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Manteca Unified may oversee regional vocational education initiative

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POSTED February 16, 2014 10:42 p.m.


Manteca Unified is doing something bold in the world of public education.

They are not directing all of their resources to push kids onto a college track.

Instead they are shoring up efforts to address the needs of 80 percent of the graduates in a typical year that don’t go on to a four-year college.

That’s where be.tech comes into play.

The tuition free dependent charter school is tailored toward the regional job market with the objective to arm students with the vocational and soft skills needed to make them employable when they graduate.

It has impressed Sacramento education leaders enough to consider awarding Manteca Unified a slice of $250 million the state is pouring into vocational education to serve as a lead agency for a regional consortorium of school districts, other local government agencies, and business partners. The intent is to expand the be.tech concept throughout Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Calaveras, and Amador counties while working with Delta College and Modesto Junior College.

Among the career paths with significant regional job opportunities the endeavor may pursue training for is in logistics, tourism-marketing, agri-business, health careers, and manufacturing.

At the same time, Manteca Unified is having its seven high schools compete for one of five $200,000 grants to develop specific two-year vocational career paths at their campus. The schools — Manteca, Sierra, East Union, Lathrop, Weston, Ranch, New Horizon, and Calla — were each awarded $5,000 planning grants to explore a potential vocational programs and develop a strategy to implement a specific career path. Among the suggestions is engineering/programming. While there are few such employers located in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, educators note there is a growing trend for Silicon Valley high tech concerns and those located elsewhere to contract with code writers around the globe instead of physically having them report to their workplaces.

Manteca Unified District Superintendent Jason Messer on Thursday told Manteca Rotarians gathered for their weekly meeting at Isadore’s that trends justify putting emphasis on other curriculum besides classes that prepare students for a four-year college.

Messer noted about 20 percent of Manteca Unified graduates head to a four-year college either directly after finishing 12th grade or after studying at a two-year community college. Among those, 90 percent obtain a four-year degree.

Another 50 percent head to two year colleges such as Delta and MJC. But at least 60 percent of them don’t graduate.

The rest of the students go into the military, tech or vocational schools, or into the workforce. Messer noted their success is not as easy for the district to track.

The 60 percent failure rate for graduates heading into two-year community colleges was the impetus for launching be.tech. The hands-on learning programs in culinary careers, industrial fabrication and the addition  of a career path for first responder jobs such as emergency medical technicians and fire service are designed to provide entry level skills critical to secure a job or admission to specialized academies that are a precursor to being employable.

The  be.tech career paths are two-year programs open to juniors and seniors.

“The goal is for students to get a job and make a livable wage income,” Messer said.

That means working closely with business and listening  to what they need.

One thing that Messer and other educators kept hearing  over and over again was the lack of soft skills and the work ethic of high school graduates.

Soft skills run the gamut from interacting with others to showing up to work on time.

As such, be.tech programs “fire” students from opportunities to make extra money through school functions such as catering events where students get paid if they don’t show up on time. In other instances they aren’t allowed to work on a particular project if they show up late on a given day.

Messer said it has been an effective way to drive home the importance of such soft skills.

“Its better they get ‘fired’ when  they are going to school than when they are on a job,” Messer noted.

Messer said the stats regarding what graduates do after leaving Manteca Unified plus input from business prompted district educators to rethink the direction of high school education.

“Let’s do education differently,” is what Messer said the consensus was.

The school board will review the California Career Pathways Trust Grant and the proposal to have Manteca Unified serve as the lead agency for the regional consortium when they meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the district office.

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