District Looks at Revamping Its Career Technical Education Program

The Davis School Board on Thursday evening heard a presentation on how to revamp its flagging Career Technical Education (CTE) program.  Over the next few months they hope to get the program far enough along for a possible course alignment in the fall, with a full launch in Fall 2020.

Associate Superintendent Rody Boonchouy explained, “We’re not talking about the vocation ed program of yesteryear, this is a new era of career tech education.  It’s much more sophisticated skills oriented program that supports not only the academic skills but also the development of their technical skills for their jobs of the future.

“This is for all students,” he said.  He said this is not an alternative program for non-college students, but rather the type of programming that supports all students.

Perhaps a surprising statistic is that 46 percent of DJUSD students enter the workforce without a college degree.  Eighty-two percent of the 2017 class attended some post-secondary institution.

Mr. Boonchouy explained, “We have a very strong college culture – it’s something that we’re proud of, it’s high standard expectations.  We believe that many of our students will benefit from this expectation and that is something that we want to maintain.”

He said these numbers raise the question as to how to better support students in having “better persistence” and second, “how do we ensure that our program is supporting all students?”

He noted that there is also a culture of competition that goes along with this and “we see this is as one of the features that is increasing the level of stress and anxiety that we’re seeing in our students in this community.

“This is becoming more apparent in we’re hearing this directly from our students… and we’re hearing it consistently,” he added.

He said, they believe “we can better prepare students for their career.”

The data there, as Mr. Boonchouy presented, is not encouraging.

Only 22 percent of students in response to a survey stated, “My school has helped me figure out which careers match my interests/abilities.”  Another 21 percent responded, “My school has helped me understand the steps I need to take to have the career I want.”

This was backed up by the observations of at least one student.

One student, a female at DHS, made the point that for a lot of students they are hearing that employers are not looking at whether they have a college degree, only whether they can do the job.

“I hear from people who said my college degree was unnecessary,” she said.  “So many people don’t want to go to college (because of debt).

“Sometimes they’re like, I shouldn’t have gone,” she said because of the debt and the lack of perception that it helps.  “That scares so many people.  Jobs aren’t looking at my resume and understanding that I put my work and effort into it.”

She expressed concern that she would work hard, spend money she doesn’t have on college and then not have a job at the end of it.

“High school isn’t helping me pick a career either,” she said.  “I’m just focused on my studies.  I don’t know what I want to do.  It’s pretty scary.”

Rody Boonchouy presented this following program vision statement: “DJUSD CTE programming will engage our students in rigorous, relevant skills-based experiences that inspire, guide and prepare them for college and careers.”

He noted that, as they look at funding sources, they need to have a mind toward ongoing funds.  He said, “Whatever we do, we have to do it with an eye for sustainability… so this becomes a core feature of DJUSD.”

Board member Alan Fernandes clarified that 46 percent of DJUSD graduates either do not attend college or complete their college degree within six years.  “So barely half finish college,” he stated.

He called the student survey data, “The biggest black eye in my view.”  He stated, “Eighty percent of our students basically say, we’re no help.

“In the minds of the students, we’re failing even helping them identify what careers might be of interest,” he said.  “The career center is covered with college banners.  Why is the word college before career?  To me it’s backwards.”

He said that “we don’t really help them with careers, we just teach them to fill out financial aid applications and talk about college.”  He said that college is required for some careers, “but when we put college in front of careers, it’s really the same old, same old.”

He added, “It’s sort of a joke saying that we’re a college prep institution and yet almost half don’t even attain a college degree.  That’s not working.”

Cindy Pickett said she agreed with Mr. Fernandes, but she added, “It’s not uncommon for college juniors to not know what career path they will embark on.  They intentionally say I know I’m going to go to college but I’m going to keep my eyes open until I get closer to graduation from college.”

She pointed out that for college bound students, “High school hasn’t helped them look for a career, because they’re not looking to decide on a career at this stage.

“It’s the students that really want a career that we have to make sure that we’re serving,” she said.

Bob Poppenga noted a lot of prominent companies listed: HM Clause, Farm  Credit West, California Wool Growers, Cingenta, Pioneer Machinery, Adams Grain Company.  He said, “We should be making a concerted effort to tap into these companies to help support our programs.  If we don’t, we’re really missing an opportunity.

“That’s something that school districts don’t do very well at that universities do really well at is development,” he added.

Mr. Boonchouy said they will hope to come back to the board by the spring or summer to make recommendations to the board but they will be looking at the Superintendent’s CTE Advisory Committee and input from the community and students as they move forward.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Richard McCann

    The Citrus Circuits robotics program housed at DHS currently serves just under 100 students on its FIRST Robotics team and head mentor Steve Harvey teaches 4 courses that reach another several dozen students. In addition, the program reaches several hundred more younger students through the Davis Youth Robotics League and its summer camps, all staffed by high school students from Citrus Circuits. Citrus Circuits has raised and invested over $140,000 in shop machines and computer technology since 2012, and recently received a grant from the Yolo County Office of Education STREAM CTE grant to invest in capital equipment across all of these programs. The program raises close to $100,000 per year from almost two dozen sponsoring companies and institutions including UC Davis. In addition, the District stepped up five years ago to provide space and supplemental funding at a moment when the program skyrocketed.

    I mentor this team which emphasizes peer-to-peer learning motivated by a competitive sports environment. Steve Harvey has set this up on an apprenticeship type model. Three students are currently in Harbor Freight’s Fellows Program. Citrus Circuits is a model for other CTE programs.

  2. Don Shor

    Where young adults can get jobs:

    leisure and hospitality
    retail and wholesale
    health care

    If you aren’t preparing young adults to work in those industries, your career program is not serving your students.

    I have hired lots of young adults over the years. Most are not prepared to be in the work force. Many, perhaps most, have been considering college as they worked for me, and have often gone on to study while in my employment. Most of those have used community college to hone their basic skills before going on, if appropriate, to a 4-year university. In many cases, community colleges have excellent 2-year voc programs. Most would have been wasting their time going straight to college.

    IMO, going to college without any general career goal would be inefficient and unproductive for most people. I suggest that those developing these programs consider the likely first and second jobs of these young adults as they develop their curriculum, and perhaps talk to business owners about the job skills that are lacking.

    1. David Greenwald

      How young are we talking about?  I would think tech would be on that list.

      One of the things I started recognizing yesterday was beyond the immediately training for jobs is the need to teach students about career paths and how to attain them.

      1. Don Shor

        How young are we talking about? I would think tech would be on that list.

        18 – 25.
        Median age of employees in the tech industry is 28. Most high school graduates don’t get into the tech industry for their first, second, or third jobs. They build skills elsewhere. It concerns me that we have high school career programs focusing on something that is probably a decade or more away for their graduates, rather than looking at it as a multi-step process that builds on the previous experiences and more targeted educational approaches.

          1. Don Shor

            Except for the San Jose metropolitan area, tech as a percentage of jobs is low. The categories I listed are much, much larger in terms of job opportunities. And your average high school graduate is not going to start in the tech industry, especially if they stay in this area.
            I have long felt the focus on tech jobs is excessive compared to their actual part of the employment opportunities available.

        1. Richard McCann


          There’s a shortage of potential employees for the tech industry, and Davis is on the boundary of the Bay Area. For many of the students who are in the robotics program, tech is there first, second or third job. And several have started at tech companies before finishing college. So I don’t think you should diminish the importance of that career path, especially since we actually are not fully filling it.

          Also high tech manufacturing is short on qualified employees. That’s a route that we should have more students going toward, without having to go to college. Even programming (which isn’t software engineering or computer science) can be done very competently without a college degree.

          But you are right that students should be prepared for the other industries you list. A philosophy major isn’t likely to get a job in that subject matter. We need to have a job search prep class for seniors, even if it means that they need to take one less AP class. Our students should be well versed in using LinkedIn since that is one of the prime recruitment tools (used by my wife at her company.)

          1. Don Shor

            Landscapers are having great difficulty getting and keeping employees. Same in agriculture and construction.
            Ag technology (genetic engineering, greenhouse management, livestock management) is a strong local industry that probably faces a worker shortage.
            Greenhouse production work is critical to the nursery industry, as well as the emerging cannabis industry.
            Police departments are having difficulty recruiting, I seem to recall.
            Nursing is always a high-demand field.
            I always sense that these things are not high on the career planning radar in high school programs.

            My son took auto shop, trained in auto mechanics after high school, and that was the basis for his career. My daughter joined the Marines, which set her on a very successful career path after she left the service. The military is an excellent career training program that builds job skills and opens many doors.

            What a 17-year-old really needs to know is how to walk in to a business and apply for a job in person. Internships will be increasingly important as minimum wage rises, since fewer employers will be willing to put the expense into an unskilled new employee with no job history.

  3. Bill Marshall

    You missed at least one Don… construction.

    I know a smart kid, who messed up in HS, didn’t graduate from HS (got his GED easily), took a few classes in JC towards becoming an EMT, got certified as EMT1, worked as a ‘pickup’ FF with CalFire/FS… a friend connected him with a construction firm doing remediation of an old mining site… he progressed in the org, and still works for the same firm.

    His sis went to Cal Poly, got her degree… got into a prestigious internship program… then the first of two fellowships… has worked at hospitals as a professional dietician… got her Masters… now works @ a top ten Children’s hospital, and has been invited to/participated in developing improvements to the national certification program for her field.

    Guess who made more $$ the last 3 years… not by a whole lot, but still… the construction guy works ~ 7-8 months a year… his sis, 12.

    The important thing is they are saving money (sister bought a 5 bdrm/3.5 ba house, bro lives with her, and helps with utilities, and cover his own costs)… and they both enjoy their work, and are fairly financially secure in their early 30’s.

    Both products of DHS.  Yet it was their initiative, coupled with DHS tools, to get them where they are.  One was academic oriented, the other not quite as much… besides ‘tech’ emphasis, all should be ‘schooled’ in real world stuff… best engineers I’ve known, understand construction, even when they never got a degree… they had good incomes and good job satisfaction.

    I’ll challenge any district teacher to do a unit in trig and/or geometry, and I’ll do the same… most students consider that “math”, and see no purpose, other than meeting “requirements”… over a 40+ year career, I used both extensively as a Professional Engineer and Professional Land Surveyor.

    Students need the opportunity to focus on the value of their curriculum as how it will help them in life, not just going to college… in my career, what I learned in chemistry, biology, physics, math, mechanical drawing, auto shop, woodworking, history, and english (partial list) in HS, made a huge difference in my career…. and they should be inspired to follow their individual paths towards financial security and personal satisfaction, wherever life leads them.  Parents need to partner with that!

    The program proposed is a good first step, IF the teachers involved “get it”.  All teachers, within any existing program should think long and hard about going beyond basic subject matter, and teaching “relevancy” of the material, for the future lives of their students.

    Stepping off the soapbox, so available to the next poster.

  4. Richard McCann

    Here’s a thank you from Citrus Circuits to DJUSD, just posted: https://www.facebook.com/frc1678/videos/vb.310786452296468/407290913152693/?type=2&theater


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