Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In support of Career Academies: LB47 testimony

January 29, 2013

Good afternoon, Senators:

My name is John Skretta and I am the Superintendent of the Norris school district. I first want to thank you for your service here on the Education committee and your service to the state of Nebraska.

Today, I would like to encourage your consideration and hear the case for our affirmation of LB 47. We inhabit southern Lancaster County as well as the northern part of Gage County and a sliver of Otoe. I provided you with copy of our Annual Report so that you have a quick contextual overview of our school district – I am here today speaking on behalf of LB47.

Norris has been a charter member of the Southeast Nebraska Career Academy Program. As such, we have had dozens of students over the last several years participate in intensive career academy experiences on our own campus outside of Firth and in Lincoln on the SCC campus as well as out in various local businesses. These experiences are almost uniformly hailed by our students as some of the most exciting and engaging educational experiences they have benefited from, experiences which have equipped them with job skills in the areas of health, business, info tech and education.

Career academies are not some old-school retro version of dismissing the duds and banishing students from campus. Yet, that is a common stereotypical misconception about career academy experiences that continues to linger. I want to utterly refute that notion by equipping you with some basic data. Norris students perennially outperform state and national ACT averages – and a higher percentage of our students are college ready in the areas of math, science, and English than elsewhere even in our great state. Amazingly enough, the students who seem to do the very best are the students who have career concentration areas – wherein they have taken multiple courses both beginning and advanced within a career sector that is of interest to them. When you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense: students who are engaged in their education and view their classroom experiences as relevant are more likely to really invest themselves in
their learning. It seems the best way to ensure a student will perform at a peak level in science, technology, engineering or mathematics is to provide that student with quality career academy experiences which allow them to apply their more abstract learning in these areas.

LB47 makes good sense. The partnership configurations stipulated by LB47 are logical and coherent. They reflect a structure that has proven functional and mutually beneficial for K-12 districts and community colleges – our experience in career and technical education has demonstrated the efficacy of this sort of arrangement. 

I conclude my remarks this afternoon by issuing a good-natured, yet very real challenge to you: our educational policy leaders outside this room in our state- have for several years now repeatedly and insistently asserted the importance of P – 16initiatives in education that connect us to college and career readiness. The goals of this noble initiative included increasing college admissions and retention, furthering the future prosperity of our youngest Nebraskans who are entering the workforce, and battling the brain drain by retaining the best and brightest as lifelong citizens of our great state. I would humbly suggest to you that one possible means of actualizing our theoretical commitment to P -16 education is to place resources where needed through the adoption of LB 47.  

The reality is, providing students with these unique uniquely tailored educational experiences that mesh with their identified career pathways is not an inexpensive endeavor. There are real costs attached to providing the students these resources – including things as basic as allowing students to obtain their Career Safe OSHA certification or providing the transportation for students in small groups to get from our campus into Lincoln for those job site experiences.

Again, I want to thank you for your careful attention to this bill and to assure you that the Norris Board of Education and district would put the resources promised in LB47 to great use in continuing to promote college and career readiness for all students and in ensuring that we meet our mission of helping each student thrive as a productive citizen and lifelong learner.

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