For the past four years, I have lead the Connecticut Technical High School System and had the privilege to serve some of the most talented and motivated students in the state. But on May 1st, I made the difficult decision to leave the system, a decision that leaves me both sad and frustrated. The review that lead to my decision to leave the Connecticut Technical High School System has been narrowly focused, and did not allow for public input from me or the CTHSS Board. As a professional, I respect the process.
But, I want to make one point clear. Every decision I made and every plan implemented throughout my tenure in the school system was made in open consultation with the CTHSS Board, and sought to meet the board’s charge of positioning the system as a leading force in career and technical education. I am very proud of the work we did together.
When I came to the system in 2010, Connecticut’s technical schools were still viewed as the alternative for students who had no college aspirations. As a teacher and an administrator who worked on the front lines, I understood those assumptions about the students, the schools, and the staff were unfair. The dual curriculum at the technical high school system coupled with the unique demands of the career programs, requires a highly motivated student with an interest and an aptitude for technical education. The fact is, more than 50 percent of the CTHSS graduates pursue post-secondary education.
In 2014, the CTHSS Board approved an ambitious strategic plan “Tomorrow’s Framework” centered on providing world-class career technical and academic education in preparation for careers in business and industry (CTHSS Foundational Imperative, 1). At the very core of the plan was the need to partner with business and industry to provide educational production work, work-based learning, and future job placement for our students (CTHSS Strategic Goal, 1). The CTHSS Board and I understood that to respond to the emerging needs of business in Connecticut, we needed to be visible and active partners. This also necessitated creating more exposure for the district so that it was recognized state-wide, nationally, and internationally for its high-quality and innovative programs along with its outstanding graduates (CTHSS Foundational Imperative, 14). To implement our plan, we also needed to raise awareness of new opportunities in our schools and to bring in more students to increase diversity within the applicant pool.
For four years, my leadership team worked tirelessly with the CTHSS Board to promote the system, our students, and above all establish new partnerships that would benefit our graduates. Today, graduation rates for CTHSS students are at an all-time high of 97.4 percent, nearly ten points higher than the state average. Membership in trade advisory committees has increased by 18 percent. Student production work increased by 5 percent state-wide. The effect of the CTHSS is undeniable as the system provides the overwhelming majority – 69 percent – of the workforce apprentices across the state. These indicators of achievement point to the Board’s success in implementing a transformative and visionary plan for the system.
Throughout this process, we consistently presented annual reports to the State Board of Education, the CTHSS Board, members of the General Assembly, and stakeholders across the state. These reports and presentations are a matter of public record. Each report references the four strategic plan goals and the progress made, including Goal 3.2 “Present the CTHSS as the pipeline for workforce development in the state”. A sub-set of this goal is to “establish a public relations and marketing campaign highlighting CTHSS accomplishments and core mission” and “use social media as a platform to establish communication with business/industry as a forum to expand partnerships with job services”. Specific references to these strategic plan goals and the indicators of achievement is instrumental in any discussion on the system’s success.
Now more than ever, our technical high school students are an integral part of the state’s economic future. As I move on, it is my greatest hope that the strategic plan that has brought more business partners, visibility, and opportunities to the system continues to be the guiding force for years to come.
This Op-Ed was published by Identidad Latina on June 8th, 2017.