School district embraces new vocational program
By ELIZABETH CELMS
Mercer Island Reporter Contributor
January 13, 2009 · Updated 2:15 PM
The Mercer Island School District is eager to join a new, regional skills center, called the Washington Network for Innovative Careers (WA-NIC), broadening the opportunity for students across northeast King County to earn vocational credit through distance learning.
The skills “center” is actually a network of seven King County districts — Bellevue, Mercer Island, Issaquah, Lake Washington, Northshore, Riverview and Snoqualmie — each of which offers various CTE programs for the students enrolled. By entering the agreement, Mercer Island will be able to welcome off-Island students into its classrooms, earning 1.6 FTE per student. The financial benefits, as well as the academic opportunity presented, have administrators brimming with enthusiasm for the project.
“This is seen as a revenue generator,” said district CTE director Mark Roschy, presenting his report at the Jan.. 8 School Board meeting. “We could fill our vocational program while offering other, related, classes.”
Superintendent Gary Plano echoed this point, adding that WA-NIC could bring in significant state dollars.
“This is useful to bring math and science students to our district and help build FTE. We could access more state money through this program to build facilities,” he said.
The state supports all schools involved with WA-NIC by providing some money for each student enrolled, as well as enhanced apportionment funds (+15 per FTE) and capital construction funds. If needed, the host district may also turn to the OSPI for facility and equipment funding. However, if money from the State Capital Budget does not cover all financial needs, the host district must cover the remainder on its own. The district may also receive grants and donations toward the program.
The financial benefits of WA-NIC, Roschy emphasized, outweigh the operation costs.
“The district can skim the overhead costs,” he said. “If we weren’t involved at this table, other campuses would take our student body so it would have been a loss.”
The program’s academic benefits have an equal draw.
As today’s job market grows to favor vocational careers, students with CTE skills are filling a much needed demand. Indeed, this is what inspired the WA-NIC program to begin with.
“It’s looking at the job demands out there and how we are meeting them,” Roschy said. “Health services, for example, are becoming huge in our state. The skills center will meet these needs.”
In 2006, the State Legislature commissioned a feasibility study evaluating the need for a skills center in northeast King County. Study results supported the idea and a “system of branch campuses” was developed to enable all students the same opportunities.
Mercer Island High School’s most obvious contribution to WA-NIC would most likely be its radio program, Roschy said. Graphic design, the DECA marketing program, engineering and video production are also strong MIHS draws. The district will have the opportunity to create new vocational courses, as long as they meet the parameters defined by the WA-NIC administrative council.
“Whatever we develop, of course, has to be highly attractive to our own students first,” Roschy said.
MIHS currently offers more than 30 CTE courses. Islanders can explore other vocational careers through the Northeast Vocational Area Cooperative (NEVAC) program, offered to students at nine Eastside schools. A growing number of Islanders take culinary arts at Newport High School, while off-Island students attend NEVAC’s radio program at MIHS. The new skills center will expand such opportunities.
“Our district is a little more cutting edge and innovative, so I think we’ll be pulling a lot of students to our school,” Rochsy said.
School Board member Lisa Strauch-Eggers added that the Island’s central location was also a plus.
“Because we’re located on 1-90, that makes us easily accessible for students from other schools,” she said.
According to the agreement, transportation to and from the schools is the responsibility of the students or their parents. The same is currently true for off-campus NEVAC courses.
Last summer, the state Legislature awarded NEVAC a $49,500 research grant for a “skills center.” Rather than use this money to build an Eastside facility, the funds were distributed among the various programs at participating NEVAC schools. A share of these funds went toward the MIHS radio program, the high school’s only NEVAC class.
More information on WA-NIC can be found on the district Web site: www.misd.k12.wa.us