ICC's Vo-Tech undergoes major restructuring for new year

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

FULTON – With every school year comes changes – new teachers; new classes; new classmates.
Itawamba County’s Vocational Technical Center has made some changes of its own. Statewide curriculum standards have changed, resulting in the need for most of the school’s teachers to be recertified and several of the regular courses to be drastically altered.
According to Principal Gary Hamm, the school was notified of the changes in February. Six of the school’s teachers had to be recertified before the beginning of the school year, and one more will be recertified in the near future.
“These changes were kind of thrown at us,” Hamm said. “It was a major restructuring in a short time-frame,” he said. “A lot of teachers already had their summers planned out but had to have this training done in order for them to teach this new curriculum.”
Hamm added that most of the school’s teachers were already implementing some of the course changes anyway.
“I really think most of these were good changes – the state upgraded the curriculum to meet more of the industry standards – but a lot of our teachers were already staying abreast of the industry standards and had already made those adjustments.”
Among the changes are two major shifts to popular courses and one altogether replaced program. First, two of the vocational center’s staple courses – residential carpentry and metal trades – have been transformed into construction trades and welding, respectively. While the latter class doesn’t stray too far from its former self, construction trades varies significantly from the previous course’s curriculum.
“Our old curriculum weighed in very, very heavily in residential carpentry, just as the name implies,” Hamm said. “They’ve built a lot of cabinets, bookcases and storage units in the past. I’m not going to say we’re not going to continue to do those things, but the volume probably won’t be what it was.”
The new program requires that students be taught the basics of electrical work, plumbing and masonry along with carpentry. Hamm said some of these items were already being touched upon if needed, although weren’t officially part of the coursework.
Hamm said this particular program change isn’t his favorite, stating that he’s afraid the new course sacrifices depth for range.
“I really think we were already giving students want they wanted from the program,” he said.
Hamm feels more confident in the change in the metal trade program, which now focuses solely on welding. The principal said this was by far the most popular aspect of the course to begin with, so the change shouldn’t alter the program much.
“A lot of it had to do with industry demand and a lot of it has to do with student interest,” he said, adding that most students want to focus on welding. “Welding is very popular. It’s something they can get in there and learn quickly and advance their skills in a visible way.”
Most students, he said, seem happy with the change.
Finally, the center has outright dropped its business and computer technology course, a program Hamm said had a lot of redundancy with what students were already learning in the regular classroom.
In its place, the school now offers a “teacher academy,” a new kind of class that, as its name implies, teaches students how to be teachers.
Hamm expressed excitement for the program, stating that while it’s starting small, he expects it to become one of the most popular offered at the center within a year or so.
“It’s an important program,” he said. “You hear all the time that Mississippi has a shortage of teachers. We’re trying to introduce this profession to kids at an earlier age and give them the information they need to make an informed decision on whether or not teaching is a career for them.”
Participants will be taught how to create lesson plans, will observe different classes and get a chance to work with certified teachers in guest teaching an elementary class.
While Hamm said he’s largely happy with the changes, he said the state’s guidelines can only do so much since it’s up to teachers to ensure students gain knowledge they need to be successful.
“Just as our bodies are built around a skeletal structure, the curriculum is a framework,” he said. “It’s up to us to put meat on those bones.”
adam.armour@journalinc.com