Headshot of Stephen Pruitt

Stephen Pruitt

Blurring the lines when you’re painting stripes for a new road is probably not a good thing. Blurring the lines between career and technical education (CTE) classes and what we’ve traditionally thought of as college-prep classes, however, is a great thing.

Too often in the past we’ve thought of CTE as being an alternative pathway for students who, for one reason or another, weren’t going to attend a college or a university. It was the consolation prize.

We need to begin imagining a future where there is no need to make this decision between taking college-prep or CTE classes. It is time for all of us in the Commonwealth to realize that CTE is for everyone.

By taking career and technical education classes – which can cover everything from agriscience to engineering to biomedical – students can earn industry certifications and learn skills that can help them succeed at whatever they want to do in life, regardless of whether that involves a college degree.

This is the new face of career and technical education.

We’re already taking steps to blur the lines between CTE and what we think of as more traditional high school classes. A couple of weeks ago, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced that Kentucky was one of 10 states that will receive a $2 million grant to strengthen and expand career education pathways for students. This was a really big deal for Kentucky.

About a year ago, JPMorgan Chase and CCSSO awarded Kentucky a $100,000 grant as part of the first phase of the New Skills for Youth Initiative for planning and early implementation of long-term career readiness education programs that align with the needs of Kentucky employers. That initial funding allowed us to really take stock of the career pathways we were offering in the Commonwealth to ensure students receive the skills, knowledge and credentials they need to compete for hot jobs in the future.

This new funding is the beginning of a truly exciting time in Kentucky. We now have the opportunity for all of us – educators, students, parents, and higher education and business leaders – to reimagine what CTE can be, what it can do for our children and what it can do for the economy of the Commonwealth.

The new grant funds will be distributed in Kentucky through a competitive grant process. The idea is to create regional hubs where multiple school districts will partner with a postsecondary institution to offer training that is tailored to meet the needs of employers in each region. Those employers will work with K-12 and postsecondary education to help create seamless pathways for students to get the credentials and the certifications they need to walk out of the classroom and into a good-paying job.

We know this idea works because we’ve already seen it happen at the iLead Academy in Carrollton.

This regional career academy is open to students from Carroll, Henry, Owen, Trimble and Gallatin counties. Run by the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative, students take classes in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) because these subjects prepare students for the region’s highest-paying and most in-demand jobs.

All iLead students are expected to be college- and career-ready by their junior year, then they will spend their senior year taking classes at Jefferson Community and Technical College. When they graduate, these students will have earned not only a high school diploma, but also an associate degree.

As adults, when we think about school, we often think about how it was for us as students. It’s time for us to realize that times have changed and it’s time that schools do too. This opportunity that we have in front of us is going to be that very thing that is going to help take us a big step in the right direction.

I’ve already been talking to students to get them to share their vision of what this new system can and should be. The Commissioner’s Student Council – which includes students who are taking CTE courses and one student enrolled in the iLead Academy – met recently to give me input on what they believe these new regional hubs should be able to offer students. We will take their thoughtful ideas into consideration as we move forward in designing the proposal process.

At the end of the day, we have children that are counting on us to create new opportunities for them to find their own happiness and success. It starts with all of us – parents, teachers and community leaders – encouraging the students in their lives to take a second look at CTE classes to see the kind of lifelong skills those classes can offer. Please join me in being part of this tremendous opportunity for our children and our Commonwealth.