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Educators from Northwest Arkansas will visit three more high school programs over the next three months to research characteristics of a career center they hope to build.

"We need a couple of really world-class career centers in Northwest Arkansas," said Cheryl Pickering, career and technical education coordinator for the Northwest Education Service Cooperative. "Our labor market is demanding it. Our business and industry folks need to find qualified workers."

In addition, students need programs that give them options for going into the workforce, continuing their education after high school or doing both, she said.

Nearly all 16 school districts in Benton, Madison and Washington counties are expected to send representatives on the trips, which will be paid for with a $79,140 grant the Walton Family Foundation awarded to the Arkansas Public School Resource Center on behalf of the co-op, said Scott Smith, the center's executive director. The center is assisting the delegation and is the disbursing agent for the grant.

The schools they plan to visit have common traits: they reach students from multiple schools, they have a long history and they have a track record of placing students in jobs in fields they studied at the high school centers, Pickering said. Trips are set Feb. 25-26 to the Center for Advanced Research and Technology, or CART, in Clovis, Calif.; March 8-9 to Kent Career Center in Grand Rapids, Mich.; and April 18-19 to Aviation High School in Long Island, N.Y.

The visits will expand on what a delegation from 15 of the 16 area districts learned after a December visit to Francis Tuttle Technology Center in Oklahoma City, Pickering said.

Francis Tuttle was established more than 30 years ago and has transitioned from a vocational-technical school to a technology center, Pickering said. The trip to Francis Tuttle allowed a team of superintendents and administrators to begin sketching out plan for designing a career center.

The team will compile what it learns from the other centers into a framework for designing a career center in Northwest Arkansas, Pickering said. The team will ask to present what was learned to the State Board of Education in May.

Area employers have reported difficulty finding employees for business and financial positions, technical positions, teaching positions, skilled production, transportation and construction, according to Mike Harvey, who focuses on workforce and economic development for the Northwest Arkansas Council. The Northwest Arkansas Council in October hired consultants from the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning to study career training programs for high school students compared with available jobs.

They are due to report their findings in March, Harvey said.

In visiting Aviation High School, the Northwest Arkansas team is interested in more than the aviation focus, but in how the school develops skills students need to succeed in jobs after graduation, Pickering said. The team also will study how the school builds connections with business and industry and is interested in the school's success with students from low-income families.

Aviation High School's history dates to 1925, according to the school's website. The school is a public New York City high school with 2,200 students in the ninth through 12th grades from all five New York City boroughs, said Principal Deno Charalambous. About 16 percent of students are female. A majority of students, 65 percent, are from low-income families. The campus takes up a city block, has seven floors and an airplane hangar.

Students attend school from 7 a.m. to 4:20 p.m. daily and take all the academic courses necessary for a high school diploma, plus courses required to become a certified aircraft mechanic, said Charalambous, a 1976 graduate of the high school. He has worked at the high school for 29 years and has been principal for seven years.

The certification allows students to enter jobs that pay $50,000 or more a year with companies that often provide tuition reimbursement, the principal said.

The high school graduates 200 to 300 students each year, who also leave as certified aircraft mechanics, Charalambous said. Last year, 86 percent of graduates went to college. Charalambous said many students go to work for airlines, such as Jet Blue.

"There's no problem finding jobs for the kids," he said. "There's nothing wrong with getting a good education and knowing a skill."

For example, Pratt & Whitney, a company headquartered in Connecticut that designs, manufactures and services aircraft engines and auxiliary power units, has hired students from Aviation High School to work in facilities in Middletown, Conn., and in West Palm Beach, Fla., Pratt & Whitney spokesman Ray Hernandez said.

Aviation High School has an annual operating budget of $200 million a year, with 95 percent of the budget going to salaries, Charalambous said. The average teacher there makes $85,000 a year, compared with the average Arkansas teacher salary in 2013-14 of $50,473. Most of the operating money for Aviation High School comes from the funding provided by New York City, he said.

The Center for Advanced Research and Training in California drew interest from Northwest Arkansas because of the way the school embeds academic coursework with career training, Pickering said.

"We think that's a good way for students to learn," Pickering said.

Visits to the center in Clovis, Calif., begin with students leading tours and answering questions, said Rick Watson, CEO of the school. The Center for Advanced Research and Training opened in 2000 as a joint project of superintendents from two school districts, the Clovis and Fresno unified school districts.

They put together a team of 15 teachers who worked with a business entrepreneur named Pat Wright to develop a separate, free public high school that would provide a different style of education and allow students to explore careers, Watson said. The building cost $7 million, and the annual operating cost is $5 million.

About 1,400 11th- and 12th-graders spend part of the day at their home schools and part of the day at the center, either from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. or from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m., Watson said. The center offers 15 programs of study. Each program has three instructors and combines four courses into a three-hour session.

The environmental science program blends courses in English, technology applications, Environmental Research and Technology and either zoology or biology, he said. The courses are taught through four projects that each last eight to nine weeks.

Students are required to dress appropriately for the career field of study at least twice a week, Watson said. They leave campus routinely for job experiences, such as internships or working alongside professionals. The environmental science students have worked in the mountains and along the coasts with biologists, wildlife experts and those in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

"I believe this is the direction that high schools are moving," Watson said.

Metro on 01/25/2016

Print Headline: NW Arkansans to tour career centers

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