GCPS changes its approach to repel technical school stigma

LAWRENCEVILLE - Technical education suffers from SID: severe image disorder, Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said.

"Nobody opposes it for the neighbor's kids, but when it comes to (their) kid, they really backpedal," Wilbanks said recently during a Gwinnett County Board of Education work session.

For some, technical education is perceived as an option for students who can't meet high expectations in the classroom, Wilbanks said. The connotation stems from the tiers of high school diplomas: technical education vs. college preparatory. The state, however, is phasing out the tiered diploma and requiring all students in the graduating class of 2012 and beyond to meet the same graduation requirements.

Wilbanks said schools are doing students a disservice if they don't give them a strong foundation in the core academic areas.

"The worst place you can send a youngster who can't read, write or compute is to a technical education classroom," he said.

Technical education is about the three R's - not reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic, but rigor, relevance and relationships. As the school system implements new curriculum next year as part of the state's continued rollout of the Georgia Performance Standards, Gwinnett students will be offered 48 career pathways in technical education, said Jody Reeves, the school system's technical education director.

Career pathways will contain a series of three or four courses, Reeves said. For example, students who choose the pathway in computing will take computing in the modern world, beginning programming and Advanced Placement computer science. Those who choose construction would take occupational safety, introduction to construction, carpentry and masonry.

To ensure the rigor of technical education courses, the classes will have enhanced standards that include literary, math and science standards, Reeves said.

Students in some career pathways, such as automotive or culinary arts, will also have the opportunity to obtain an industry-validated certificate. Preparing students for the work force adds relevance to the classes, Reeves said.

The career pathways will also foster relationships between students and their teachers, as the educators will act as advisors for the youths, Reeves said.

Wilbanks said the school system needs to figure out a new message to send to the community about technical education.

School board member Louise Radloff agreed.

"We've got a message to sell the community at large," Radloff said.