RACINE — School and local leaders touted Racine schools’ career and technical education offerings Thursday, calling to expand existing programs to meet employment needs as society shifts toward recognizing technical degrees as a legitimate college option.
State Superintendent Tony Evers, who toured Park High School’s technical offerings Thursday, echoed the sentiment.
“It’s a hard cultural shift,” he told The Journal Times Thursday before the tour. “We’ve been telling students, not just in Wisconsin, but nationally, for years, if you don’t get a four-year degree, you’re a failure — and that’s just flat-out not true.”
Statewide and nationally, educators, students and parents are starting to recognize that most jobs going forward will be mid-level skilled jobs, according to Evers.
Although four-year degrees have previously been considered the norm, “I think we have started to do that mind-shift” toward accepting technical education, he said.
Students should understand that working in manufacturing no longer denotes the “grimy, hard business it used to be,” affirmed County Executive Jim Ladwig, also in attendance Thursday.
“Everybody is not meant to go on to college, and that’s fine, because manufacturing is booming here in Racine County,” the county executive said.
In a presentation before Evers, Ladwig and local business leaders, Racine Unified School District Superintendent Ann Laing lauded the technical training programs available, and called to extend existing programs to other local schools.
“Things are happening that people may not know about,” she said. “We need to expand the opportunities to all schools. Some kids are getting into these programs, but others don’t know they exist.”
Specifically, Laing said, the district wants to target middle-school students, who may not understand how to get started on a career path or why they should. That’s in part due to lack of strong role models, according to Laing.
Evers said that reaching out to students as early as sixth grade is part of the governor’s state budget as well, ensuring that younger students not necessarily choose a career, but at least begin exploring and understanding their options.
He said that over the next biennium, the Department of Public Instruction also hopes to see a $3 million investment in a program that allots $1,000 for each student who graduates high school with a national industrial certification.
Whether they go to the work force or the military, pursue a technical degree or a four-year university bachelor’s program, Evers said, “We need to have opportunities available for our students regardless.”
Touring classrooms for health science, engineering, construction and automotive classes at Park High School, 1901 12th St., Evers said he could “absolutely” foresee replicating the high school’s training programs statewide.
“It’s an honor to come here and see what’s going on,” Evers said. “I can tell these stories across the state.”