LAND O'LAKES — Sunlake High School junior Victoria Calas was so upset, she sent an email to Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning.
"It has come to my attention that this next upcoming year, Medical skills, (the beginning of the CNA program, which is nonexistent) is going to also be taken out of our school because 'it does not lead to anything' or because 'not enough students are interested in joining medical skills,' " Calas wrote.
The change, she said later to the Times, would kill her efforts to pursue licensing as a certified nursing assistant — one of the high school career programs the state has placed such a high priority on.
"There is no way of finishing," said Calas, 16. "The year I took medical skills was a waste." The anatomy courses she took in preparation, "a waste." The career-oriented Health Occupations Students of America club she and others attend, dead.
She urged Browning to reconsider, so she and her classmates could continue the academic track they had started.
"It's a future, it's a job in college," she wrote. "While other college students are working at coffee shops or busing tables, you could help open doors for us and help us help other people."
Browning turned to career and technical education director Rob Aguis for answers the same evening.
Aguis responded that the program had posed an "ongoing issue" for Sunlake. At one point, he wrote, Sunlake had a full slate of health courses: Medical Skills, which led to Health Science 1 or Anatomy and Physiology, Health Science 2 and then Nursing Assisting 3 in preparation for the CNA. Over three years, he continued, the offerings shrank to the point of providing just the medical skills elective.
"The ongoing issue has been between the teacher/administration. I say that in the sense that they don't really mesh and I'm not sure who is at fault for the failing program, the teacher or the administration," Aguis wrote. "With that said, we have decided to close the program next year to move the teacher to a school with a strong academy team."
Sunlake would get a second look for reviving health courses in 2014-15, he added.
Browning was perplexed.
"Is that a done deal?" he wrote back. "My concern is what to do with the student(s) next year that want and need this program … .thoughts??"
Aguis promised to review the issue more closely and get back with an answer. He then headed to Sunlake for a sit-down with principal Garry Walthall.
One of the key areas they discussed was student interest.
Walthall said later that health occupations had struggled over the past three years to maintain enrollment.
"The numbers were kind of floating," he said. "In a perfect world, we want everything to be filled to the max. That wasn't always the case."
The district looks to have at least 100 to 125 students in a career program to keep it viable and cover the costs associated with the teachers and materials. Sunlake's fell below the mark, prompting the shrinkage in courses.
But interest among some students had not waned, as they demonstrated with additional emails to the superintendent. One pointedly asked why her program was being targeted while others weren't.
"There's Band, Art, Drama, all these other classes you can let go, why Medical Skills?" junior Dominique Wagner wrote. "What's going to happen to the health field and for those who want a career in that subject?"
The program is offered at Mitchell High and Wiregrass Ranch. But those two schools have no open seats and are frozen to outside students seeking admission through school choice.
That meant Sunlake would have to step up, in the students' best interest.
"After taking a look at it, we felt it needed to be a program in the central part of the county," Aguis said. "We did reverse course. That program will remain at Sunlake."
The actual course offerings remain under discussion and will depend, in part, upon interest, he said. Walthall said the school will take steps to let more students know about the opportunities in health courses, as well as the other career academies available to them.
"We will do whatever we need to do to keep the classes," he said.
After learning the district had reinstated her program, Calas expressed surprise and pleasure that her email to the superintendent had sparked change.
"If (it's) the actual program as in The CNA, which medical skills is a part of, that'd be awesome!!" she wrote in an email to the Times. "That's great!"
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.