COVENTRY – On Thursday the Coventry School Committee received an update on their Career and Technical Education Center. According to Coventry High School CTE Director Lori Ferguson, data shows that as enrollment and recruitment increase at the center, so too does the need for more space and more educators to meet those student needs.

Enrollment in programs is growing, and the district has put significant effort into recruiting new students, but seat capacity will be a concern in the future, Ferguson said.

The district convened a subcommittee this past August to analyze data from the career and technical center. The group looked at data about student enrollment, recruitment, retention, marketing, branding and other areas to draw some conclusions about where the center is at and where it’s headed.

Ferguson said the Coventry High School CTE has some strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, their center is in-house, and students don’t have to go off-campus to access their courses or activities. The drawback here, she said, is that the CTE in some ways lacks an identity as a separate entity from the high school.

Coventry High School’s CTE is one of 10 career and technical centers across the state.

The career and technical program has made significant growth over the last six years. Not only did the CTE double enrollment since 2013, moving from 400 students to about 965, they also doubled their course offerings from seven different programs to now 15, including advanced welding, automotive, carpentry, computer IT, cosmetology, criminal justice, culinary arts, child studies, graphics, health careers, Navy JROTC, biomedical, engineering, business and sports medicine.

Up until 2016 the CTE program was not offered to students in the ninth grade. Ferguson said the district experienced a big push in enrollment between 2016 and 2019. However, the number of out-of-district students enrolling in Coventry’s program hasn’t shown much growth. In 2016 Coventry had 43 out-of-district students enrolled in the CTE program, and now they have 57.

Several programs have struggled to maintain enrollment from year to year, but one of their biggest concerns right now is keeping students in the programs after their first and second years, the time when some students typically drop out of the CTE.

Ferguson said that while it’s important for the district to continue recruiting new students, she recommends putting a cap on the number of students in the first level of CTE courses.

“Right now we offer a couple of sections, but when those students move to the next level, there are too many students now,” she explained. “We cannot sustain the class as it moves up. This makes it easier for students to leave because they know there’s this large class moving up now.”

She also recommended discussions around offering new certifications for students in their programs to entice them to stay, as well as internship opportunities.

“We need to get them out there in that senior year, and that’s what we’ve started to do in the senior programs,” said Ferguson. “It makes sense because now they’re going out and practicing their skills.”

The state has a CTE graduation requirement of 20 credits, but Coventry High School’s CTE requirement for credits is 24. Ferguson said the district should review this number in the future and recommended possibly convening a subcommittee to do so.

Another idea Ferguson suggested is putting up a new sign at the school to distinguish their career center. They will continue their marketing plans for recruitment in the CTE, which so far has included shadow days for 8th graders, local advertising, mailers and open house events.

“Recruit is still very important, however we do need to be mindful that the increased enrollment may mean increased need for space and teachers,” said Ferguson. “To compete we have to keep our identity as a career center. The growth can only be sustained financially and with staff.”

“I think having too many kids and needing more teachers and space, that’s a good problem to have,” said Coventry Superintendent Craig Levis. “The second part is looking at culture.”

Levis said there’s a stigma that students who attend vocational career and technical programs in high school aren’t planning on going to college. He said it’s a culture the community needs to change.

“I think it goes back to when this was known as Coventry Vo-Tech,” said Donna Kalunian. “And you didn’t go to college if you went there, so that needs to be put out there. You can still go to college if you attend career and tech. It starts you in a career. It’s another option.”

Follow Kendra Port on Twitter @kendrarport

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