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Some of you might recall that I participated in an institute of the Common Core Standards which are being pushed by the U.S. Department of Education. These are a long list of things that students should know and be able to do by the time they graduate from high school.

The board has started to take a look at these standards, and we’ve been presented with a draft of those standards, which you can see here.

One of the questions that I asked the Department of Education last year was, during in the creation of these standards, whether at any point they consulted with the departments of Labor and/or Commerce to try to understand what jobs would be “hot” in the future.  It seemed logical to me then that we would supposedly be preparing students for something, which would inform the creation of these standards.

Sadly, the assistant Secretary of Education, Thelma Melendez, said that no, it had never occurred to them to consult with Labor and/or Commerce.

It came to my attention recently that the “community engagement liaison” for southwest Denver told community members that they had “no plan to fix Kennedy.”  The community members retorted, and I agree, that Kennedy isn’t necessarily “broken.”  There’s not much to “fix,” aside from helping Kennedy students to do even better.  Kennedy was recognized for having an 80% graduation rate for the class of 2011, which beats the pants off the district’s average.  Obviously, we can always do better, but it’s clear that Kennedy is on an upward trajectory.

By the way, the Kennedy Commander football team is 8-0 as of this writing.  Go team!

In a recent strategic analysis of southwest Denver, the district reported that they believed there is a high number of over-age/under credit students in the area that could benefit from an alternative education program.  The report is here, and the analysis about southwest Denver starts on page 26.  The district specifically points to the distance from Emily Griffith as a barrier to our students.

Now, I just read a report from the “Skills2Compete – Colorado” campaign, which indicates that by 2019, there will be lots of what they call “middle-skill jobs” that will need to be filled.  Here’s a bit of their report (emphases, mine):

Research on projected job openings and retirement trends in the workforce shows that middle-skill jobs—those that require more than a high school diploma but not a four-year degree—comprise the largest share of jobs in Colorado today. The data further indicate that middle-skill jobs will continue to make up the largest segment of Colorado’s total labor market into the foreseeable future.

Middle-skill jobs are often forgotten because of conventional wisdom about the economy as a whole. That conventional wisdom holds that our nation has evolved into an hourglass economy with a small number of highly skilled, highly paid workers and a much larger number of low-skill, low-paid workers. Within such a model, middle-skill occupations are on the verge of extinction.

It’s a bleak picture, to be sure. It’s also a myth.

The truth is that middle-skill jobs currently make up the largest segment of jobs in the U.S. economy (nearly half), and will continue to do so for years to come. This national picture holds true in Colorado. Middle-skill jobs account for 47 percent of the state’s jobs today and will continue to account for the largest portion of jobs into the next decade. What’s more, middle-skill jobs will account for 39 percent of job openings in the next decade, making them the engine of Colorado’s economy. But while 47 percent of current jobs are middle-skill, only36 percent of the state’s workers are currently trained to the middle-skill level, a gap that threatens to undermine Colorado’s economic growth and innovation efforts.

This means that DPS needs to be looking proactively to equip our students for these types of jobs.  We spend a lot of time talking about “college preparedness,” but with the skyrocketing costs of attending a four-year program and with shrinking PELL grants and scholarship opportunities, we’d better be proactive about ensuring our students are ready for the economic realities they will face.  We need to be just as concerned with catchy headlines as with truly setting our students up for sound economic futures.

Does that mean that our students don’t need to go to college?  I am NOT saying that.  But I think that many of us in southwest Denver hold the opinion that working toward college while holding a skilled job is not a bad way to go.  I myself went to the former Barnes Business College after the Army because I needed some immediately marketable skills to put food on the table for my son and me.

When talking to many of you in southwest Denver, one thing that keeps coming up is an overall lament for the lack of vocational-type programs at Kennedy.  The education world calls these career-technical education (CTE) programs now.  So given this research, combined with the fact that the district thinks we need more alternative-education programs in southwest Denver, I have asked the district to start looking at a program that would allow pathways for both alternative-education and mainstream students to get vocational training along with a diploma, GED and/or certification.  Also, I’d like to see that vocational classes be offered as electives too.  After all, even our National Honor scholars might want to learn how to change an oil filter, too.

Now, Kennedy does have a CTE program, but it’s funded by a competitive Perkins (federal) grant, which means that it isn’t as well funded as it could, nor does it have a wide array of offerings.  What I’m proposing is a program that is a part of our normal district budget and that isn’t subject to the vagaries of a federal grant.  Also, this sets up a great opportunity to coordinate with the trade unions and businesses.  Did you know that the sheet metal worker’s union has an apprenticeship program here in Denver?

There will be another meeting with the southwest community on November 17, and here’s where we could have preliminary discussions about what you think of this idea, as well as what types of training we could offer at Kennedy.  Mind you, this is not a final decision, and I wanted to present this idea to you and ask for your input.  To me, though, it makes perfect sense.

So which college or career for DPS students?  I say we get them ready for whatever opportunities they’ll encounter.