Opportunity at Pruden Center

Published 9:50 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A decision by officials with Isle of Wight County’s public school system to withdraw their final students from the Pruden Center after September 2017 gives Suffolk Public Schools an excellent opportunity to reconsider the curriculum and approach at the vocational training school.

Isle of Wight was the last of four school systems to maintain its partnership with Suffolk at the Pruden Center, but the system was paying $950,000 a year for up to 220 students to attend classes at the Suffolk facility, and only 140 are currently enrolled from there. The county rightly figures those 140 students can be better served in their home schools — and probably for less money.

With Pruden set to be dedicated exclusively to Suffolk students, officials with the city’s school system have found the silver lining in the gray cloud of their partner’s recent announcement. The vocational center can now be exactly what Suffolk needs it to be, without concern for partners that might not share the same goals for vocational education.

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For instance, Suffolk is unique among Western Tidewater municipalities in the number of warehousing and distribution opportunities it offers. And, unlike Isle of Wight, the city doesn’t have to wait for Route 460 to be improved to take advantage of the growth in that industry.

Companies are building their warehouses all around Suffolk, and they’re hiring hundreds of new workers to operate those facilities. A responsive vocational center will offer students training in the field of logistics so they’ll have an advantage when seeking those jobs.

Conversely, with the city’s continuing residential and retail growth, students with culinary arts experience will be well placed for top-end jobs in the food service industry, and it seems likely Pruden will continue its popular offerings in culinary arts to help fill the need for restaurant training.

“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?’” Suffolk School Superintendent Deran Whitney said of the Pruden Center during a recent meeting.

Those needs are sure to be different than were the needs of 1996, and they’re likely to be — at least to some extent — unique to Suffolk.

It would have been easy for the Suffolk school system to look at Isle of Wight’s impending departure from Pruden as a crisis in the making. It’s encouraging to know instead that Whitney and his staff see this change as an exciting opportunity to do vocational education better than ever.