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Tech school makeover - inside and out

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By The Staff

The Marion County Area Technology Center is getting a major facelift with its addition and renovation project, but the school's curriculum is also in need of a pick-me-up, according to Marion County Economic Development Director Tom Lund and Kenny Marrett, a member of the Marion County Jobs Training Consortium.

Lund and Marrett made a presentation to the Marion County Board of Education during its meeting Tuesday, April 6, about enhancing curriculum and adding practicum courses at the tech center.

"Our industries have given us an ultimatum," Lund said. "We've got five years to do something about our technical education system or they will have to look elsewhere to expand and grow. Our community, and our economy as we know it today, can't survive without technical education. It's just a fact."

Lund said it's crucial that the curriculum at the tech center is exciting for students, and with the help of Marrett, they have developed a series of practicums that they believe will increase student interest at the tech center. According to Lund, if the community wants to continue attracting new industry and experiencing growth at its current industries, there must be improvements made with the curriculum at the tech center.

"We've had several visitors lately from Japan and France... and if they mentioned it one time they mentioned it a dozen times. Technical education is very important to them and where they locate," he said. "We are trying to find a way to develop a curriculum at the technical school that will create some excitement about technical education."

According to their presentation, within the past 10 years the tech center has been used as a dumping ground for underachieving high school students. While enrollment at the tech center has increased, 95 percent of the students enrolled are in medical career related courses - not manufacturing related courses. Lund and Marrett would like for the tech center to have more flexibility to enhance the curriculum and include a "Manufacturing Concepts" program, which would include basic die design, fixture and jig design, basic mold design, and pattern making and castings. Students would also participate in several practicums, which would expose them to more interesting and productive courses in manufacturing. For instance, Marrett helped lead a two-week carpentry practicum at Maewood Cabinet Company last year. The practicum was funded by Marion County Fiscal Court.

According to Lund and Marrett, they have met with Joe Meyer, Secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, the Senate Education Committee and Gov. Steve Beshear and they are all very supportive, as are local committees and groups, such as the Marion County Industrial Foundation, Marion County Jobs Training Consortium, and the tech school's advisory committee. Lund and Marrett asked the board for its support as well.

Bernard Miles spoke on behalf of the entire board by voicing his support.

"I support you 100 percent," he said. "I think it's a wonderful thing."

Lund and Marrett said they have asked the state for a $500,000 grant, which would help fund the hiring of an engineer and a coordinator for two years to develop several practicums and lesson plans at the tech center.

"It's in the budget. It hasn't been cut yet," Marrett said. "If it doesn't make it, Secretary Meyer said he would find the money somewhere."

If the two-year grant is approved, Miles asked if the board would be responsible for any costs after that time period is complete.

"No promises have been made to anyone that the board would incur any cost in the continuation of this program," Marrett said. "We're confident we'll make enough impact the first two years that, statewide, they're going to take a serious look at us."

Board Chairwoman Sr. Kay Carlew expressed her support for improving the curriculum at the tech enter and thanked Lund and Marrett for their work.

"Your idea is the very thing we wanted to happen at the area tech with the addition," she said. "We wanted to change the curriculum and make it more like what the needs of our community are. This is just perfect for us. There is no sense in having a wonderful building up there if it can't really meet the needs of the community."