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It's time to reassess school mission, reality
By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published October 21, 2007
Achange in leadership in the Hernando County School District appears to be bringing about positive change on an issue that has been left up in the air far too long.
Superintendent Wayne Alexander has shown a willingness to re-evaluate the mission and structure of Nature Coast Technical High School, the county's only magnet high school. Alexander is asking the question many residents have: Has Nature Coast lived up to its billing as a comprehensive vocational-technical school?
The answer to that question remains germane today because that is what voters approved in 1998 when the School Board asked them to increase the sales tax an additional one-half cent. Over the next four years, the district collected $41.3-million that was used exclusively for, as the ballot stipulated, "a new vocational technical high school."
But before the first brick was laid, Nature Coast had become a high school with a "vocational-technological component." Residents who had a vision of the school being the epicenter of vocational education soon learned that almost all the vocational-technical curriculum at the county's other high schools would continue. That costly duplication of course offerings concerned many, including some School Board members who watched the project transform from its original intent.
It is true that the county needed another high school, even if it wasn't a magnet for vocational-technical training, and Nature Coast's enrollment of about 1,400 students has greatly relieved crowding at the other public high schools. But it is fair to speculate that if residents had known the school was going to be just a "comprehensive high school with a vocational emphasis," as former superintendent Wendy Tellone described it earlier this year, they might not have voted to raise taxes to pay for it.
At a meeting last week with trade and manufacturing professionals, board member Jim Malcolm, who acknowledges that the school the board delivered is different than the one that was marketed to voters, praised Nature Coast for the "splendid job being done." But, he added, "I think the public is expecting so much more."
Superintendent Alexander agrees, and as he studies the county's overall approach to vocational-technical education, he recognizes the need to adapt the curriculum for students and employers. "There's a whole group of kids I think we need to capture in the vocational programs," he said.
Toward that end, the board instructed Alexander to resurrect a group of business and economic development representatives to compare the demand with the supply of vocational education in the county. That is a good idea, and Alexander and the board members should make it a priority.
Then, with that information in hand, Alexander should take a hard look at ways to cut costs by consolidating duplicative course offerings at all the high schools. With plans progressing to build another high school in the Royal Highlands area, Nature Coast's role might be restructured and simplified.
It is not too late to give the public what it asked for 10 years ago.