Visalia Unified School District is constantly growing and changing to better meet the needs of our students. If you read the VUSD column each month, you know that we are implementing new, more rigorous standards known as the Common Core State Standards. These standards are designed to better prepare our students to compete in a world economy.
The Common Core Standards will prepare students to leave VUSD “college and career” ready. We know that not all students want to or need to attend college. There are many occupations that may only require technical training and not a college degree. Our goal is to prepare students to make choices that will keep all of their doors open–whether that is a college degree, a technical certification course, or an immediate job in the workforce. No matter the choice, we want VUSD graduates prepared to enter college without remediation courses or to enter the workforce prepared for advancement on a career path.
Too often we find that students enter high school with only a vague idea of what they may need in order to be prepared for college and career. Also, far too often, students are not thinking about much of anything beyond high school; and as a result of not being focused, they are not taking their current educational opportunities seriously.
Adolescence is a difficult stage in life, and the public school system must take on the responsibility of motivating students by providing rigorous and relevant pathways to a successful future. It isn’t enough to establish a college preparation course sequence and to say we have done our job. Likewise, it won’t do any good to say we have many traditional vocational courses that could prepare students for a vocational skill. We need to take on the responsibility of supporting and motivating our students by providing comprehensive career pathways that connect students to a variety of career options.
So, what are we doing in Visalia Unified to meet the needs of our students? I think you will see many changes over the next two years. In August, we are beginning two new magnet pathways or academies. The first is a Health Careers Pathway at Mt. Whitney High School, and the second is an Agricultural Engineering pathway at Golden West High School. Students will move in a “cohort” for academic and technical courses that are themed around the industry pathway. A core team of teachers will work with students through their academic courses using project-based learning that will make the curriculum relevant through real world applications. We are developing partnerships with local businesses and industries to provide work-based learning opportunities to immerse students in the “adult world” of work.
This is only the beginning! By the next school year, August 2015, entering ninth-grade students will have several choices throughout the high schools in our district. We plan to kickoff that year with seven career academies, one at each of the four high schools (Redwood, Mt. Whitney, Golden West and El Diamante) and three at Visalia Technical Early College High School (VTEC).
In Visalia Unified, we are constantly working to better serve the students in our community. Big plans are underway, and big changes are coming!
Craig Wheaton, Ed.D., is superintendent of the Visalia Unified School District.