Burrillville School district looks to expand high school CTE options

BHS's 2017/2018 robotics championship team.

BURRILLVILLE – Classes in child care, computer science, biomedical science, graphic design, business and economics at Burrillville High School may soon come with expanded opportunities for students, in both higher education and “real world” experience.

The Burrillville school district is applying with the Rhode Island Department of Education to offer certified programs in the fields, a process that requires meeting statewide standards for coursework, and creating partnerships with outside colleges and businesses.

Career and Technical Education programs are similar to what once simply called “vocational training,” but in Rhode Island, there’s incentive to develop more, in a system that proponents say is designed to create greater opportunity for students. Students can choose to enroll in programs outside of their district, giving them access to a greater variety of potential future career choices.

But the burden for financing those out-of-district educations falls on the schools that often already have tight budgets, and development and approval of the career pathways has become something of a race between local districts to retain students.

RIDE’s CTE program, which first launched in 2012, requires that districts offer at least three classes in a specialized field to be certified. Work-based learning is also required, and the district must find a community partner for each field, teaming up with either a college or an industry expert. The work-based learning component can be met through internships or other experiences such as a project in or out of the classroom.

“Each pathway has different requirements for work-based learning,” explained Supt. Michael Sollitto.

In engineering, for example, the criteria is met by Burrillville students competing in robotics every year. Last year, the group from BHS won the state championship.

BHS’s 2017/2018 robotics championship team.

Burrillville High School launched its first CTE program – environmental science – in the 2016/2017 school year. This year, the district added engineering and construction management to its list of RIDE-approved CTE coursework.

In the fields of child care, computer science and biomedical, the school currently offers the curriculum, known as “pathways,” but has yet to acquire RIDE’s official stamp of approval.

Sollitto hopes to change that before the start of the 2019/2020 school year and has started the application process, with plans to send letters of intent to RIDE for all six proposed CTE programs this month.

“We are tremendously excited to expand our CTE offerings and are confident that [the programs] will be fully approved by RIDE,” Sollitto told NRI NOW.

The stakes for Burrillville, and other districts across the state, are high. If students choose to instead enroll in an out-of-district school, the cost for their enrollment can run from $14,000 to $18,000. And in order for one district to bill another, the program must be RIDE approved.

To lessen the pain, former Supt. Frank Pallotta led the way in building the Northwest Consortium – an agreement between the school districts of Burrillville, Lincoln, North Smithfield, Smithfield, and now Cumberland to share equipment, curriculum and cost efficiencies. Tuition costs for students entering member districts is offered at a discounted rate of $5,000 each.

“It’s substantial savings if they go to a consortium school,” said Sollitto. “We’re going to promote our programs first, and we’ll promote the consortium’s second.”

The Burrillville School District has hired marketing company Martin and Associates in hopes to increase enrollment in their CTE offerings, and the company is now working to build and design promotional materials.

“We’re going to get out and promote these programs to our own students and kids in other districts,” Sollitto said.

The superintendent feels good about the chances of getting Burrillville’s new proposed CTE programs approved, as several already include both outside partnerships, and extended training for teachers.
The computer science pathway includes a partnership with Microsoft Philanthropies TEALS, or Technology Education and Literacy in Schools. The program helps high schools to build and grow computer science programs by pairing professionals from across the technology industry with classroom teachers to team-teach the subject matter.
The biomedical pathway follows Project Lead The Way curriculum, which requires a substantial amount of professional development for educators. Sollitto says Burrillville teachers were trained last summer, and will continue with training as the program expands.
The child care pathway includes a day care program and allows students opportunities for internship activities at elementary schools.
The school also offers pathways that are not immediately on the agenda for RIDE approval, such as automotive technologies, which is currently only offered as a two-year program.
“Some are further along than others in terms of student needs,” said Sollitto. “Right now we’re happy with that being a pathway. It’s still beneficial for kids.”
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