Vocational Enrollment Strong After Decline

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Enrollment has bounded back strongly in Payson High School’s vocational programs after declines for the past two years, with new programs and trend-setting teachers.

Computer classes, automotive technology and the agriculture program saw the biggest gains while other classes, including fire science saw declining enrollment.

However, district Director of Curriculum Kathy Kay predicted the declines were cyclical and not an indication of decreased interest. The greatest threat to continuing the success of vocational programs is the need to update and enlarge teaching spaces, Kay said.

The most rapidly growing program, information technology, gained 48 students this year after losing 44 students last year.

Automotive technology gain-ed 20 students after losing four, and while the agriculture program’s 19-student increase put it in third place for single-year growth, the program is the sole vocational program to enjoy gains every year since the 2005-06 school year.

Overall, enrollment for vocational programs increased by 77 students this year from last year, compared to a 63-student drop the prior year and a 27-student drop the year before that.

All told, 839 students are enrolled in 10 programs, although that figure includes students enrolled in two classes, who are counted twice.

Twenty-five of those students came from the addition of education professions. The new program, taught by Dean Pederson, offers students training to develop lesson plans and teaches them theories of education with the hope of turning students into future teachers.

“We need to be willing to adapt and change with the times,” Kay said of the new career classes.

In the information technology program — computers — a software class has evolved into a network building and computer construction course.

This year is technology teacher Bud Evans’ second. Traditionally, Kay said, courses see declining enrollment when teachers change before the numbers stabilize.

“It takes a while for a new teacher to re-build,” Kay said. However, she added that students love Evans and a new, Web development class taught by a community college teacher could be in place by fall 2009.

A business management class could also evolve into a marketing, management and entrepreneurship program by next fall. The class lost 72 students last year and five this year, but Kay attributed the loss to a teacher vacancy.

Joe Parone took over last year after another teacher left, and he is helping to build the new curriculum.

Classes like financial management and the role of small businesses would switch to educating students on developing marketing plans and teaching them the economic principles related to marketing.

Changes to vocational programs are subject to scrutiny by the Payson school board, the Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology and also the Arizona Department of Education.

“A new course is looked at from several perspectives to make sure it’s a good fit with students,” Kay said.

Another idea is to organize the automotive program so that students can receive a completion certificate.

Kay said the facilities would likely need upgrading before that idea could materialize. Other facility upgrades needed are for the agriculture and construction programs if the classes are to remain competitive, Kay said.

Other future programs include cosmetology, for which Gila Community College officials are examining future locations. The class would offer dual credit.

“I think that we’ll have to continue to survey students and the community to keep up with changing technology and the job market,” Kay said. However, “We’re happy with what the numbers are now.”

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