Curtis Clough, Superintendent of Hagerman Municipal Schools in Chaves County (NM), is a 33-year educator in four different states, encompassing public and post-secondary education positions as well as serving as the State Administrator of Career and Technical Education for Alaska. He also serves on the Executive Board of the New Mexico Association of Career/Technical Education (NMACTE) and is the current Chairperson for the Administrative Division. In addition, he has collaborated closely with Workforce and Economic Development entities in his various positions and is enthusiastic about affording students opportunities in Career/Technical Education, so students are career ready. He has held positions with the Grant County (NM) Prospectors as President and served on the Grant County-Silver City Chamber of Commerce. He currently serves in an ad hoc capacity on the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corporation and is partnering with Lake Arthur Schools and other entities on a High School-Career Academy model for the students of the Pecos Valley.
In today’s world of K-12 education, so many options are available for students to choose their pathway in life from homeschooling to public or private school education to early college high school to Advance Placement courses to specialized charter schools to dual enrollment options to online virtual academies to whatever next trend will occur based on legislative or political will. Despite the options, state legislatures and other entities seem to focus on students advancing to two- or four-year colleges or universities as college ready, but the shift in the last five to ten years has been to college and career ready. What exactly does that mean? Last time I checked I had to go to many college classes and pay a lot of money to get my degrees to be a teacher, coach, administrator, Superintendent or whatever job or title I have held in my career. Also, I thought teaching and administration were viable careers, so why are we lumping college and career ready in one lump sum title. Simple, most people associate career readiness with the level of education and degrees earned in one’s life, instead of the skills and abilities gained throughout life that can be utilized in one’s employment life which is the dialogue around career readiness.
Career and Technical Education (CTE) is not just a program, but an approach that builds the skills and abilities of our young people to fill the vacancies of our future job markets. This does not just start in High School but is a continuum in our educational approach of systemic actions to get kids motivated to learn as well as connect to their passions as to what they want to be when they grow up starting in early elementary school. Staring kids sooner in their educational careers on exploring their passions and desires allows for educators to tap into their potential and keep them actively engaged in project-based learning or inquiry that develops the necessary skills to be a productive citizen in our society. Skill development starts at birth and cannot wait until a person reaches Middle School/High School to tap their potential. Research shows that literacy gaps and math gaps develop in the adolescent years between third and fifth grade, but some students so those gaps even earlier. If the goal of education is to prepare students for what they want to do in life instead of the state testing requirements, why not create a comprehensive CTE system that builds upon skills, knowledge and abilities that keep kids motivated and passionate about their education as well as give families opportunities to explore with their student options that fit the family and personal needs of the student.
Aligning our educational system to age-appropriate skills and knowledge that are developmentally acceptable is key to being able to achieve our goal to prepare kids for career, and not just college. Gradually building skills such as decision making, problem solving, communication skills and relationship building are all key elements of a child’s education, as educators, expect students to possess and gain throughout their educational careers. The continuum of knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA’s) need to be made as a priority, instead of content matter than can be researched and gained through smart technology and embedded in the actions we take as educators to ensure our students are progressing in their education careers toward a successful life after high school graduation. Life does not end at high school but is the foundation of next steps that need to occur for a student to be a productive, active citizen. Many careers require college and advanced training after high school that can come from pre-apprenticeship/apprenticeship programs, on the job training programs or even enlistment in the military if so desired so the individual can come out from active service with a skill set that is marketable and employable. Having student pursue these opportunities earlier in their educational career as well as continued exploration of other options in career readiness can only serve our communities and students better because they are better informed of what these careers need, want and are available so they do not waste money on opportunities that may be better served through workforce development and training. Kids are staring to make decisions earlier and earlier in life that disqualify them from potential opportunities in life to purse for career. As educators, we need to be able to focus on preparing students through skill development that allows them to be better citizens and what they choose to do in life—not pigeonholed because of no support or guidance through their schooling years.
Finally, with the focus on the failures of our public education system in the United States, the change of focus to a skills-based approach and immersion in key, fundamental career-ready skills are a win-win for educators and workforce. Industry has always had issues with not having a prepared workforce and with the number of students deciding to delay entry into college after sitting out two to four years after graduation from high school, our workforce is changing. Why not allow students to do job shadowing, internships, and pre-apprenticeship programs prior to graduation so the student knows if this is his or her path in life. Exploratory and project-based experiences are key to skill development and will assist in avoiding making mistakes in career choice once they leave high school. Early exposure to projected occupations or opportunities that students may not know exist is important as STEAM and medical fields become hot topics in workforce retention and development. Students do not know what they do not know so constant exposure to these opportunities through virtual field trips, actual field trips or targeted career fairs and field days at younger ages will get students more oriented to career exploration and pursuit, instead on relying on the content-driven setting that mandatory testing requirements have spawned. Education is about exploration, learning and growing and why not align that activity to content that helps in developing our workforce of the future.
CTE is an option that can serve the best interests of students in so many ways, but traditional career education that starts later in a student’s career has been an obstacle to student success. Many students have already fallen behind grade-level expectations because the learning and development is not of interest or desire. Why not focus on the passions and desires of students that assists in developing a well-rounded, career-ready student earlier in the K-12 setting? CTE is the avenue that will allow students to develop necessary skills to be productive citizens and be engaged in their own learning. Our workforce of tomorrow is contingent on changes that are made in collaboration between education and industry partners being, so we have the future medics, skilled trades people or whatever our students desire that are fully prepared to perform the duties and functions necessary in their career pathway.