OTTUMWA — Students may soon have the option of spending half of the day out of school during their senior year, if they’re attempting an apprenticeship path.
The basic approach was outlined for school board members earlier this month, but Tuesday saw a deeper presentation that delved into some of the details. As envisioned, students would take their core classes their freshman and sophomore years of high school. But their years as an upperclassman would look radically different from the traditional path.
Jeff Kirby, the district’s director of innovative programs, said the plans rely on partnerships with Indian Hills, state and federal agencies, and information about what skills local employees need from their new hires. Simply put, manufacturing is no longer as simple as being able to show up on time.
“We know that manufacturing looks a lot different these days. Those jobs need a lot of skills,” he said.
Welding is the area being used as a pilot program, with expansion into nursing and other fields possible in the future. Official registration could take place in April.
If students joined the apprenticeship program, the junior years blend core classwork and apprenticeship training. The latter could accelerate the summer after their junior years, with the initial training over the summer. That training would allow students to pick up critical skills while drawing a wage.
Seniors in the program split their time equally between their remaining coursework and their apprenticeships. “Students can earn a wage and skills as a student,” Kirby said.
Different certifications are possible for the students depending on what precise path they choose. The students don’t all have to complete each certification, and they would gain a year after graduation to complete their apprenticeships.
Board members voiced support for the plans. Brian Jones urged those leading the apprenticeship program to emphasize the need for students to develop good habits for the workplace. Where being repeatedly late to class might earn detention, being late to work earns a pink slip.
The district hopes that development of programs like the apprenticeships can help keep students in school even if their aspirations don’t match the traditional high school to college framework. It also reflects the growing “skills gap,” as Kirby put it, in which employers have found increasing difficulty finding workers whose qualifications match manufacturers’ needs.
The program could also offer something other area districts do not. Student retention, in terms of both graduation and open enrollment to other districts, has been a challenge for Ottumwa over the past decade.
School board members were also briefed on the upcoming Iowa School Performance Profiles. While the assessment’s results were not in yet, board members were told how the metics it uses are counted in a district’s overall results.