To accommodate demand, the district hopes to open St. George's
Technical High School just south of the Chesapeake & Delaware
Canal in September, 2004. That timing is somewhat iffy in that
it depends to a large extent on New Castle County government
installing a sewer line to serve the site, but the district and
the state are committed to having the school in operation as
soon as possible.. The existing schools are Delcastle Technical
High School, with 1,470 students; Hodgson Vocational-Technical
School, with 1,100; and Howard High School of Technology, with
numbers don't surprise Superintendent Joseph Deardorff.
Vocational education not only is alive and well throughout
Delaware and around the rest of the country, he said. What's
more, interest in it among the rising generation is growing.
The reason? "I
believe that kids can make as much money [in vocational careers]
as the best of college graduates," he said.
While all high
schools maintain that they are preparing youngsters for
productive futures, students who attend Vo-Tech schools have
charted at least a tentative career path. Not a few have made
relatively firm decisions in that direction which most of their
peers will defer for four to eight years if not longer.
That was evident
early this year when New Castle Vo-Tech received 1,850
applications, the most ever. And it expects to top that this
year. Prospective students must submit applications to their
school's counselor by mid-December and the counselors must file
them with the district in early January.
Viewed as a
percentage of the boys and girls who are 14 and 15, the
appropriate age to enter high school, living in the county -- in
effect, Vo-Tech's market share -- applicants were the most since
1993. Back then, before the days of public school choice and
charter schools, it was virtually the only alternative that
youngsters and their parents had to public and private schools
oriented toward college preparation.
tendency to denial was strong -- and still is, although that is
breaking down -- "not everybody is college material," Deardorff
While it is still
common to hear about the impossibility of making it in today's
world without a college education, reality is that a significant
portion of entering four-year college freshmen never receive a
diploma. Vo-tech students, he said, have a leg up on many of
those dropouts, and even some college graduates, in that their
high school education has been largely hands-on and directly
related to the needs of likely employers.
offer courses leading to 35 specific careers, ranging from auto
body work to welding, divided into five tracks: communications
technology' community, health and human services; computer and
information services; construction; and industrial and
mechanical technologies. Freshmen receive generalized
instruction intended to expose them to different career areas so
they are prepared to choose a specific concentration for the
remaining three years.
The courses are a
combination of learning traditional basic skills in a context of
present-day application. "It's the old machine shop with
computerized equipment," he said. "The G.M. plant [for instance]
still assembles cars, but the plant today is nothing like it was
in the '50s. Our challenge is to keep up to date."
"By the time they
graduate, they've had 1,200 to 1,500 hours of trade
instruction," he said. Many also have been summer interns in
local businesses between their junior and senior years. About a
third of the teachers in the trade or career areas of the
Vo-Tech curriculum have come to the district with an average of
seven to 12 years of experience in business or industry. Some of
them do not hold college degrees, but all must achieve state
teacher certification within six years of being hired.
Students also take a
full load of academic courses to fulfill state Department of
Education's credit requirements for high school graduation.
Vo-Teach schools are public schools, supported by both state
funds and local taxes -- at a rate of 10.1¢
for each $100 of assessed property value in New Castle County.
Unlike other school districts, the countywide Vo-Tech ones in
all three counties have their local tax-rate ceiling set by the
General Assembly, rather than referendum. The governor appoints
the members of the three vocational school districts' boards of
About 10% of New
Castle Vo-Tech graduates go on to attend four year colleges.
Some 40% receive full-time and another 18% part-time
post-secondary education. Apprenticeship training is another
major avenue of preparation for employment.
The district has
strong long-standing ties with some 350 area firms, both large
and small, Deardorff said. The largest group of those are in the
construction trades. But a common denominator, he adds, is that
all of them maintain their connection for other than purely
altruistic motives. Even when it comes to entry-level jobs,
there is general agreement in the business community that
qualified applicants are hard to come by.
"Employers know our
kids -- many of them personally -- and what they can do. When it
comes to hiring who do you think will be first choice?" he said.
If that sound like
the Vo-Tech schools mean business, that is intentional.
Every student takes
eight courses, without study halls or electives.. The schools
operate with block scheduling which means a greater degree of
immersion in a given course at any specific time in the year.
The schools offer athletics and other extracurricular activities
and generally function like conventional high schools. But there
is a seriousness of purpose that is more pervasive than in those
It begins with an
admissions process that is strongly reminiscent of ones used by
charter and private schools. Sixth-graders participate in a
'summer camp' designed to determine -- or, to an extent, spark
-- their interest. Eighth- and ninth-graders who apply must
submit an essay explaining why they are interested in one of the
career fields that Vo-Tech schools offers. Vo-Tech students must
re-apply after their freshman year and outsiders also are
accepted at that level.
"We don't look for
the kids with necessarily the highest marks [in elementary
schools], but we try to pick those who have the best chance to
succeed here and after they graduate," Deardorff said. "The
reason most of them are able to benefit from what we offer them
is that they're here because they want to be."