As more than 60 county vocational school leaders gathered in mid-March for the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools semi-annual meeting, President Howard Lerner opened the session by asking, “What are you most proud of?”
The responses were as varied and diverse as the state’s 21 county vocational-technical school districts.
County vocational school superintendents, administrators and principals told their colleagues and the meeting’s guest speaker, New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe, that they are proud of the unique opportunities that career and technical education programs provide to all types of students – high achievers, struggling learners, those with special needs, and those with economic disadvantages.
The school leaders are proud of dedicated teachers who come from industry to share their technical knowledge and experience with students, preparing them to become tomorrow’s engineers, nurses, chefs, contractors, performers, and business owners.
They are proud of partnerships with employers throughout the state who mentor students, provide work-based learning experiences, advise schools on curriculum, dedicate their time and expertise to students, and hire county vocational school graduates.
And the school and district leaders are proud of students who work doubly hard to achieve in challenging academic and career-focused classes, gaining technical knowledge, real-world experience, and a strong career focus for the future.
Many shared specific examples of unique programs, such as Bergen Tech’s Culinology (the nation’s only secondary school food science program), Passaic County Technical Institute’s Finance Academy (transformed by project-based learning), and Gloucester County Institute of Technology’s expanded college partnerships.
Others pointed to exciting new venues on the horizon – three new academies planned at Burlington County Institute of Technology, a full-time computer science academy in Hunterdon County, an advanced manufacturing program in Morris County, and new programs for students with special needs in Somerset.
Leaders from Atlantic, Mercer, Sussex, and Salem counties are proud of enrollment growth that indicates growing student and parent interest in career and technical education. And colleagues from Cumberland, Essex, and Hudson counties are excited about planned new facilities for their students and grateful for the county and state support for these long-needed projects.
County vocational school leaders are proud of their innovative approaches to education, such as dual enrollment agreements that enable students to earn college credits during high school, literacy coaches, opportunities for students with special needs, and exploratory programs that introduce first-year students to a wealth of career options.
And they are proud of well-deserved recognitions and accolades, such as the Green Ribbon that Middlesex earned for sustainability, Camden’s recognition as a School of Character, and the four county vocational-technical high schools that received the US Department of Education’s Blue Ribbon designation last year.