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CTE has the potential to change students’ lives

My dad, Tim, barely graduated high school in the 1980s. When I think about what the Medford School District is trying to accomplish for kids — expanding high school career and technical education programs designed to teach kids marketable skills, specifically in electrical, plumbing, HVAC and carpentry — he’s the first person I think of, because programs like that might have changed his life.

He was a football player, lasting only one semester of community college before blowing out his knee on the final play of the last game of his freshman season. After that, he didn’t see much reason to stay in school, eventually dropping out and bouncing around several labor-intensive jobs for years. He worked hard to provide for us, but it was always a struggle. Today, his body is a wreck. He destroyed his back in the late ’90s and lives in constant pain, unable to work anymore. The thing is, he is incredibly smart and has always been good with his hands. He just didn’t have any guidance at home or any direction at school. If there had been electrical, plumbing, HVAC and carpentry classes at North Valley High School in 1984, his life might have taken a completely different path.

On Tuesday, voters within the Medford School District will have an opportunity to provide career and technical education (CTE) programs designed to teach kids marketable skills in the trades and help them secure a jump start on high-wage apprenticeship jobs after high school.

However, in an effort to undermine the bounty that CTE would provide to our students and community, a few vocal opponents have endeavored to muddy the waters with unrelated issues regarding class size, PERS, maker space and enrollment growth. All of these issues are important, but they are not on the ballot and are not impacted by whether Measure 15-175 passes or fails.

So why approve Measure 15-175?

The Oregon Legislature recently approved state funding opportunities for school districts willing to expand career technical education. In areas such as Jackson County, where a lack of affordable housing and high demand in building trades for a trained workforce work against each other, this is an opportunity not to be squandered.

Expansion of more relevant career technical education programming, coupled with drop-out-prevention supports at the primary high schools, diminish the need for a stand-alone alternative high school and frees up the Central Medford building to accommodate 1,000 students, as a potential middle school addressing future growth in student enrollment.

Unlike maker spaces, which are for exploration and project-based learning, certified career and technical education programs allow students to earn credit, either toward industry certification requirements for apprenticeship programs after graduation or toward a two-year degree. It’s an investment by our community, for our community.

Finally, the district is committed to partnering with Rogue Community College for continued access to programs offered there, such as advanced manufacturing at RCC’s Table Rock campus, and committed to making the unique CTE facilities available to community partners for adult education.

The choice is clear. A yes vote on Measure 15-175 is a yes vote for a robust economy, for a well-trained workforce, for home-grown tradespeople, and for our students, especially those like my dad, who need a little extra push before they enter the real world.

Michael Campbell is vice-chairman of the Medford School Board.

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