Montgomery Business Journal

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Cindy Veazy MPS

January 2016

Cindy Veazey  is director of the Montgomery Public Schools Career Tech Department. She was recently interviewed by the Montgomery Business Journal’s David Zaslawsky.

Montgomery Business Journal: What are your responsibilities as director of the Montgomery Public Schools Career Tech Department? • Veazey: I oversee all the career tech programs in all the traditional high schools and middle schools and the career tech center – MPACT (Montgomery Preparatory Academy for Career Technologies).

MPACT at One Center (the old Montgomery Mall) will open in the fall of 2016. What impact will it have on the career tech department?  There will be numerous students involved because we will be pulling from all the traditional schools and they will have an opportunity to participate in the 10 programs there. It means those students will be able to get hands-on training and credentials in areas that will make them work-ready or college- and career-ready. It will make an impact on the fact that students will have industry credentials in several areas and hopefully they will graduate with some work readiness skills and go right into the workforce or to two-year or four-year schools.

How many students are projected to study at MPACT in the fall? • Probably 500 to 550 – maybe more. We have almost 300 now. We are adding programs and will have more room in the fall.

What is the student capacity for MPACT? • Maybe 600 or 700.

Can that be reached in three to four years?  Sure, hopefully so. We would have to do some rescheduling. There is additional buildout space within the school. It will depend on the workforce demand; the programs that do take off and that students are interested in. There’s room for expansion and we anticipate expansion and we want expansion, but just exactly what it will be and how many, will depend on how successful the programs are.

Doesn’t a new facility in the fall generate a lot of buzz for the career tech department and boost success?  Oh, sure. The enthusiasm; the pride of a new building. Right now they are working out of classrooms … that are crowded. The new space will greatly increase enthusiasm. For the public to see … easier to see what the students are doing and what they are learning.

What new products will be offered in fall 2016?  It will be medical science and industrial systems.

What are the existing programs that will be at MPACT at One Center?  Advertising and design, building science, electrical, welding, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), IT, fire science and public safety.

Are there other programs that you are thinking about adding at some point?  There are lots of potential programs, especially with Trenholm (State Community College) and what they are going to do and dual enrollment will offer, which may include some additional programs. For instance, from the HVAC and the industrial systems, we may have a plumbing track/credential. There will be seven credentials. Industrial systems opens that up to many things because it’s machinery. It could be more of an engineering-type program. A lot of that will depend again on the workforce demand. I anticipate so many students coming out that industry wants and likes and will start coming back and asking for more.

Talk about a simulated workplace at MPACT and why that’s important.  It’s very important. Students will work in an environment that will be very much like the workplace. There will be a student training manual instead of a disciplinary handbook. They will have guidelines as they would in work. You will come in and put on your safety (items). The timeliness, attendance. Certain programs will even incorporate simulated pay.

Students will get a real taste of the real world with soft skills and the skills needed for a job.  Right, and working in groups – similar to what you do on the job, and everybody has a role and if that person doesn’t do their role – what does that do to the group? They will learn collaboration and problem-solving and how to pick up that weakest link (in the group) – much more life-like.

Talk about the school district collaborating with Alabama Industrial Development Training and the Alabama Technology Network at MPACT.  That goes back again to the workforce. They will be able to help us keep our teachers up to date; make sure our equipment is up to date; and not necessarily provide all that, but let us know that “here is a new machine that is out that this particular industry is using that your kids need to be trained on.” We can also share equipment that can be so expensive. If there is a new piece of equipment that we might not necessarily need every day, but if they have it … We can also work together on adults training at night or students training at night. A lot of centers are doing that, where even if students who may not get high school credit for it, but come in after hours (for a credential) and work with AIDT or ATN and finish up a credential. A lot of these students are finding out the more tools you have in your toolbox, the better job you can get.

AIDT and ATN will be able to use the school district’s equipment after students leave for the day.  Exactly. An example with industrial systems that is going to open next year. I’m not an expert in that. ATN and AIDT have people that are (experts in that field). We meet with those guys, my teachers along with a Trenholm teacher, and we talk about what the curriculum exactly needs to hold and what we need to do to work up to a certain credential – what credential we want to get out of that? What is the workforce asking for? We come around the table and talk about it, and we’re in the process right now for industrial systems (program). It’s a collaboration. Trenholm is offering something different than us, but we’re leading into that – some articulation agreement.

Why did the school district move its career teach program from a high school environment to a center?  The main reason is that we are able to reach more students. The student that is at Lee High School and plays a sport and also wants to be a part of the career tech program can do that now.

They could not do that before?  It was a separate school. They chose to go to that school.

Will students be at MPACT for a full day?  Just for your career tech and math. We’ll have kids that go to Lee for half a day and then go to MPACT. We’ll have kids from Park Crossing that will come to MPACT for the morning and go back to Park Crossing. They’ll come to MPACT for part of the day. Before, when MPACT was a school, it was just those kids that go to that school. There will be a morning session and an afternoon session.    

What impact will MPACT have on dual enrollment with H. Councill Trenholm State Community College, which is located across the street? How many MPS students are in the dual enrollment program?  There are about 12 in this semester that I know of.

Is it possible there will be a large increase in dual enrollment after MPACT opens in the fall?  Yes, I plan for it to. It will be much easier once we move and allow some of our instructors to be the adjunct instructor so a student can be at school and taking industrial  systems, but they’re also getting dual enrollment credit.

Talk about the career tech program, focusing on workplace math skills and soft skills.  Industry continuously talks about the lack of math skills in the workplace or the lack of hands-on math skills that are needed in some of the tech areas. We’ve taken that on and actually started this year (2015) an emphasis on the math skills. Career tech teachers do so many lessons on basic decimals, fractions – things you would need in a building science or electrical (job). We hear all the time that kids can’t read a ruler.

The soft skills are critical because not everybody is exposed to those.  That’s a lot of what the simulated workplace has to do with – the collaboration – the working together as a team. Doing your part and making sure that you are there; making sure you’re on time. If it’s your responsibility to clean up – you clean up.

That will help students learn the basic dos and don’ts of the workplace.  An emphasis on WorkKeys is helping enhance the workplace math because all seniors take the WorkKeys now.

What is WorkKeys?  It is an assessment that is part of the ACT. It is basically applied math and applied reading and reading for information, which is usually (used for industry jobs).

In one of your PowerPoint presentations, it states that MPACT “becomes the blueprint for all MPS majors and academies.” What do you mean by that?  What we’ve been talking about – the soft skills and setting it up at the workplace. The hands-on, project-based learning as opposed to the regular lecture (where you) memorize and spit it back. We are working through MPACT to work on the type of lessons that are project-based. For instance, some kids from the building science program and electrical program went to a competition where they actually built a small house and wired it in two days. They had to draw the blueprints. They had to work together on that. Those are the kinds of things that bring out the soft skills.

You keep talking about working together. Is that what you are hearing from companies – the importance of working together as a team?  Sure, and that’s a problem-solving thing. I want our kids to be able to solve problems and that is done much more efficiently in teams.

One of the goals of the career tech program is creating a path for high school students, and I don’t think everybody realizes that, especially for students not going to a four-year college or university.  Sure, to have options. Most teenagers come to school to come to school. They have no goal in mind. It’s a way to set (goals) in motion. In ninth grade they have a career preparedness class that all students have to take. Through that class they take interest inventories; they take a skill confidence assessment; they take their work assessment – just to get the kids to start thinking about what do I want to do. What kind of car do I want to drive and what do I have to do for that. It’s very basic to start with, but it classifies them within the 16 clusters that we call career clusters.

It gets the students thinking about their future.  Within that we even do budgets. You want to live in this kind of a house and this is what it’s going to take, and they get a realistic view … We also have people locally come in and say, “These jobs are available and this is what you’ll get paid.” They try to get them information so they (students) can start thinking, “What do I want to do?” Even with kids going to college – “What are you going to major in?” “I don’t know.” Hopefully it will at least begin that process, and also it helps the parents. It gives them something to talk to the kids about. It starts that conversation at home. A lot of parents, of course, want their kids to go to college and they should and that’s a great goal, but they also need to know that, for instance, in the IT field – that at this point it’s much more important the credential you have than the four-year degree. If you can do cyber security and you have those kind of credentials you can go right over to Gunter (Annex) and go to work. That information helps the students and we put that data into four-year plans and every year they will review that because kids are going to change their mind.

The important thing is that they are thinking about jobs and what they would like to do.  All career tech classes explore careers – talk to kids about careers.

Are any of the Career Academies moving to MPACT?  At this time, they are going to stay where they are.

Does the general public know about all of these technical programs, and if not, how do you spread the message to connect with the right audience?  Hopefully they do. We send (information) home to parents. We did the Extravaganza last year. We are in the process of setting up what we call a recruiting action plan. In the spring we will do a lot of that, where the programs will go down to the eighth grade. The programs will show up at parent nights. We’ll give out information and send a lot of things home. We’re doing things on social media just to get it out there. The MPACT teachers themselves will be going to different schools and showing what they do. We’ll be taking kids over to MPACT. We are doing everything that we can so the parents understand and the students understand what programs we have available.

Is getting buy-in from the parents the biggest hurdle that you face?  I would say some students and parents, because the average parent does not look at workforce data every day. They don’t know you can work at the Hyundai assembly line and make close to $70,000 or if you have some industrial systems-type skills, the jobs that are available and the opportunities for that student to advance. It’s kind of the old mindset of, “I’m going to be a doctor, lawyer or nurse and go to a four-year college.” Things are changing and a lot of that is technology. It’s the whole new paradigm shift of, economics have changed and job opportunities have changed, and getting that to trickle down to students and parents.

Are there other hurdles?  Industrial systems. Who even knows what that is? We were talking about, how do you market that to the kids? A lot of people (think) industrial maintenance is custodial.

Tom Salter, senior communication officer for Montgomery Public Schools: We don’t know what kids are going to need when they get to their 30s and 40s because some of those jobs may not have been invented yet. There are some constants like teamwork and research and all things that you have to be able to do. Cindy and her folks are charged with trying to provide skills that will be useful in ways that we don’t know yet.

Even the technical fields that we work, such as welding, change so much. The equipment changes; the technology changes. If we can do the constants and teach kids to be life-long learners … It’s not just, “Here’s your skill, go do it.”

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