king tech to provide new opportunities as it battles misconceptions about technical schools
by lex treinen
Photo: Anchorage School District
Anchorage high school juniors and seniors will have a new option for graduating high school for the 2018-19 school year with the opening of King Tech. King Tech is a hybrid model with both full-time and part-time students that offers vocational and technical courses as well as core high school curriculum courses. “We find that students often are fully engaged here, they like it here,” said Principal Lou Pondolfino of King Career Center (KCC), where King Tech will be housed, “they like it better than often the school that they share the day with. They just needed an opportunity to stay here for their core credits so we are giving them that.”
The school, located off East Northern Lights Drive, will offer 11th and 12th graders the opportunity to receive their core curriculum on a normal high school schedule, in addition to also getting technical skill classes in areas such as aviation technology, cosmetology, and video production and 24 other trade areas.
According to Pondolfino, the new model will be a boost to the long-established trade skills program. “We lose a lot of instructional time because of transportation,” he said, “The half day program students come on school buses or they drive themselves and they drive from their home schools as far away as Chugiak or South Anchorage High. That travel time is lost instructional time.”
Currently King Tech has filled about 200 of its 300 available spots, but Pondolfino said he expects that number to grow close to capacity as the start of the school year approaches and the word gets out. He said he hopes that demand eventually exceeds capacity and ultimately leads to the building of a new school. “I think my long-term hope is that we are so wildly successful that the next full-time school that opens in Anchorage is a tech school,” he said.
For now, though administrators are focused on finalizing the master course schedule and recruiting more students. Pondolfino noted that there is a common misconception that students who go into trade schools are kids who “can’t cut it academically or who aren’t college material. On the contrary,” said Pondolfino, “our classes are every bit as rigorous as traditional college prep classes...although some of them will go on to technical school for advanced certifications, some will go to the university, some of them will go into apprenticeship programs, and some will go into technical schools--but everyone needs post-secondary education.” Students can even test into college courses at nearby University of Alaska Anchorage that they can attend for core credits.
The misconception about the kind of students that should go to trade school seems to have permeated through all levels of culture and Pondolfino calls it an “uphill battle to correct”. This March, President Trump called for more spending on trade schools, but he used an anecdote of a student who would have been better served at a trade school, stating that this child “would never be a student.” The Association for Career & Technical Education (CTE) responded to this assertion, pointing out in a response on their website that “CTE students have lower dropout and higher on-time graduation rates, and many [students] transition to postsecondary education.”
While Pondolfino acknowledges that KCC has been weak with its public relations, he encourages interested parents or students to reach out or visit showcase evenings, which can also be arranged in advance for specific groups, such as Spanish-speaking parents. While he says that there are no current programs specifically for English Language Learners students, KCC has a demographic similar to the rest of ASD, which is about 10 percent Latino.
“If you are learning a second language this might be a better place to go since there is so much more hands on learning that happens,” said Pondolfino, “Intuitively, that makes sense.”
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