Monday, February 19, 2018
Education

Adult ed courses canceled; county will push them in fall

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County School District officials wanted their first foray into adult technical education to be small — just a baby step.

They decided to offer three courses. They picked the teachers and the location. They wrote course descriptions. They set the prices.

But there's one thing they didn't do: market the fledgling program.

Only 15 people signed up for the courses, which were to begin this month.

Citing the low enrollment, the district canceled two of the three offerings, including the two more substantial courses — one for people interested in the restaurant industry and another for those interested in manufacturing — said Denise Moen, supervisor of the district's adult and community education programs.

Just two people registered for each of those courses — the only ones leading to industry certifications.

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt blamed the compressed period of time to successfully market the programs.

"You've got to get it out and start working on it pretty far in advance to get the (enrollment) numbers you need," Blavatt said.

The district's only offering began Tuesday. Eleven people signed up.

The course, Information Technology Support, is a 20-hour class to help adults become familiar with Microsoft Word 2010.

"This course may be useful in obtaining employment in many fields or by those interested in using computers for life skill functions," the course description reads.

That course doesn't really accomplish the stated goal of retraining the county's workforce, said Hernando County business development manager Michael McHugh, one of the staunchest advocates for adult technical education in the county.

McHugh applauded the district's effort, but acknowledged the limitations of the one course offering.

"It is not really the mission or really the way we are going to get to the success we're looking for," he said.

He also acknowledged the title of the course is a bit of a misnomer.

McHugh and others in the county envision an adult technical education center that will be a critical part of retraining the county's workforce and reducing Hernando's high unemployment rate.

For several years, Hernando has struggled with one of the highest unemployment rates in Florida — 9.4 percent in December.

One reason Hernando County finds it difficult to diversify the economy and bring higher-paying jobs here is that workers lack technical skills, McHugh says.

Adult technical education courses — and eventually a full-fledged center — have long been pitched as a way to fix that problem.

There have been other problems with the launch.

Before canceling the courses, the school district changed the length and cost.

Part of the reason for the slow start is also a lack of money, McHugh said.

"It makes getting operational much more challenging," he said.

"You've got to have the capital to get going. You have to have the resources. They haven't gotten that."

The district needs to have some type of program in place before it can qualify for state and federal grants, and that was the reason for the effort to launch on a small-scale basis.

The school district says it is not giving up.

Courses will again be offered in September.

In addition to the culinary arts and production courses, classes in cosmetology and home health will be added, Moen said.

The courses will all lead to industry certification, she said, and range from 160 to 300 hours at a cost of $436 to $876.

And there's another change coming for the September courses, Moen said.

They will be better marketed.

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. Follow @HernandoTimes on Twitter.

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