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$159M bond helps push for vocational education
Manteca Unified students with during a recent event they catered. - photo by Bulletin file photo

The $159 million school bond on the Nov. 4 ballot isn’t just about upgrading aging schools and correcting safety problems.

It’s also about “changing the conversation” when it comes to how Manteca Unified School District goes about educating all of its 23,000 students.

 “Nationally some 15 percent of high school students go to college,” Manteca Unified Superintendent Jason Messer said. “In Manteca Unified it fluctuates between 16 and 20 percent.”

Fifty percent of the students end up at a two-year community college. That would be fine in itself except for one detail — more than half drop out without securing a marketable degree or skills.

Manteca Unified before they launched — the district’s solution to meeting the educational needs of the overwhelming majority of its students — talked with business leaders and employers.

They heard one message over and over again: “give us kids with attitude and not aptitude.”

And close behind it was the need for all students regardless of what type of job they end up in whether it is engineering or retail need to have a firm grasp of “digital intelligence.”

The program that currently involves academies for culinary arts, fabrication, and first responders will soon expand into additional vocational programs at district high schools. It also will include ventures into high employment opportunities in the Northern San Joaquin Valley such as logistics and distribution.

Besides teaching practical skills and helping tie classroom learning in math, English and science into vocational training the program puts a huge emphasis on job attitude including being on time, appropriate behavior and other “life skills” essential for holding down a job.

The need to better prepare roughly 80 percent of the district’s students to be able to use what they learn in 13 years of education to not only secure a job but to make a living is why the district is taking a holistic approach with Common Core, career and  technical education as well as the digital initiative.

It eventually will reach down into the seventh grade and encompass internships in fields of interest away from the traditional campus setting.

Messer noted that the district will be the first internship program. It could involve everything from clerical/office jobs to information technology jobs that relate to a student’s field of study.

“We are the South County’s largest single employer,” Messer said. “We didn’t think we could ask other employers to participate in an internship program if we didn’t step up first.”

The school bond also plays a part in the drive to make education more relevant and beneficial in terms of students being able to secure employment after they graduate.

Some $27 million is needed to expand the campus so it can offer more vocational training in job fields that are growing and offer the biggest opportunities in the local economy. The money includes $5.5 million for an auto shop, $5.5 million for a classroom wing near the auto shop, $4 million for a two-story wing to the adult education school, and $12 million to construct a school to house various programs.