Isle of Wight pulls out of Pruden Center

Published 9:48 pm Friday, February 19, 2016

Juniors and seniors from Smithfield and Windsor high schools will not attend vocational education classes at the Pruden Center for Industry and Technology after September 2017.

The Isle of Wight School Board on Thursday voted unanimously to sever ties with the regional school in Suffolk and expand vocational offerings at the two high schools within the county, said Isle of Wight Public Schools spokeswoman Lynn Briggs.

Isle of Wight is the last regional partner in the vocational school, which originally included Franklin and Southampton and Surry counties.

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Isle of Wight’s decision revolves around a trend of declining attendance by county students, Briggs said.

Isle of Wight pays $950,000 annually for 220 student slots, said Briggs. But this year, only 140 students are enrolled, she said.

“We think we can better serve our students if we bring the program in-house,” said Briggs. “We are going to start small and while there will be some adjustments to our budget, we expect it will be cost neutral.”

Plans are to begin or beef up existing vocational offerings at Smithfield and Windsor high schools for the most popular courses, with each school focusing on different trades, Briggs said. The divisions would provide daily transportation for any student who might want to participate in a program at the other school, she said.

“We are not going to have as wide a variety of offerings as Pruden … but we will focus on high interest areas, where the greatest demand is,” said Briggs. The most popular programs at Pruden among Isle of Wight students are culinary arts, cosmetology and veterinary assistant, Briggs said.

Having classes on their home campuses is likely to attract students who were not willing to give up the extra class time to travel to Pruden, Briggs said.

It will also allow school officials to make sure students get industry certifications whenever applicable, which only about half of the students completing eligible courses at Pruden were doing, Briggs said.

“Our goal is to get them prepared for the workforce and … having those industry certifications makes a difference when you are looking for jobs,” she said.

In the Feb. 3 joint meeting between the City Council and School Board, Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney noted Isle of Wight was in the process of discussing the move at that time.

“If they pull out of the Pruden Center, then Suffolk would be more than willing … to take on the responsibility to continue the Pruden Center,” Whitney said.

But, he added, it likely would not look like the Pruden Center of today.

“Our goal would be go come up with a new design of making certain that its current programs are meeting the needs of where students need to be as far as being prepared for college and career,” he said. “I think it’s time that we look at it and say, ‘What do we need to do differently to make sure that it’s meeting the needs of 2016?’”