The Payson School Board on Monday wrestled with the muddled, intermittently controversial, improvisational effort to satisfy the state’s demand for career classes without disrupting the schedule.
The inconclusive discussion centered on outgoing Payson High School Principal Anna Van Zile’s creative but ultimately problematic effort to satisfy new state requirements by creating an intermittent career and technical education class period in the crowded high school schedule. The class requires teachers from a variety of disciplines to help students create a career plan in the course of their time at high school.
The Arizona Legislature several years ago required districts to help each student develop a career and vocational plan, although it provided no funding. In fact, last year the Legislature eliminated funding for vocational classes involving freshmen.
Still, the unfunded mandate remains in effect.
Van Zile hoped to satisfy the requirement with a class carved out of the regular schedule so students would develop skills in creating resumes, investigating careers, surviving job interviews and determining their interests and skills.
Most praised the new system for one thing: It created a set time when the school could hold assemblies without disrupting any other classes.
Otherwise, the system drew decidedly mixed reviews. Many teachers required to run the new career classes complained they didn’t know what to teach and wound up trying to help students think about jobs outside the teacher’s specialty. Many students complained the largely unstructured period wasted class time.
The school board wrestled with both the need for career and technical education classes despite the lack of state support and the flaws with Van Zile’s approach.
Board member James Quinlan said, “There’s a lot of work that has to go into making this a valuable class. I’d like to see a curriculum spelled out week by week.”
“We do have that intention,” said Van Zile.
“We need to have teachers that aren’t vehemently opposed to the class,” continued Quinlan. “Unless teachers buy in and students buy in, it’s just not going to function. I get students saying, ‘It’s 10 minutes wasted I could have spent on another class.’”
Van Zile said she launched the careers class to comply with state requirements, which the district had previously ignored and that most of the critics had no suggestions for other, better ways to meet the mandate.
“Some teachers may be afraid to give their honest input,” said Quinlan. “We’ve got to get it opened up. If you just have people who are for it giving advice, it isn’t going to work.”
Quinlan also suggested perhaps responsibility for developing career and vocational classes should shift to Yvette Harpe, the vice principal of Rim Country Middle School who has been shifted into a newly created district position as Education and Career Action Plan (ECAP) Coordinator. The state has required districts to set up a career program throughout high school, despite cutting funding for vocational programs.
Van Zile said she set up the new system to avoid repeatedly taking chunks of time out of English and social studies classes, the only time in the schedule when high school classes don’t mix students from different grades.
“I think that the concern is a reaction to the fact that I did a poor job of communicating the intent of the course,” said Van Zile, who functioned all year without a vice principal. She was recently shifted to a newly created position as Student Achievement Coordinator for the high school, charged with analyzing test score trends and helping teachers boost student scores, which is likely to become increasingly critical in determining school funding in coming years. The board also approved hiring a new vice principal for the high school.
“At least you got something going where there wasn’t anything before,” said Quinlan.
Board President Barbara Underwood said the new system has resulted in much less disruption of English and social studies classes.
“And that’s the one area where CTP works beautifully,” said Quinlan.
“I don’t want Barbara to fight my battles for me,” said Van Zile. “It’s not just English. It’s all those classes. I have sophomores and juniors who want to graduate early — who have to be involved in senior activities to fulfill this requirement.”
“The idea is good,” conceded Quinlan. “We’re going to have to sell it to the students and sell it to the teachers.”