SHERIDAN — Local educators and businesspeople received information about future plans for career and technical education during three separate listening sessions Wednesday.
Two Wyoming Department of Education employees — Michelle Aldrich, WDE career and technical education state director and Jeannie Coulson, WDE career and technical education consultant — led the discussions about how Wyoming will utilize funding for the newest Carl D. Perkins career and technical education grant, commonly referred to as Perkins V.
The United States Congress passed the grant, officially known as the “Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act,” last July.
It provides Wyoming $5 million over the next five years to run career and technical education courses such as accounting, welding and culinary science. Eighty-five percent of the $5 million grant goes toward education. From that $4.25 million, 60 percent is spent toward high schools and 40 percent on community colleges.
At the Wednesday morning session, Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce CEO Dixie Johnson asked how much of the 60-40 funding split will go toward non-school programs. Aldrich said a state advisory council will determine that.
Aldrich couldn’t give specific answers to several questions because the advisory council hasn’t met yet and many significant decisions are up to the council. She said the advisory council will likely meet for the first time May 22 and feature around 20 members.
The sessions in Sheridan — one in the morning, afternoon and evening — were three of 27 such events around the state for the WDE. Aldrich and Coulson provided a brief history and overview of the Perkins grants, discussed the changes that accompany Perkins V and took questions from attendees.
Audience members could fill out a sheet with two questions — “What do you want Wyoming CTE to look like in the next five years?” and “What do you see as the biggest need in Wyoming CTE today?” — and sign up to be considered for the advisory council.
The Perkins V guidelines remain fairly similar to the previous iteration, but some changes include more local planning, alignment with other workforce and education programs and an increased emphasis on equity.
“We used to always talk about career and technical education being a Plan B,” Aldrich said. “That’s no longer the case. What we really want to see is a plan for every student that fits that student, whether it’s career, whether it’s college, whether it’s military … If Perkins V were to be summed up in just one word, that word would be relationships. Perkins V is going to demand that we all work together on behalf of learners.”
Another grant change involves an emphasis on CTE programs that require a high skill level and are in high demand, per guidelines to be set by the advisory council.
Aldrich said that process might result in fewer, more focused CTE courses in a given school.
“It may pare down some of those programs, so instead of juggling five that are mediocre, you have two that are stellar,” Aldrich said. “I would just encourage you to think about that. It’s not an easy message to talk about with people, because people are passionate about their programs and about their particular areas of study.”
Aldrich also said the state needs to raise more awareness about CTE courses.
“I don’t know that we really talk (enough) to students and community members and to parents about CTE,” Aldrich said. “I think they still think of that as the shop class down the hall that’s for those kids that aren’t going to make it in college, and I don’t know that students who are in those CTE classes know that they’re in CTE classes.”
The timeline for full implementation of the grant spans over the next year. It includes the WDE presenting a transition plan to the Wyoming State Board of Education. If the state board approves the plan, the WDE hopes to have a state plan draft done by Sept. 1, then hold a 60-day comment period and make necessary changes. After that, the entire proposal will go out for a 30-day public comment period. Any changes will then be sent to Gov. Mark Gordon for a 30-day review. Gordon will ultimately submit the entire state plan for approval to U.S. Department of Education in spring 2020.
Perkins IV lasted about 12 years — even though it was only intended for five years — due to lag time at the federal government level, so the WDE is planning as far ahead as it can with Perkins V.
Aldrich said the WDE will learn how to best serve schools throughout the grant’s lifetime.
“It’s like trying to create the airplane while we’re flying,” Aldrich said.
During the afternoon session, SCSD2 assistant superintendent Mitch Craft said adding high school career readiness to the state CTE needs assessment model forced SCSD2 to improve in that area, so Craft hopes that aspect remains intact.
“Our work is on a way higher level now just because of that addition,” Craft said. “If there is any way you can use that and not add something additional, we’d appreciate it.”
Aldrich agreed and said she doesn’t anticipate many significant changes.
“Why reinvent the wheel?” Aldrich said. “… I’ll be honest with you: it’s in our best interest as a (WDE) career and tech education team to make sure that all of you are successful, because if we’re not giving away any Perkins money in the state of Wyoming, we’re not going to have a CTE team.”
Northern Wyoming Community College District Vice President of student affairs Leah Barrett said the grant aligns with “Wyoming Works,” an adult-focused scholarship financial aid program that recently was approved by the Wyoming Legislature.
“As we talk about the needs assessment work, this aligns perfectly with what we’re trying to do with Wyoming Works, and so I’m very hopeful … that we can all figure out how to do this efficiently,” Barrett said.
Aldrich agreed and said NWCCD has been near the leading edge of CTE education for the past 15 years.
She also said the grant hopefully encourages instructors at high schools and community colleges to work together and align curriculums.
“I don’t know that we’ve always played nicely together,” Aldrich said. “We don’t play well with others sometimes, so I think that there’s a lot of opportunities to make this really work well for Wyoming.”
The listening sessions served as an early step in the process of education entities figuring out the best ways to handle the new grant.