keeping the math requirements for Math 1 and 2, but offering options for the other two math courses – for example, Math 110 or higher or CTE-related math. Lutz also suggested lowering the 95% pass rate in Math 3 to 80%, should legislation remain for that requirement.

“We think this will eliminate the penalty for students who are exempt from Future Ready Core,” Lutz said. “This is a barrier currently to the CTE pathway. Again, the state used to have two diploma options. We did away with that about eight years ago we’re asking for that option to be reinstated.”

O’Neill, Bagwell and Lutz shared compelling statistics about the need to make a change.

In Currituck, only 84% of 9th graders graduate high school within four years. And 12.4% of young adults ages 16-24 in the county were not working and not in school in 2019.

Statewide, just over half of North Carolina high school graduates enrolled in a post-secondary institution after graduation in 2021. In Currituck, according to Lutz, only a third of those who enroll in a four-year university actually graduate, although the current high school diploma track “only really heads kids down one [track] and that’s towards higher education.”

“We have got to do more and we have got to do better,” said Bagwell.

“Everybody in North Carolina is talking about we need to do something different. We cannot keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result … so we’ve got to look at what we do to align people with careers. How do we make sure that we have individual pathways for students so that they can get started early?”

O’Neill has been involved in the conversation to integrate COA to offer vocational training to students for many years. COVID-19 and some shifts in leadership in Raleigh put the plans on the back burner until O’Neill was appointed to Representative Bobby Hanig’s seat. O’Neill prioritized the plan and gathered a group of community and government leaders to attempt once again to enact legislation that would reinstate the dual-track diploma option.

O’Neill said now-Senator Hanig has been working very hard in Raleigh to promote the plan, and other legislators are excited to consider diversifying the type of education that students are receiving “beyond just the one track to college.”

Before a unanimous approval for the resolution from commissioners, commissioner Selina Jarvis said that this change is “so needed.”

“As a teacher who was in the schools when the decisions in Raleigh were changed for the track, I’ve seen the toll that it’s taken on our young people that do not love school. They don’t love math, they don’t love sitting in a classroom. What they do love is hands-on training that makes sense to them. This is a lifesaver for many, many young men and women in our county and beyond that will change lives. I agree with you Mr. O’Neill, it will change lives because it gives them something that they can dig into and put their hands on and have a reason to get up to go to school and better themselves and their family,” Jarvis added.