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In Conversation With ... David Horseman

David Horseman

Kentucky School Advocate
October 2021

In Conversation With features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate.

David Horseman has served as associate commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education since 2018. A UK graduate in electrical engineering with a master’s in industrial education from EKU, he worked for a power plant and as a small business owner, taught and was principal of an area technology center.

Q. In the last few years, the focus in public education has expanded from college-readiness to include career and technical education (CTE) as a pathway to success after high school. What has caused this shift?  

Twenty years ago, you had home economics, agriculture, shop and that was about it. Now we have about 150 career pathways. Some of the success is legislation over the past few years and accountability, back to when former Education Commissioner Dr. Terry Holliday started talking about career readiness. Back then it was college and career. Now we talk about early postsecondary opportunities.

One thing that moved people away from thinking only about skilled trades was the impact of outsourcing. You can’t send your sink or your car off to China and get it fixed. Another is the success of CTE students. I tell people when you see a guy with a pickup truck, a ladder and a toolbox, he probably has a condo in Florida because he’s a businessman. People are more aware of how highly skilled these jobs have become. We want students to be ready for the next step. Most will need secondary credentials of some type. Some might stop with a high school diploma or an associate degree. Others go to college or get a Ph.D. We need career pathways with open entry and exit points along the way. We try to get them as much credentialing in high school so they have skills to do something to get them through while they’re doing whatever it is they want to do in the postsecondary realm.

Q. When should students start learning about the opportunities and career options CTE offers?

We’ve put together a lot of resources that start in elementary school, like virtual tours that are on our website or career days. You grow it through middle school doing exploratory programs. Area technology centers and centers run by local districts might have tours. Student ambassadors can give talks at schools. We’ve had summer career camps where middle school students do hands-on projects like building rockets. You can’t wait until they’re freshmen. We want to expose them to as much as we can as early as we can, then let them follow their heart.

Q. Kentucky has two systems that deliver CTE – area technology centers (ATCs) and local vocational education centers. What are the differences?

ATCs were created back in the late 1960s to make technical education accessible rural areas. They were mostly centered on the trades at that time. As time went on, around 2005, districts started building their own centers. There was funding around $11 million. That amount of money was distributed to 30 some districts and 42 centers. The more students you have, the bigger piece of the pie you get.

The ATCs are operated by the Department of Education and my office is in charge of those. We receive all our funding through the General Assembly and then we get our share of the federal Perkins money, just like other districts do in terms of how many students you have and their demographics under the Perkins plan.

Q. Under Senate Bill 101, passed during the last regular session of the General Assembly, local districts can get special funding if they take over an ATC. Do you know how many boards have approached KDE about assuming control of an ATC?

KDE Associate Commissioner David Horseman visits with students during a May tour of the Shelby County Area Technology Center. (Provided by KDE) 


Nelson, Knox and Green counties have done so, and we had others inquire. The way the statute is written, they still have to offer services and come to an agreement with the districts that are attending there now. We didn’t have as much interest as I thought we would have. Before the Dec. 31 deadline, we may have one more.

Q. What are some of the more popular career and technical pathways? Are districts influenced in their offerings by the area’s workforce demands?

Health care has been one of the hottest areas in the last few years. Industrial maintenance, advanced manufacturing are others. Engineering has grown a lot. Agricultural is one of our highest enrollment programs, but everybody’s had ag for a hundred years.

Early childhood is growing. It is not high paying but it is high demand. Part of the Perkins plan that we’ve written is that districts have to work together in the region to look at what the needs are. Each program has to have an advisory committee that includes industry people. When ATCs want to add a new program, they complete a questionnaire that looks at what businesses are saying, the job outlook and need. If districts are funding a center, they can put in what they want. I think in general they’re looking at careers with high needs first.

Q. In recent years there have been many districts that have worked together to create CTE high schools such as iLead Academy in Carroll County and Ignite Institute in Boone County. Will there be more collaborations in the future?

We hope so. When we were doing our New Skills for Youth grant I preached creating regional collaboratives. When I had the ATC in Garrard County, our welding program had students from five districts. One of those counties wanted to add a welding program. I said put in something that we don’t have, like aviation, and we can work together. If we partner and split a program, maybe we can add something that is going to be a key for growth. People see the benefits of working together, and I think we’ll grow more of that. The task force is working on a better funding mechanism and formula to incentivize and encourage districts to work together.

Q. The KSBA Educational Foundation has announced it will award scholarships for industry certifications. What are industry certifications?

In Kentucky, part of the accountability system for career readiness is an industry recognized certification. One is the state registered nurse aide, sometimes called a Medicaid nurse aide, those assistants that work primarily in nursing homes. These are real-life credentials offered by other institutions for adults, but we are able to get many done in high school. The Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board decides if these are valid credentials recognized in Kentucky. Other examples are a Department of Transportation welding certification, in IT, a Microsoft certification that’s known nationwide, and apprenticeship credentials that align with some of the trades.

Q. Are these certifications expensive?

Most tests run $25 to $100. If you're looking at welding where students have to buy materials and produce an object that tested, they can be expensive.

Q. Is that cost a barrier for some students?  

It can be. Local districts can sometimes provide funding to help; our office sometimes has funding for low-income students. If a student wanted to take more than one credential, a district might be willing to pay for one, but not both. So the KSBA scholarships will be helpful especially as demand for certifications increases.

Q. The past year has been challenging for schools, but may be tougher even for CTE students, because a lot of their learning is hands-on. How did educators help students make up for what they were missing?

They were so creative. In construction, instructors would create kits to build things using small pieces of wood or foam board. If students were learning to draw blueprints, an instructor might have them measure and draw a blueprint of their home. For an electrical class, they'd have to identify the electrical systems in their house. We bought GoPro cameras for instructors to wear as they worked so students could see what they were doing. Teachers had webinars to share their ideas and best practices with each other.

Q. What's the biggest need in CTE right now and how can local school boards help?  

They could help with community support, by getting involved to find out what the CTE needs are. Many have instructional positions open and can’t find qualified people. Jessamine County’s advanced manufacturing program couldn’t find a teacher. Now an area businessman who owned a machine shop is teaching two hours a day. Board members could help find consumables that could be donated or identify projects the students could do. When I taught in Garrard County, our students wired all the Habitat for Humanity houses.

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