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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Helping The Workforce Of The Future

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Thursday, May 04, 2006

McCann high school advisory board member Ben LaRoche is a school alum and a Williams College employee.
North Adams- Students, teachers, and administrators work in tandem to create the environment that is the Charles H. McCann Technical School, but it's the hands-on guidance from the Northern Berkshire business community that assures that the school's technical/vocational curriculums are meeting or exceeding business needs and standards.

Members of the McCann advisory board met on May 2 at the school. Board members meet during the fall and the spring and are treated to foods prepared by the school's Culinary Arts program students.

Advisory board member input is considered an extremely integral facet of program development, said school Principal Gary Rivers.

Board members define changing industry needs, establish co-op job sites, and offer recommendations about curriculum and skills.

Rivers spoke to board members during the meeting. His remarks followed the introduction of SkillsUSA state competition winners.

"We wouldn't have these successes without you," Rivers said to the board members.

Board members applauded the award-winning students and learned that numerous victories meant more than earning gold, silver, or bronze medals; some students received $2,000, $1,500, or $1,000 New England Institute of Technology scholarships as part of the competition.

COP On Campus

A Certificate of Occupational Proficiency student assessment is poised to become part of vocational/technical education in the state and will affect McCann students, said school Vice-principal Barbara Malkas.

New vocational/technical education frameworks have been accepted by the state Department of Education and $1.1 million has been allocated for development of the "COP" assessment, Malkas told advisory board members.

The proficiency assessments will be phased in over a period of three years and a carpentry and office technology COP pilot project is expected to launch during the 2006-07 academic year. Malkas said that she is working to host one of the pilot programs at the school.

The assessments are made up of five components: safety credentials, written tests, performance assessments, creation of a student technical portfolio, and creation of a student career plan that reaches beyond four years, Malkas said.

The proficiency assessment will be an education requirement but will not be added as another graduation requirement, Malkas said.

The COP will not replace or eliminate the need for high school students to pass a tenth-grade Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test prior to graduation, she noted.

Malkas emphasized that McCann high school students have traditionally embraced two educations that include a technical instruction program and a classroom curriculum; the COP will add yet another dimension to the student education process, she said.

"The students who come to this school choose to tackle two elements of education," she said, and added that most McCann students are up to the daunting challenge of receiving dual, simultaneous education.

Following the formal speaker portion of the meeting, board members separated and met with technical program instructors in classrooms and "shops."

Meeting The Needs

Advisory board member Ben LaRoche is employed within the Williams College information technology department. LaRoche graduated from McCann in 1993. In addition to his work at the college, LaRoche and business partner Hunter Greene recently launched Brain Spiral Technologies.

LaRoche described his role as a McCann advisory board member.

"The goal is to make certain that what is being taught meets the needs of current technologies," he said."I bring up ideas; one of the recent things I mentioned was voice-over IP [Internet protocol] telephones."

LaRoche remembered his days as an electronics student at the school.

In addition to classroom education, as an upperclassman, LaRoche and his classmates provided services to other public schools.

"We serviced elementary school computers," he said.

Metal Fabrication board members Carlyle "Chip" Chesbro Jr. and James Spofford are employed at the R.I. Baker, Inc. firm. The Clarksburg-based company currently includes about 10 McCann graduates as employees.

"We're here to help out, to inform the instructors about any new technologies in the field," said Chesbro.

"I like this school," said Spofford. "I'm on the board to make sure that the students get the education they need."

David Ziarnik is a parent representative to the board.

"I came out of this school," Ziarnik said. "I believe in this school."

Ziarnik's son Leonard is enrolled in the Metal Fabrication curriculum and is a student representative to the advisory board.

Advisory board members met and discussed curriculums including Office Technologies, Building Trades, Machine Technology, Electricity, Computer-Assisted Drafting, and a new initiative, "Project Lead the Way."

"Project Lead The Way"

"Project Lead the Way" offers a realistic look at engineering to students who have an interest in an engineering career. The program is a four-year sequence of specific high school courses that introduce students to "the scope, rigor,and discipline of engineering and engineering technology," according to information available at a program www.pltw.org web site.

The high school program can give serious engineering students an education boost and may reduce the drop-out rate for college level engineering programs.

There are 15 male and 4 female students enrolled in the program; the current grade distribution is nine "As," seven "Bs," and three "Cs," according to information provided to advisory board members.

Creating The Workforce Of The Future

Serving as an advisory board member means having a hand in professional development and offering a community service, said board member Nancy Bullet, a licensed physical therapist and medical assisting curriculum board member. Bullett hosts medical assisting students at her practice as part of the student education and training, she said.

"I do have medical assistants in my practice," she said. "I do think that [serving as a board member] is an opportunity to give back."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.

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