|Talks may bring tech school here|
|Friday, June 29, 2012|
Vocational School at old LHS possible site
By PATRICK HALL
Officials with Wilson County Schools are expecting to consider a contract with the Tennessee Board of Regents that could see the old Vocational Center on the old Lebanon High School campus turned into a technology center that provides local residents with a variety of skills to fit the local job market.
County Attorney Mike Jennings, who also represents the county school system, said he is looking over a contract presented to him by the Tennessee Board of Regents, which consists of 46 colleges and universities in the state.
“The state board has sent me a model contract that’s going to need some modifying,” Jennings said.
According to Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto, the proposal would see the Board of Regents renting the Vocational School and staffing the building to offer courses in technical training such as Information Technology courses, welding, plumbing, carpentry, business and office management and more.
Hutto said the key would be to work with local businesses to find out what skills they are looking for and teach those skills to students in the technical school in order to help local people find jobs.
“We find out what skills need to be taught and keep Wilson folks employed in Wilson,” Hutto said.
Zone 4 County School Board Member Ron Britt said he felt the transformation of the vocational center to a technology center would be a “win-win” for the county schools, local residents and the state.
Britt said he supports the initiative to bring a technology center into the building and pointed out many local high school graduates do not have plans to attend a traditional university after graduation.
“I do support that and the reason why is because we have a significant number of high school graduates who don’t plan to go to a four-year college,” Britt said.
The technology center would be a place where those students could receive more specialized additional training and education to find a well-paying job. Britt said there is a large demand for technical jobs, especially jobs pertaining to Information Technology.
County School Board Chairman Don Weathers said the building is suited for what the Board of Regents wants to do with it, and added it could help bring businesses to the community.
“I think it can be a really good thing for the community,” Weathers said. “It’s perfectly suited for what the Board of Regents wants to do.”
Britt noted the state can bring a larger and better course offering to local students than the county schools and the community would greatly benefit from having a more convenient place to receive technical training.
“These students can enter professions that are meaningful and are well-paying and most of them stay right here in Wilson County,” Britt said.
Joint Economic and Community Development Board Executive Director G.C. Hixson said in a letter to Hutto the technology center would offer “one of the greatest long term benefits for both the citizens and existing industry base in Wilson County.”
Hutto said the large number of manufacturers in Wilson County means there are jobs here that require very specific skills. The technology center would make the local workforce more skilled and able to fill open positions that local businesses may have in the future.
Hixson also noted in his letter to Hutto the technical center would present professional job opportunities for instructors, administrators and teachers if the technology center is established.
“The tech center would work with local industries, the Tennessee Career Center and the JECDB to determine which skills need to be targeted for Wilson County,” Hutto said.
According to data from national non-profit organization Complete College America, 56 percent of jobs will require a career certificate or college degree by 2020. Also, 31 percent of Tennessee adults currently have an associate degree or higher.
Hutto noted the center would be able to serve students right out of high school and adults who may need additional training or looking to change career paths.
Britt said if high school students will be taking courses at the center alongside adults, he is concerned about the proportion of students to non-students as well as safety.
“They have to address the safety issue and they have to do that satisfactorily,” Britt said.
He felt with the county renting the building to the Board of Regents, local high school students should have a greater access to the courses and adults within the community should not have a disproportionate enrollment at the technology center than high school students.
Jennings said he plans to have the contract ready to present to the board by its next meeting on Monday, July 9. He said the board has expressed interest in the transformation of the old Vocational School, but said the details will have to be looked at more closely.
“The board has shown interest, but the devil will be in the details,” Jennings said.
Other Wilson County board members could not be reached by press time for comment on this story.