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Survey says? Sullivan school system seeks student input on vocational offerings at new West Ridge High

Rick Wagner • Dec 10, 2019 at 11:22 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — If you are a future high school student in Sullivan County, what vocation or career technical programs would you be interested in taking?

That is the question Sullivan County’s school system is asking of students as it maps out its future career technical education (CTE) or vocational offerings, seeking direct input from future high school students and their parents — with others welcome to join in, too.

The school system just completed an online survey to narrow down the choices but likely early next year will have a more publicized survey to help finalize its CTE offerings, said Aaron Flanary, the system’s CTE coordinator. He said the results of the two-week survey, which ended on Dec. 6, would be released after they are tabulated and analyzed.

The just-completed survey will narrow 22 potential options down to 12 finalists, with the second survey to narrow the field to 10 or 11 new programs at West Ridge High School when it opens in August 2021. (Flanary said commercial banking was not listed on the survey but will be included at West Ridge.)

WHY SURVEY NOW?

The move comes as the system prepares to open West Ridge near Tri-Cities Airport, meaning the school system will have West Ridge and Sullivan East High as its only grades 9-12 schools. West Ridge will serve all the current North and South high school zones and most of the Central zone, with some Central zone students being redirected to East. Flanary said the survey was open online but that he promoted the survey among grades 8-12 in the North, South and Central zones.

During the Dec. 2 Board of Education retreat in Greeneville, Vice Chairman Randall Jones said the surveys are important to gauge interest in the CTE offerings at both of the high schools.

“We need the kids. We need the middle schoolers. We need the elementary,” Jones said. Flanary said all students were eligible to participate, although in the second survey likely in January the survey will require addresses to be sure legitimate future West Ridge students, parents and others in that zone are participating.

The initial survey received 778 respondents: 530 students, 165 parents, 39 teachers, five administrators and 39 in the “other” category.

Flanary on Monday said the new 10 or 11 options would join the current 17 already in place in at least one of the county’s four high schools.

WHAT ABOUT COSMETOLOGY?

Tammy Grissom, executive director of the Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) and facilitator for the day-long retreat, said the board, public and business leaders can look at the TSBA data dashboard online at tsbadatadashboard.com to see the demographics of which jobs are available in the region and where they are located in the region.

Late in the retreat, during a discussion of general building trades and cosmetology remaining at the current Central High facilities after West Ridge opens and Central becomes a middle school, Grissom suggested the school system look closely at how much emphasis it puts on offering cosmetology classes. She said she doubts that line of work would have enough jobs in the future to support that many cosmetologists.

“You really have to look at things. Is this something you want to continue to offer?” Grissom said.

However, school board Chairman Michael Hughes at the retreat said CTE course offerings generally are based on demand from students. And Flanary, after a school board work session on Thursday, said that almost everybody, male or female, gets a haircut or hair style every six weeks or sooner. Central has had national SkillsUSA winners in cosmetology and related fields and had one compete internationally.

“I don’t think it’s got huge growth, but  it can be sustained,” Flanary said. According to the TSBA website, across the state, “Hairdressers, Hairstylists & Cosmetologists  — Human Services” new positions open in the state each year total 2,028, making a median annual wage of $23,320 — with 1,080 projected new jobs and an 11.20 percent growth rate.

However, in Sullivan County, the same category has 136 annual openings a year, paying a median of $26,132, projected new jobs of 160 and growth of 23.80 percent.

WHAT ELSE WILL REMAIN OR LOCATE AT CENTRAL?

In addition, Flanary said that up to seven career technical programs would remain, at least in part, at Central, including third- and fourth-year cosmetology classes and the salon for the general public to make appointments. He said the program at Central’s CTE, to be called West Ridge Extension, would be moved downstairs in the CTE wing to be more accessible to the public for hair appointments.

In addition to CTE, the future Central Middle also is to be where the West Ridge swim team practices since Central is about 3 miles down Interstate 81 from West Ridge. The school system has no immediate plans to build an indoor pool complex at West Ridge, estimated to cost about $5 million, although a site is being set aside for a potential future pool at West Ridge.