Opinion: Ventura County schools turn their eyes toward career education and training
By César Morales
As the state and local economies begin to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the workforce needs of Ventura County businesses will take center stage. Ventura County businesses require well-qualified employees who want to grow their careers in our community and our students need stable, well-paying job opportunities close to home.
Ventura County’s K-12 public schools are uniquely positioned to bring those needs into alignment, and making that happen is one of my biggest priorities as your new county superintendent of schools.
I come to this office with 20 years of experience in public education, including several working directly with students as a classroom teacher. I’ve seen firsthand the value that comes from giving students marketable skills they can put to work right after high school or upon completing higher education.
In the education world, it’s known as career technical education, or CTE, and it’s nothing new to the Ventura County Office of Education. You may be familiar with the ROP vocational programs we’ve been providing for decades at our Career Education Center near the Camarillo Airport and at high schools countywide. We continue to offer hands-on courses in trades like welding and auto painting, but in recent years we’ve expanded into high-growth STEM-related sectors such as unmanned aerial vehicles, app development and cybersecurity. As we prepare for the new school year, we hope to include even more cutting-edge fields such as green technology and agricultural automation.
We are also helping students learn STEM skills while having fun by supporting FIRST Robotics programs throughout the county. With the generous support of the U.S. Navy, we are able to provide a wide array of funding opportunities to expand robotics programs and get more kids involved. On May 21 and 22, we are excited to be hosting the fourth annual Hackathon by the Sea computer coding event for high school students. This year’s event will bring students together virtually in teams to develop apps and compete for prizes.
Another area where we can expect to see big growth in career education is in middle school. There’s a new focus at the state and local levels on exposing students to career-related education and opportunities in the seventh and eighth grades. For example, the Oxnard Union High School District is working closely with area middle schools to present parent information sessions and career exploration activities that students can build on once they get to high school.
As educators, we can’t do this work alone. I firmly believe that strong ties and ongoing dialog with the business community are essential to building educational programs that serve the interests of both students and industry. As the newly appointed vice-chair of the Ventura County P-20 Council, I will have the opportunity to advocate for programs and initiatives that build bridges between business and education. I’ll also be reaching out directly to business leaders so we can better coordinate to prepare students for local careers and connect businesses with the resources they need from the education community.
A silver lining of the pandemic is that it allows us to look at past practices in a new light and pushes us to find better ways of moving forward. As county superintendent, I will be dedicated to helping our schools emerge better and stronger than they were before, so more students are ready for careers that fuel the local economy and lead to successful and fulfilling lives.
• César Morales is Ventura County’s superintendent of schools. He was appointed to the position in March by the Ventura County Board of Education.