IW schools recognized for workforce readiness

Published 10:57 pm Friday, July 26, 2019

Isle of Wight County Schools was recognized with an Excellence in Workforce Readiness Award through the Virginia School Boards Association at the VSBA Conference on Education in Richmond on July 23.

The awards program was created in 2018 by the VSBA Task Force on Workforce Readiness to highlight exemplary programs in Virginia’s public schools focused on preparing the state’s future workforce. The sponsor of the awards was Johnson Controls.

IWCS was announced as the first-place winner in school divisions with student populations between 5,001 and 10,000 students. The division’s entry, Incorporating Authenticity into CTE Programs, highlighted the significant redesign of the division’s Career and Technology Education program to better serve the needs of students and to address the concerns from the business community regarding the shortage of highly-skilled candidates for employment.

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“We understand the importance of giving our students authentic experiences, both in and out of school, in order to prepare them for future careers,” said Board Chairman Victoria Hulick. “We are excited to receive this award which acknowledges the division’s involvement in strengthening the workforce of the commonwealth.”

As part of the award application, IWCS noted that the key elements that set it apart from other CTE programs is authenticity. From the beginning, IWCS focused on providing experiences that would prepare students to go directly into work. Facilities and spaces were built or renovated to simulate actual workplace environments. The division sought out instructors with extensive industry experience who provided instant credibility for our programs. The relationships they established in their previous careers translated to additional partnerships between school and workforce. The partners served as consultants to ensure the spaces were outfitted with state of the art, industry standard equipment. Business representatives further collaborated with instructors to develop curriculum that incorporated the skills and knowledge to prepare students for a successful transition to a post-secondary career. Many of these partners have provided internships and apprenticeships opportunities to IWCS students.

The application also included examples of how the division is creating meaningful, relevant work as an integral component throughout the curriculum. IWCS established a working farm to expand the existing agricultural program. Students transformed the Land Lab from six acres of uncut grass to four fenced pastures, a vegetable garden, and space for a variety of animals. Students in cosmetology have opened their salon to the public and are providing hair, skin and nail services to members of the community. They are learning how to operate a full scale business while still in high school. Similar to the cosmetology experience, culinary arts students are catering school and community events while running an on-site restaurant, Turner & 10, which allows students to learn all aspects of full-service dining. Building trades embarked on a service learning project that allowed students to partner with local businesses to complete a home rehab for a senior citizen in need. The project not only reinforced the skills involved in the program, but it allowed the students to give back to the community as part of a collaborative effort.

“The authenticity of our CTE programs ensures our students have the skills and certifications to transition directly to high-demand, high-wage jobs after graduation from high school,” said IWCS Superintendent Jim Thornton. “We are honored to have been recognized by the VSBA for our contribution to developing workforce-ready students.”

The Virginia School Boards Association, a voluntary, nonpartisan organization of Virginia school boards, promotes excellence in public education through advocacy, training and services. The association offers conferences, information, training, and counseling designed to meet the needs of the commonwealth’s educational leaders.