By Jennifer Wohlleb
Marissa Conway is feeling newly empowered in her role as a business and office technology teacher at the Montgomery County Area Technology Center.
Her school’s career pathways aligned to business services and health care have allowed her to create partnerships in the local business community, giving her teaching a sharper focus.
“As a high school teacher, I had not had the opportunity before to sit down with some of the office technology or medical office teachers at that level (postsecondary institutions) and doing that really took the theory out of it and made it real for me as the classroom teacher,” she said. “And that’s what I want you as school board members to hear from me more than anything about these career pathways is that I feel more empowered as a teacher because I had the opportunity and time to sit down with these industry professionals for the good of our students.”
Conway led one of three clinic sessions during KSBA’s Summer Leadership Institute that were focused on creating career pathways as part of Kentucky’s focus on college and career readiness.
Conway said discussions several years ago with business leaders and the creation of a task force of various stakeholders helped the school revitalize these career pathways.
“We asked, what does our community need, what are the rising jobs,” she said.
With the completion of a $60 million dollar hospital looming, the need for medical office workers rose to the top.
“When we looked at different employers and asked them to meet with us, we were able to identify where we had a gap and where we had skill trained students and the jobs that were open,” Conway said.
In addition to meeting community needs, the career pathways also have bridged some gaps in the school district.
“Through Individual Learning Plans, our middle school counselors were able to just go into those and pull a list of any students who were interested in a health and business field,” Conway said. “They gave us a targeted list of students we could contact and describe what we are doing in our program area. And (before) when we brought our eighth-graders over for tours, we would bring them in a big herd not knowing when they visit my classroom if they had an interest in business or medicine at all. With the ILP, that will allow us to section groups a little more targeted there.”
Teachers at the technology center are also working more with teachers from the high school. Conway said when the center decided to add a dual-credit technical communications English class to its curriculum, the teacher hired by the high school worked with her to determine what students on these career pathways would need to know.
“This teacher was able to visit with me last year and we were able to write up example prompts for medical offices so he could include that in his instruction,” she said. “With technical math, it was the same idea, the type of math that medical assistant might need.”
Although the district is in the third year of a Perkins Reserve Fund Grant, which helped Montgomery County plan and implement career pathways, Conway said community relationship building has probably been one of the most valuable commodities – something any district can afford.
“The relationships we built with industry professionals didn’t cost anything except for time,” she said. “To me, that was priceless.
Board members have come in and visited and asked about our program, what we’re doing and who we’re co-oping with, what are we doing with the middle school. None of those things cost anything.”