Pittsfield School Officials Want Taconic Solely Vocational
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A jump in students choosing technical education has school officials recommending Taconic High School becomes an all-vocational school.
"When we built the school, this is the problem we hoped to have and now it's here and we're actually past the tipping point," Principal Matthew Bishop said. "I think we thought we had more time but we're there and we have to sort of gladly look at this problem and decide what we want to do."
Assistant Superintendent Tammy Gage gave a presentation to the School Committee on Wednesday on the impact of increased career technical education, or CTE, applications for Taconic and the implications for the Pittsfield Public Schools.
It came with a recommendation to move toward only accepting CTE ninth-graders either in the fall for the 2022-2023 school year or next year for the 2023-2024 school year.
Gage said this is about career pathways not "Taconic versus Pittsfield High School."
Superintendent Joseph Curtis clarified that the committee was not at the time asked to make a vote on this though it will be taking it up in the future.
As of March 1, the district has received 191 CTE applications for the school year 2022-2023 when the cap was set at 145. The administration had two choices: hold a lottery and create a waiting list or accept all of the CTE students.
A decision was made to accept all vocational students, which came to 188 after three withdrew, and this will be the second class in a row that is overcapacity.
Sixty-six percent of the future CTE ninth-graders are from Reid Middle School, 40 percent are from Herberg Middle school, and eight are returning Pittsfield students.
"We accepted 188 ninth-grade vocational students next year and that's going to put us at about -- if nothing changes for the fall and we continue on as we are now -- we'll have about 251 ninth-graders," Bishop said.
"Which is tight and as you know, we were over this year in ninth grade as well."
He added that it kept the administration up at night about accepting only 145 students knowing that they were going to have to say "no" to 50.
Bishop explained that the school was built to have a capacity of a little over 900 with students having full vocational shops as part of the equation. Right now the school cannot fill the shops because of the space that non-CTE students occupy.
The advantages of Taconic being all vocational include the ability to accept all applicants resident or non-resident, an opportunity for more robust articulation agreements, increased employer engagement, and the ability to offer Career Training Institutes for adult students.
It also benefits the $120 million investment in the new Taconic facility that was completed in 2018.
Curtis explained that if the decision was made to make Taconic only vocational for the fall, 60 Reid students who would traditionally go to the school would be sent to Pittsfield High School because they are not registered for CTE.
Committee member Alison McGee recommended that the 60 students are surveyed to see if they would feel comfortable moving to a different school and Curtis obliged.
PHS Principal Henry Duval said the schools' enrollments have flipped over the past five years with more students now at Taconic. The vocation switch began during the 2018-2019 school year when PHS started to close its vocational shops and all but the culinary department was closed in the school year 2019-2020.
"So Pittsfield High School now has no vocational programming whatsoever and that's where the change has taken place in this population," Duval explained.
He later said "PHS will be known as PHS" after Taconic is made all vocational, meaning that it is a traditional high school with features such as a strong Advanced Placement program, a strong college prep program, and a substantially separate special education program.
There was also talk about the biases around vocation education as opposed to traditional education.
"It really is about what we're offering our students the resources that we have in Pittsfield, which is unlike any other district Berkshire County, and then asking ourselves to examine any biases that we have around vocational education versus traditional education, looking at what we define as successful and what our students find is meaningful," Gage said.
"So our goal is that they graduate with credentialing and college course credit and meaningful experiences that they can transition into a job or post-secondary education apprenticeship programs, it is not as linear as it's been in the past, it really is multiple entry points so it's really our job to provide those to students and inform parents about all of the opportunities that exist before them and not just what we had thought of in the past as being successful."
Chair William Cameron said the enrollment numbers provided to the committee showed a major shift in the community's acceptance of vocational courses as quality programming.
Student representative William Garrity asked what kind of timeline is being considered for this decision, recognizing that it is something that the committee needs to start looking at now.
"We will certainly schedule a meeting in the near future to have a deeper discussion, I know there is some desire to do it in the fall, and certainly the feedback that we collect from our community and the 60 families affected directly will impact that, but there are many other complications of making this happen in such a compacted timeline, transportation and such," Curtis said.
In other news, the committee voted to endorse a resolution in support of the Fair Share Amendment and a resolution condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The amendment imposes a 4 percent surcharge on earnings past the first $1 million to support transportation and education. It is expected to generate about $2 billion yearly, will be on the ballot for state voters in November.
On Tuesday, the City Council also voted on a resolution to support it.
The resolution against Russia's invasion of Ukraine states: "The Pittsfield Public School Committee condemns the Russian Federation's unprovoked, unjustified, and barbaric invasion of Ukraine and joins with over 140 nations and all civilized persons in demanding an immediate end to this war, in which so many are needlessly dying, including women, children, and the elderly, so much of Ukraine is being destroyed, including schools, homes, houses of worship and maternity hospitals, and so many are being forced to flee their homeland to save their lives."
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