Nelson County Schools Superintendent Wes Bradley said growing the Area Technology Center is a priority for the district regardless of how the discussion on a community campus merger plays out over the coming months.
“Traditionally, the district has been hesitant to invest in the building when we didn’t have local ownership of the facility,” Bradley said, referencing the ATC previously being a state-operated career and technical education center.
Nelson County Schools took control of the facility last year on the condition access would still be provided to other regional partners. As such, the ATC serves students from Nelson County Schools but also from Bardstown, LaRue County and Bethlehem. While under local control, the center still receives 75% of its budget from the state.
The Nelson County Board of Education held Tuesday’s monthly meeting at the ATC to showcase the facility. The Area Technology Center offers programs such as automotive, welding, electrical, carpentry and information technology, among others.
An agreement between NCS and other the school district, which the board approved for the 2021-2022 school year at the meeting, allots a certain number of spots for each district in filling enrollment for programs. Based on that agreement, Bardstown City Schools will be allotted 136 seats at the ATC for the upcoming school year, paying $22,000 for that access. LaRue County Schools will be allotted up to 40 seats at the ATC at a cost of $6,480 with the number of seats capped for certain courses. If Bardstown and Nelson County students do not fill enrollment quotas, program vacancies will be allotted to Bethlehem students at a per-pupil cost.
An advisory committee of representatives from each district, workforce industry leaders, and representative from Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, will provide guidance on learning opportunities, partnerships and other operations for the center.
The ATC and career-related curriculum have been among the topics touched on during discussion around a community campus merger that, if approved by the board, would combine the district’s four middle schools into two and co-locate them on the district’s two high school campuses to create 6-12 learning communities.
While much of the merger’s discussion has focused around middle school students, developing career and technical education is also a top point for the district’s future plans.
The Area Technology Center is located on the same campus as Nelson County High School, one of the proposed 6-12 sites. Old Kentucky Home Middle School, which has been considered as a site for expanding career and technical education if the merger takes place, is also within walking distance of the center.
“We know this campus here, regardless of whether or not this is a community campus and it has a middle school and a high school… whatever that looks like over the next few years, we know that part of the conversation is this campus is a major investment,” Bradley said. “(The ATC) and the buildings that exist here are a big part of that conversation.”
Bradley said the goal would be to interconnect the campus’ buildings to make it feel more like a college campus and utilize outdoor space. Growing the center and campus is important for future opportunity.
“We absolutely want to expand the programs,” he said of the ATC’s course offerings. “We know that not enough kids are getting access and in order for them to get more access we have to think long-term about the programs that are here and how we are building a place people want to be a part of.”
The site visit offered board members and guests and chance to tour some of the classroom spaces and hear from a few students working in different programs. Among the programs highlighted during the meeting were health sciences, welding, information technology and automotive.
“This program has changed my life,” said health science student Ashleigh Hampton, who this year earned her Medication Nursing Assistant certification and certification as a phlebotomy technician. Hampton demonstrated a blood draw on Board Member Damon Jackey.
Crystal McDonald, director of nursing with Sansbury Care Center in Springfield, spoke about a partnership between her organization and the ATC in helping provide students with training experiences. McDonald said it is important for students pursuing nursing to learn with real-world opportunities.
Over in welding, students Eli Nowaski and Braxton Hite spoke about job opportunities through the program. Hite, who is entering his junior year, is already working at Armag Corporation, a portable building manufacturer in town. He hopes to turn welding into a career, already having received a few certifications through school.
Nowaski, who will be a senior in the fall, is working with Cross-Tech and said he enjoys the hands-on work much more than a typical classroom setting.
“I got into it my freshmen year and I started to like it,” Nowaski said of welding.
“We offer seven programs that are in high demand in industries within our community and surrounding counties, “ATC leader Misty Roller said. “We collaborate with the industry community partners and learn what they need from our students to help us prepare them for their career in the workplace. We also recognize that not all students will go to a post-secondary education school, so in this building we offer students the opportunity to get certifications so when they leave our building they are able to go and get a job. If they are planning to go to college, we also give students an opportunity to earn dual credit.”
In discussing offerings, Roller confirmed at the meeting that computer-aided design would not be offered as a direct pathway next year, but said it would still be incorporated and integrated into other ATC pathways, such as engineering. A few community members have brought up the loss of the standalone program to the district, upset over how it would impact students pursuing certifications in that area.
“The students are going to be offered 3D printing classes and other CAD classes within that pathway,” Roller said.
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