Editor’s note: This is the first in series of stories looking at Dallas High School’s developing “career and technical education” program, and how they are changing education.
DALLAS — Ask Dallas High School career technical education coordinator Tim Ray what one of his biggest pet peeves is and he will say it’s a student who goes to college who doesn’t know why.
He said that often those students think attending college is “what I’m are supposed to do.”
“This isn’t the 1970s anymore where everybody goes to college just to learn how to be an adult,” Ray said. “It cost too much stinking money to do that.”
He wants to give students better options.
Ray has guided the initial approval of six CTE programs since coming back to DHS in March.
His work is paid for by Measure 98, which voters approved in 2016 to send money to school districts to expand CTE classes, college credit opportunities and prevent students from dropping out.
The six programs at DHS are agriculture, business, culinary, engineering, visual media arts, and health sciences. For three of the programs, Chemeketa Community College provides instruction, which offers students both high school and college credit. DHS also started an AVID program to help keep students in school.
Ray has more goals than those spelled out in Measure 98. He wants to create a system that gives students a realistic idea of what a career in one of those six fields would look like.
He said too many students are inspired to pursue a career based on unrealistic expectations. Ray believes it’s his job to “bridge the gap” between what kids see in movies and on TV and what happens in the real world.
“When they leave here, life becomes very consequential in a hurry, and it costs a lot of dollars to make changes, so we are trying to expose them to as many different things as possible here, so they can figure out what they don’t like,” Ray said. “That’s maybe more important than what they do like.”
Ray said he had a student who was set on enrolling in the nursing program at Chemeketa after graduation come to him six weeks after beginning a class in the health science program and say that she needed to do something else.
She paid $25 dollars to take the dual-credit course.
“She was about to enroll in a nursing program at Chemeketa and spend thousands of dollars to end up doing something that she figured out for $25 and six weeks that she didn’t want to do,” Ray said.
Now she’s learning to weld, something that she enjoys.
“I consider that a huge win,” Ray said. “Other people might not, but I think that’s a win.”
In the second semester, internships will be part of the equation. Ray said he’ll pilot a program in which student apply and interview for an internship. Businesses will select their interns — and can fire them, too.
“I told them that if they don’t do what they are supposed to do, they can get fired,” Ray said. “They come back and see me, and we find them a different place to be. We got to start bridging that gap.”
He wants to move students away from thinking they must go to college.
CTE programs are designed so students can continue their education after graduation or have the skills to get a job right away.
Ray said he’s seen it happen with former students who took the same agricultural classes from him when he was a teacher at DHS.
One is finishing his master’s degree and the other didn’t go to college, but is advancing in a career that began shortly after he graduated from DHS.
“Two totally different tracks, both are going to be highly successful individuals,” Ray said. “Similar skill sets, but had different goals of where they wanted to go. Our program, our school, allowed them both to be successful, and that is what I want for every kid.”
Working with Chemeketa and business leaders in the community, Ray’s dream is to create an educational environment that keeps home-grown talent in Polk County.
The state requires that school districts have an advisory committee to guide CTE program development.
Ray has used that opportunity to ask local businesses what they need from Dallas schools to create a pipeline from graduation to jobs without having to send young people out of town.
“There is so much talent that we lose because we farm it out,” he said. “We neglect to tell students the opportunities that are right here in their backyard.”
He said the advisory committee’s new task is creating and “employability score” for each graduate.
The score would track what Ray calls professional skills — punctuality, work ethic, problem-solving skills and critical-thinking ability — demonstrated while students are in high school.
Business leaders would help develop it, so they will know what it means when applicants present it on a resume.
For students, he hopes that applying a score for those attributes will impress upon them that technical skills and knowledge aren’t the only qualifications for getting and keeping a job.
“I don’t care what you want to do, but if you want to be a professional at it, you’ve got to show up on time, you’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to clean up,” he said. “If you’re supposed to work until 4, you work until 4, then you clean your stuff up and go home.”
Next week, see what goes on in CTE classrooms as teachers prepare students for careers.