Academic, Vo-tech In 1 School?

November 25, 1990|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

Howard County's ninth public high school, scheduled to open in August 1994, could become a comprehensive technical school where computer-assisted design is down the hall from algebra.

Whether that happens -- or whether vocational and academic studies are joined in another way -- depends on school board reaction to suggestions in a report submitted last week by a vocational-technical education study committee.

Currently, vocational students split their school day between their home schools and the School of Technology. Last week's recommendations to change that came nine months after a projected high school enrollment study led the board to decide to build a ninth school. That study also recommended an assessment of vocational and technical education programs.

"We're trying to get away from the stigma that this is just vo-tech," John A. Myers, supervisor of vocational education, said. "We're preparing tradesmen and engineers and architects."

He said the committee hoped the board would make a commitment to house academic and vocational courses at the same location. Students then could take individual vocational courses instead of being required to spend a half-day at the school.

But the board instead focused Tuesday evening on what Daniel L. Jett, director of high schools, called a low response to a survey asking area businesses which courses should be retained in the county School of Technology program.

Of 400 area employers sent the survey, fewer than 100 responded, Jett said, too few to justify generalizations about the courses.

"I think we need to reach out to a whole lot more folks out there," board Vice Chairman Deborah D. Kendig said, adding that she didn't see how the board could make any decisions about the program without more information from the business community.

A survey of all vo-tech students plus a sample of other middle and high school students indicated that the current courses they found most interesting were commercial arts, drafting and cosmetology. Top preferences for future courses: broadcasting technology, interior design, computer graphics and marine biology.

The committee of parents, students and school personnel made three recommendations: * Academic and vocational courses should be offered at the same location, although the committee stopped short of suggesting how to fuse the two curricula.

Jett said it could be done in any of three ways: by building classrooms to convert the School of Technology into a comprehensive high school, by adding vocational courses at existing high schools or by building a new comprehensive high school with technical education facilities.

* Current vocational courses should be evaluated. Courses with low enrollment, low student interest and poor employment prospects should be dropped.

* Courses that draw high student interest and have good potential job opportunities should be added.

Myers' dream is a new comprehensive high school with technical and academic courses at the single campus.

One factor hurting School of Technology enrollment is that "students can't afford to give up half a day" for vocational or technical courses, he said. In a single building, a student interested in engineering could add one course in computer-assisted design to his or her schedule, Myers pointed out.

The supervisor said he was happy to see board interest in courses that prepare students to continue their education at community colleges or technical schools. Howard and Catonsville community colleges have already expressed interest in such a program.

Fred Myers Jr., chairman of the School of Technology's advisory council and a member of the study committee, favors a comprehensive high school "rather than these little technical wings scattered all over hell's half acre."

If the board opts to convert the School of Technology into a comprehensive high school, Myers said, the site, which is adjacent to the Department of Education, could accommodate more classrooms and playing fields.

"We even had a tentative site plan that shows you could put a football stadium there," he said.

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