NEW PORT RICHEY — For years, west Pasco students training for careers in veterinary medicine, health care or criminal justice would leave their high school campus mid-day to take courses at Marchman Technical Education Center.
That changes this fall.
As career academies proliferate across Pasco County, several technical programs will move from Marchman to nearby high schools. The shuffling will free Marchman to provide more post-secondary training to adults.
The shifts include:
• Veterinarian assisting to Hudson High.
• Health career academy to Ridgewood High.
• Criminal justice to the new Fivay High.
Fivay also would have a first responder health program, perhaps as part of a larger public service career academy, and a hospitality program that could grow into a separate career academy.
Ridgewood, meanwhile, is expected to begin offering a gaming and simulation sequence in its career-oriented electives.
The goal is to have attractive, unique career-oriented programs at each school, said Rob Aguis, the school district's director of community, career and technical education. The gaming and simulation track at Ridgewood, for instance, would meet a growing business demand while also giving that school something that isn't offered elsewhere in the area, he said.
"When we open up new schools, we take a look at the programs and how the new school affects what we want to put in," Aguis said. "Rather than duplicate programs from school to school, we looked at the complement of schools. … This (also) is the time that we start transitioning Marchman to a post-secondary technical center."
As the programs grow and move away from Marchman, district officials say students could use school choice to transfer to the campuses where they are offered.
That way the students will not have to sacrifice the full high school experience, and they will not miss course time while traveling to and from a separate site, said district spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli, who has helped coordinate the career academies.
"We think with embedded programs in the high schools, more students will take advantage of them," Romagnoli said.
The district already provides limited transportation among the high schools in east Pasco. Students can get to their zoned school and catch a bus to the campus that offers the career courses that they have enrolled in.
"We are working with transportation to set up a similar system for the west side," Aguis said.
The movement of programs to the high schools will free space at Marchman, which in 2007 received accreditation to offer post-secondary training to adults. This year, the district has taken steps to make federal financial aid available as well.
By fall, the school plans to have begun the transition into a technical institute focused more on community needs, while continuing to serve some high school students.
"There's a huge sector of our community that needs retraining or new technical training to be employable," Aguis said.
For more than two decades, Marchman provided one of the only options for high school students in west Pasco to get vocational training, principal Sheila Bryan noted. But as school-based career academies and technical programs expand, she said, it makes sense to reach out to adults who have few training options in the area.
The center will continue its existing courses, which include commercial art, new media technology and carpentry, adding to the rigors and hours in order to qualify students for additional industry certifications. Teams also are exploring different programs and business needs, to ensure Marchman keeps up with current employment demands.
That means adding training sequences with short turnarounds, so unemployed people can quickly get back into the market, as well as improving longer-term certificate programs.
"We want to make sure when our students get out of here, they have an edge," Bryan said.
The overhaul will not take place overnight, but the components are falling into place.
School Board members said they like the direction the district is headed.
"I support the philosophy of building better academies and embedding them in the high schools," said board member Kathryn Starkey, who sits on the district career academy advisory committee.
The next step needs to be finding better ways to hold the career programs accountable for meeting the goals that have been set for them, she said. Starkey plans to visit Volusia County schools next month to look at that district's accountability practices.
"It's an ongoing process," she said. "You always want to look around and see who's doing things better."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.