In Conversation With … features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate.
Laura K. Arnold is associate commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education, which oversees secondary career and technical education programs. She’s also been a middle school teacher and principal of an area technology center. She talked about the New Skills for Youth initiative, which this spring will award its second round of planning grants. The first three academies in this program will open in August.
Q: Tell me about the New Skills for Youth initiative and its purpose.
A. It is a global initiative to promote career readiness opportunities for secondary and postsecondary students. The program is being funded by JPMorgan Chase & Co., which set aside $75 million to look at K-12 systems and how they prepare students for career readiness opportunities. It came about because JPMorgan Chase started looking at labor market information and demand data on where careers are and saw that many careers that are in demand do not require a bachelor’s degree. They require postsecondary training and some require credentials.
Q. What does Kentucky’s selection for the initiative mean for its K-12 education system?
A. As one of 10 states selected for the initiative, Kentucky will receive $2 million in funding over a three-year period. Kentucky’s focus is on creating regional career academies that are aligned to labor market demand.
Q: What does the grant funding support in our state?
A. Our program just finished our first calendar year, in which we provided seed money to three district partnerships. The partnerships must include two or more school districts, a postsecondary partner and an area technology center, a community partner and employer engagement. They are collaborating to create a regional career academy to meet state and regional labor market demands as far as creating pathways that are aligned to those jobs.
Q. How is the seed money used?
A. Planning grants of up to $115,000 can be used to support professional development for teachers and others. It also provides money for an on-ground facilitator to facilitate conversations between education and business to create these pathways. The first cohort is spending this year planning with a goal of opening the academy in August when the new school year starts.
Q. How are local businesses and employers involved in these partnerships?
A. The grant had six key objectives, the first being how do you better engage employers in planning these and how do you use them to supply opportunities. One of our goals is to increase work-based learning experiences such as registered apprenticeships and cooperative education. We are trying to utilize regional employers tied to the cohort to talk about what work-based learning should be involved in the pathway and also to identify whether we have covered all the content that should be covered when the student leaves high school and enters the job or transitions into postsecondary.
Q. Who might be involved as a representative on the employer side?
A. It depends upon the region. We are seeing chamber of commerce presidents, economic development directors, human resources staff. In Lee County, one of the employer partners is a group called Amteck. They have a registered apprenticeship program so they do the training and then place the student or worker in whatever job is needed.
Q. You’ve said the area technology center is “the core” of this program. Can you explain?
A. Many of them serve more than one district, so we started looking at what districts are already coming to those technology centers and then how could you expand from that.
We have had a lot of discussion about when centers are close to one another, why would we want to duplicate services, how can we streamline it to make it easier for employers. Employers want to know what is available, who is that one person or group they can go to, to get all of the information.
Q. How are academies laying the groundwork for these programs? Are they all following similar paths?
A. You see some different approaches based on the region and what employers are available and what they can do. You are also going to see differentiation depending upon who the postsecondary partner is and what programs they offer. These are set up for the early-college, career academy model. So we envision students leaving their senior year of high school on their way toward an associate degree or having completed other certificates or credentials needed to enter into a career. It will depend on what employers are at the table and that postsecondary partner.
Q. So some students are going to get a certificate or credentials and get a job and others are going to continue their education?
A. They will have to be continuing in education. With some of the pathways you will see that kids can enter the workforce if they chose to do so. We are trying to create pathways where there are multiple exit and entry points.
As example, we have a nursing pathway that is a 120-credit hour bachelor’s degree program. So students can start during their freshman year in high school and their first college class would be a dual-credit medical terminology course. They start as a freshman and get certificates and credentials along the way so at the end of their junior year they get their Medicaid Nurse Aide certificate so they can be a nursing assistant, then they can start work on their LPN as early as their senior year of high school and finish that up as early as a few months after graduating high school. Then they can start work on that associate RN, ending with the BSN.
Q. Some of the pathways allow students to work and continue their studies?
A. Yes, so what we see a lot in nursing, if the student/employee has their associate degree, that employer will pay for the BSN. We also have apprenticeship models where a student can get 500 to 600 hours toward their registered apprenticeship program. We are going to be doing a registered apprenticeship with a company that specializes in information technology, and a student can leave high school with 500 hours toward that apprenticeship.
Q. If all of this training is being done in high school, is there concern about basic skills and studies being overlooked?
A. No, we have a template and we lay out grades 9-12 and then expand to 13, 14, 15 and 16 so actually it gives a better map and direction to students on what course sequences look like and what opportunities there are.
Q. What fields will these academies prepare students for?
A. One of the nonnegotiables in the RFA process was that each academy had to align to job demand data. In Kentucky, we had five demand sectors: construction, business IT, advanced manufacturing, health care and global logistics and transportation.
Q. It seems the 10 planned academies will encompass a significant swath of the state because they will all involve multiple school districts.
A. That is our hope. We are examining programs at area technology centers and our career and technical centers and trying to look at how districts can better utilize those to change the high school experience and align with what employers need.
Q. How challenging will it be for students to stay in their communities and regions after they are trained and educated for these jobs?
A. That question has come up a lot in eastern Kentucky. How can we show students that they can still live here and be a part of the community and be a productive citizen yet find employment where they could drive back and forth every day. The conversation is different in Lee County than it is, say, in Harrodsburg, which is close to job opportunities in Lexington, Georgetown, Louisville and Danville. When you look at eastern Kentucky, it is sometimes hard to find demand data because they are losing population and job opportunities. So we are having a conversation, “If I am going to live in Lee County what does it look like to drive to Lexington?” We are trying to look at what the opportunities are within the transit pattern, not just what is available in Lee County.
Q. Will Kentucky connect with the other nine states in the program to share experiences and information?
A. Yes, twice a year we will be convening with the other states, but the issue is there was a lot of freedom given in what states could do so you don’t see much duplication among the 10 states as far as programs. For example, Kentucky is the only state using the regional career academy/early college model. But there are things we all will be working on and can learn from one another, like how to engage employers and promote collaboration among school districts.
Q. Do you expect more applicants this March than in the first round?
A. Yes, we do anticipate more and we will be awarding six this time. We had originally planned to do five each year of the three-year grant. Last year, we had seven applications but based on scores and feedback, the scoring team decided to award three instead of five.