Measure J’s goal: More job training in schools

Students who are able to learn job skills in high school are less likely to drop out and more likely to pass the exit exam, studies say, which is one reason the Sequoia High School District is seeking a bond issue that would help to expand vocational programs.

Measure J, on Tuesday’s ballot, would raise $165 million in bond funds to expand what’s called “career technical education,” which helps high school students prepare for careers in everything from working on cars to performing tests in biotechnology laboratories. It requires 55 percent approval to pass.

The district’s four high schools already offer a handful of vocational programs that teach students to work with technology, biotech, woodworking and modern-day home economics. Now, it hopes to go further, according to Vera Jacobsen, who heads the district’s career technical programs.

“We want to design programs to give kids marketable skills for the 21st century,” Jacobsen said. “Statistics show that kids in these programs are passing the exit exam 8 percent more, and their graduation rates are up.”

The key, Jacobsen said, is having smaller class sizes and programs in which students work closely with teachers for three years.

“It’s not magic; it’s a focus on kids,” she said.

Measure K, if passed, would make Sequoia High School District the first in San Mateo County to launch a large-scale program that offers students a range of career training programs, according to Tom Mohr, president of Cañada College.

High schools used to offer more wide-ranging vocational classes, often in partnership with local community colleges, to train students to work on cars or learn draftsmanship. Some of those programs are coming back, in higher-tech versions, said Ed LaVigne, chief business official with the Sequoia district.

“There are no auto courses in our schools now, and yet there are clearly auto-service needs,” LaVigne said. The fact that most cars are controlled by on-board computers requires mechanics to have skills they didn’t need 30 years ago, he said.

If the bond passes, the Sequoia district would also work on more partnerships with local community colleges so students could start their career training in high school and continue it once they graduate, according to LaVigne.

“Students need to come out of high school not only with formal technical training, but with the kind of training that allows you to be retrained over an entire career,” Mohr said. “Programs like [Sequoia’s] would allow them immediate access to higher-level college programs.”

bwinegarner@examiner.com  

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