TU: Duval ups its schools’ career-technology game; invests more in career classes, programs, internships

Link to article: http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/education/2017-11-18/duval-ups-its-schools-career-technology-game-invests-more-career

Duval schools dramatically increased their career and technology courses in recent years, in step with a national trend to help students gain college credits and industry certifications so they can earn a decent wage even if they don’t attend a four-year school.

Duval schools plans to strike more deals with businesses and industry groups for internships and apprenticeships to help launch those students toward careers while still in high school.

“We are preparing children for college or career,” said Kelly Coker-Daniel, assistant superintendent. “We want them to become productive whatever route they decide.”

Across the country, as college tuition becomes less affordable, career education is seeing an upswing. Career training, especially in technology-based industries, is producing record numbers of professional credentials.

Duval supports 30 career and technical education academies, and 85 career programs in its middle and high schools. Among its newest are cyber security and video game design at Andrew Jackson High, and business finance and entrepreneurship courses at several high schools, including the VyStar student-run credit union outlets at the schools.

Growing culinary, manufacturing, engineering, automotive and construction choices also are being offered in the district.

Students at A. Philip Randolph Academies, for instance, are building and equipping a “tiny house” on a trailer, learning everything from carpentry and electrical work to design and planning. They hope to put the house on display during the School Choice Expo in January.

At Frank H. Peterson Academies students do oil changes on cars, groom dogs, cut and style hair, cook and weld fences, Coker-Daniel said.

“Prior to now, career and technical education was something off to the side; we had students taking maybe a handful of courses at some schools,” Coker-Daniel said. “Now, we have over 20,000 children participating in [career] courses — in middle and high school. Middle school is mostly IT-based.”

The programs are expensive for districts.

Duval applied for and received a $1.45 million federal grant to improve its career technology offerings.


For decades, most high schools across the country concentrated on making students ready for four years of college. Career tech education took a backseat.

In the 1980s, states increased the number of academic courses required for high school graduation, including more core courses and foreign language requirements. The belief was every student could and should go to college.

That philosophy, along with cuts in spending, led to a 14-percent drop in the number of career credits earned by high school students from 1990 to 2009, according to a Brookings report last month.

Now the pendulum is swinging back toward career education — formerly called vocational education.

“Many industries … are requiring industry certification even with four-year degrees,” said Coker-Daniel. “Many careers just call for certification.”

Last year, 1,234 Duval seniors took an industry certification course in high school, she said, and 702 passed at least one industry certification test. Some courses build on each other, leading to a single test, and not all students taking such courses seek certification, she said.

Certification can be more important than a college degree in information technology and computer science, she said, and demand for skills training for new workers is higher in more traditional vocational areas such as construction, heating and air conditioning, plumbing and welding.

“Our businesses in Jacksonville are just begging us for employees who are qualified,” said Charlie Rutledge, a career-tech specialist at A. Philip Randolph. “I’ve got people calling me every day.”

Certificates are the fastest-growing post-secondary credential, according to the U.S. Department of education; almost a million certificates are granted each year.

But research is mixed on their effect.

While a Georgetown University study shows certificate holders earning 20 percent more than high school graduates with no certificates, other research questions whether those earnings are enough to live on.

Burning Glass Technologies in Boston studied 16 million U.S. job openings online and found only 130,000 asked for a certificate. But industry certification, which usually takes longer than just getting a certificate and involves more in-depth skills, figured into 1.5 million of those job openings.

Today’s career education has to be infused with strong traditional academics, because more employers want post-high school education or training and students have to be ready for it, educators said.

“In English class you might be learning something about automotive, or in IT class you may be learning math with your IT,” said Ryan Rewey, one of Duval’s career technical education directors.

Many of Duval’s career technical courses are linked to college programs or come with early college credits attached.

For instance, students at Jackson’s nascent cyber security program are expected to begin their course sequences for certification there and finish at Florida State College at Jacksonville.

Jackson’s cyber security lab is nearly complete, and is similar to FSCJ’s lab, school leaders said.

Most Duval career tech graduates follow up with college or technical training, Coker-Daniel said.

In 2014-15, 2,265 Duval graduates were taking courses at FSCJ a year later, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, which tracks college-going data.


Duval is expanding collaborations with major employers, trying to grow internships, summer jobs and apprentice opportunities for students.

About 342 students completed internships last year during the summer, said Regan Copeland, Duval’s supervisor of business partnerships, and another 100 worked for Duval schools’ IT department.

“Everything lines up so if a child wants to go to a four-year college, Florida State or Georgia Tech, good for them. But if they want become an intern or a journeyman, they’ll have some basic certifications,” Coker-Daniel said.

After all, even students planning to attend four years of college may need a good-paying job to help pay for it, she added.

Duval’s rejuvenating career education has hit some snags.

The district struggles to find and keep certain qualified professionals as instructors because often they would earn much more working for companies than in the classroom, Coker-Daniels said.

For instance, an engineering program at Kirby Smith Middle has stalled temporarily as the district tries to replace an engineering instructor who recently left.

Sometimes industry changes force Duval to revamp career programs, Coker-Daniel said.

For example, Duval’s automotive technology program at Frank H. Peterson has to make a costly switch from diesel-powered engines to electric battery-powered engines because that’s where the new jobs and technologies are, Coker-Daniel said. Meanwhile, the district is trying to get students certified in auto body work, Rewey added.

The construction and welding program at A. Philip Randolph waxed and waned.


After being closed for seven years, it reopened and is in its second year, said Principal Cathy Barnes. It has 80 students but is shooting for 225.

Its virtual welding class is popular, particularly among girls, Barnes said.

“My girls are so competitive; they want to be so much better,” she said. “We have quite a few girls in this school running air hammers and putting siding on” the tiny house.

At Jackson, computer gaming is a popular choice and cyber security is a growing industry, but that doesn’t guarantee a full high school.

Jackson converted from a neighborhood school to magnet last year. Now it encompasses programs in cyber security, video game design, sports medicine and sports marketing.

Students can pursue computer industry certifications, personal training certificates, military science dual enrollment with Embry Riddle or dual enrollment at FSCJ. The school’s corporate partners include Florida Blue and Citigroup.

Jackson’s enrollment is 524 this year, though the building can accommodate nearly 1,400.

In a recent digital technology course, students learned computer science concepts while creating video games. Some hard-core gamers mixed with students seeking programming experience.

Debra Maxwell-Johnson, a senior in the class, said she thinks the course looks good on college applications.

But Christopher Folston Jr. and Ethan Champion said they hope to make money in video game design.

“I want to put this to use on the outside,” said Folston, a senior, whose game awards players for catching donuts and diamonds or kills them with fireballs. “I’ll probably find myself in the gaming industry first and then go from there. … The coding I’m learning will come in handy.”

Champion, a freshman, finishes class assignments early and works on long-term, more sophisticated game projects.

“I’d like to make it my profession if possible,” he said. “I feel like there’s a lot of potential for money and experience. … Being in class gives me that extra push. I’m doing stuff by myself, the most I can handle. Like, if there’s an assignment to build a game by Friday. I can do that.”

Denise Smith Amos: (904) 359-4083