The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 8, 2008

News

Minuteman High School targets career choices in today's job market

How does Minuteman Regional High School meet the needs of students preparing for jobs in Massachusetts? Minuteman's new Superintendent, Dr. Edward Bouquillon, spoke last week about the school's technical education to the Lexington chapter of the League of Women Voters. He touched on what manufacturing employers are looking for, the skills that need to be taught, the core values of the school, funding issues and students' choices in today's high tech work force.

Minuteman is a comprehensive high school offering both college preparation and vocational and technical curricula. The Minuteman region includes 16 towns, the furthest away being Lancaster. Of the roughly 700 students enrolled, seven are currently from Carlisle. "Sixty percent of Minuteman graduates go to college," said Bouquillon.

Bouquillon wants to prepare students for a global workplace. He said employers are looking for people with hands-on capability that are willing and able to get involved, who are comfortable in a team environment, who are interested in learning, who are able to follow and sometimes lead, are appreciative of cultural diversity and are gender-neutral.

Where are the jobs?

Bouquillon noted there are jobs for the non-four-year-college-bound student, and he provided data on the "high skills/high wage" workplace. Using semiconductor manufacturing as an example, he said the workplace is made up of: 2% engineers, 14% technicians and 84% operators. While engineers have at least a four-year college degree, technicians generally have a two-year degree and the operators have more than a high school degree, but less than a four-year degree. "There is a shortage of technicians," he said.

"There are 100,000 more jobs for technicians than for engineers," Bouquillon told the crowd. Of those jobs, 8% will require a graduate degree, 12% will require a bachelor's degree, 10% will be technical, 43% will require less than a bachelor's degree and 27% will have on-the-job training. Bouquillon noted that those with a degree in a vocational program and one year of on-the-job training in that field make just $4 less an hour than those with a bachelor's degree. "There are too many people with a four-year degree," said Bouquillon. "What do these people do?" he asked the crowd. "They go back to school or take a lesser job," commented those in the audience.

Minuteman values

The core values of Minuteman include: utilizing the whole brain, adapting teaching style to the learning styles in the class; providing real world experiences; integrating curriculum; engaging employers and post-secondary institutions; communicating, providing professional development for staff; and moving from "good' to "great." The goal is work force preparation. Bouquillon also focuses on three personal goals: transparency, communication and collaboration.

If college, then how much?

Bouquillon gave advice for parents of middle school and high school students. "Ask them what do they love? What was a particular accomplishment?" He urged parents to try to have the child figure out what tasks and skills were most satisfying. He also suggested parents make an education contract with the child so they are accountable and know what is expected. He recommended families prepare a back-up plan, in case changes are needed over the years.

What was the common goal? When he asked the audience, "Go to college and get a degree," was the answer. He said it was bad advice to tell kids to postpone career choices for as long as possible or not to worry about a major until the child gets into college. He noted college was a pretty expensive place for those without direction, and said, "A four-year degree is not the only way to win." He thinks parents should insist on a career plan from guidance counselors. "The [top] 20% of students will be fine," he said, adding, "There's lots of support for the bottom 20% of the student population. It's the middle 60% that I'm concerned about."

Program mix

In the past, students were on a schedule of one week of academics, followed by one week of labs or shop. Bouquillon will be changing this so that all ninth grade students will have English and math every day. English will be part of the lab experience. "The welding teacher and the English teacher will work together." Students will be writing paragraphs on the lab experiences. Currently 97% of the students pass MCAS tests the first time they take the test.

The regional high school has three levels of chemistry, biology, physics and general science. Forty-one percent of students are in special education. There are four guidance counselors, one admissions counselor, one social worker, one full-time psychologist, a special education director and 13 SPED teachers; an inclusion model is used. There are 35 clubs and 16 sports. There are after-school, community and summer programs. Bouquillon pointed out that the school is used by many people, "Over the last three years, 13,000 people have participated in our program," ranging in age from three-year olds to senior citizens.

Bouquillon is very proud that all of the Minuteman students are involved in Skills USA, a partnership of students, teachers and industry to foster a skilled work force. There are competitions on the regional, state and national level for this program. "Minuteman got more medals than any other high school in the U.S."

High costs and fewer students

"Funding is a challenge," Bouquillon admitted. He noted how hard it is to get a bond issue approved by all 16 of the towns who are members of the regional school district. "It's the most expensive public school in the Commonwealth," he said. The annual $26,000 per-pupil cost is due in part to a low staff-to-student ratio, which has been exacerbated by declining enrollments the last four years. Bouquillon feels, "There are too many adults and not enough students." In the last few years, Minuteman has had about 300 applications, of which 280 students are typically accepted but only about 130 freshmen enroll. He said that this was in spite of the fact that all the other vocational schools in the area have waiting lists.

Bouquillon addressed the dropping enrollment. In the past, he said, "There was no follow-up after the acceptance letter." The school has hired an admissions officer, and now there is an outreach program in place to make connections to the newly accepted student.

Bouquillon came to Minuteman last summer. Previously, he was the director of the Windham Regional Career Center near Brattleboro, Vermont.


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