Forty-six people braved a torrential downpour Saturday morning to learn how to become “ambassadors” for career-focused students—those who do not plan to attend traditional four-year colleges immediately after graduation.

Seven experts addressed the group during a meeting at NJSBA headquarters. Welcoming remarks were provided by Mike McClure, Association president, and Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, executive director, who noted that the initiative was the brainchild of Immediate Past President Dan Sinclair.

The NJSBA Career-Focused Learner Ambassadors will speak to local boards of education and other groups about the needs of career-focused students, current opportunities, and how school districts can expand educational options.

Saturday’s meeting provided the ambassadors with essential information about current trends and issues in career and technical education (CTE) and the needs of employers.

The Ambassadors program is an outgrowth of the 2018 NJSBA task force report on Educational Opportunities for the Non-College-Bound Learner, which called for increased CTE programming to meet current demands for students and employers.

Perkins Grants At Saturday’s meeting, Dr. Linda Eno, assistant commissioner of education for academics and performance at the New Jersey Department of Education, addressed the workings of the federal Perkins grant program, a principal source of funding for career and technical education. According to Eno, about $25.5 million in Perkins V federal job training dollars will be disbursed to New Jersey school districts after the State Board of Education gives final approval to guidelines, probably in March or April.

She also provided an update on state initiatives, including the Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act, which was approved by New Jersey voters in 2018 and will provide construction funding in county vocational school districts. Eno expects that approximately $275 million in construction funds will be made available this fall.

Local CTE Programs Dr. Ronnie Tarchichi, superintendent of the Pennsauken Public Schools, expressed a need for support of CTE programs in comprehensive high schools and to allow such programs to accept students from outside the community.

He noted that Pennsauken voters recently approved a $36 million bond referendum, most of which helped construct state-of-the-art vocational training facilities. During his presentation, Tarchichi showed pictures of welding shops, culinary arts facilities, and electrical construction booths, as well as new facilities to train cosmetology students and those interested in auto repair.

Teacher Certification Dr. Eno also addressed another issue raised in NJSBA’s 2018 report: the lack of certified CTE teachers, which inhibits expansion of programming. She said the NJDOE is conducting a “certification landscape analysis” to determine if there are ways to get subject-area experts into the classroom.

During the discussion, Dan Sinclair noted that community colleges are able to engage subject-area experts who do not hold teacher certification.

County College Offerings Ray Morris, a counselor at Sussex County Community College, said that many community colleges are able to provide training in skills needed by the career-focused student. For example, Sussex offers courses in 3D computer arts, graphic design, digital forensics, massage therapy and paralegal studies, among many others. The problem, said Morris, who also serves on the Newton Board of Education, is to convince parents that job training is the right path for their child.

Middle School Focus Sharon King-Dobson, director of special education for the East Rutherford Public Schools, explained that students in her district learn “responsible citizenship, technical skills, effective communication… and problem solving.” Students in the seventh and eighth grades are given business lessons, where they learn how to start, develop and market projects.

Construction Industry John Mancini and Don Howard, of N.J. Laborers Union Local 3, noted that jobs are available in the construction industry. Students who can show up on time and are willing to work hard can find jobs paying over $20 an hour as “step one” apprentices, they said.

Job Corps Tony Staynings, of the Edison Job Corps Center, said that his organization currently serves 417 students. The program offers high school dropouts and graduates the opportunity to earn industry credentials toward various career pathways. At the Edison center, students learn about health care, construction, automotive and machine repair and other programs. At the end of the training, he said, a job awaits.

“We are very encouraged by the response to the Ambassadors program,” said Dr. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director. “For too long, educators stressed acceptance into a four-year college as the ideal post-secondary pathway. But for many students, the best course is secondary and post-secondary CTE training and apprenticeships. It’s an important message that represents a commitment on the part of NJSBA.”

The Association is also engaged in a dialogue with the Departments of Labor and Education on expanding apprenticeships.

“Our goal is to create a toolkit that the Ambassadors can bring to school districts and other organizations to address the value of apprenticeships within districts and communities,” said Feinsod.

From left to right, Vince DeLucia, NJSBA educator-in-residence; Ray Morris, counselor, Sussex County Community College; Dan Sinclair, NJSBA immediate past president; Sharon King-Dobson, East Rutherford Public Schools director of special education; Don Howard, N.J. Laborers Union Local 3 training director; John Mancini, N.J. Laborers Union Local 3 secretary/treasurer; Tony Staynings, Edison Job Corps. Seated: Dr. Ronnie Tarchichi, superintendent, Pennsauken Public Schools.