Making the grade: Crowley technical education center puts students on career path

Betty Dillard

When the economic recession and a resulting budget crunch put the kibosh on Crowley Independent School District opening a new $40 million middle school in 2010, Dan Powell, the new superintendent, repurposed the mothballed building into a career technical education center for high school students. The district, located south of Fort Worth, has more than 15,000 students. It serves the cities of Crowley, Edgecliff Park and a portion of Fort Worth with 10 elementary schools, one intermediate school, two middle schools, two ninth grade schools, two high schools and one learning center. The district’s CTE initiative is a response to anticipated growth in the area – the Chisholm Trail Parkway now under construction cuts through the heart of the district – and response to business and community leaders to foster an educated workforce. Career Technical Education (CTE) is at the forefront of education redesign in Washington, D.C. CTE is designed to help people gain the skills, technical knowledge, academic foundation and real-world experience they need to enter a competitive global workforce. Nationwide, some 14 million students are enrolled in CTE programs, in nearly 1,300 public high schools and 1,700 two-year colleges. Since its opening three years ago, the Bill R. Johnson Career and Technology Education Center, located at 1033 McCart Ave. in Crowley, has seen a steady rise in enrollment. The program now serves 28 percent of CISD’s high school students – the highest percentage of high school students served by any CTE program in Tarrant County. This semester, 1,300 students attend the center daily from Crowley High School, North Crowley High School, Crowley Ninth Grade Campus and North Crowley Ninth Grade Campus. “We think of it as the jewel in Crowley ISD’s crown,” Anthony Kirchner, the district’s public information officer, said of the center. In January, Tarrant County College, as part of a new educational partnership with CISD, opened its Crowley South Campus Center on the top floor of the 185,000-square-foot facility. The college serves dual-credit students and traditional academic transfer, workforce development, development education and continuing education students. Initially, CSCC will offer basic courses including anatomy and physiology, English, social science and teacher education. Additionally, a limited number of computer classes and business applications will be offered. Continuing education classes are ongoing, with courses in interior design, event planning and entrepreneurship scheduled for this summer. Also this summer, GED classes will be offered as well as a free robotics camp and leadership program. Planned future offerings include computer aided drafting and design, general biology and math, along with graphics courses. The new Crowley center joins the Haltom City Northeast Center as the second facility designed to bring TCC programs closer to those they serve. “The Crowley South Campus Center is another great opportunity for Tarrant County College to make education accessible to the people of Tarrant County by putting it right in their neighborhoods,” said TCC Chancellor Erma Johnson Hadley. “It just makes perfect sense for us to partner with those who are nurturing our next generation of students.” Under the partnership, students can graduate from high school with up to 42 college hours. Last year, 300 students received dual credit, according to Jeana Locke, TCC’s South Campus director of academic affairs. “The potential is great,” Locke said. “The vision was to develop a culture in the CISD community for an educated workforce. Their vision and heart is to provide educational opportunities to their students. The opportunity to collaborate and bring together higher education with the CISD community is a wonderful experience. We’ve had so much support from all the campuses and the entire community.”

Preparing for the future CTE Center Director Annette Duvall said the school ensures that classes are available to every student within the district. “There’s something for every student and we can put together a personalized program for each one,” she said. “When students come out of high school they leave us well on their way to their career path,” she said. “We make sure our students are career ready and ready to be productive citizens.” Students at the CTE Center are educated for a range of career options through 25 STEM-based (science, technology, engineering and math) programs in 13 career areas, called clusters, including aerospace engineering, education and training, hospitality and tourism, and business management. The most popular programs of study this year include culinary arts, health science, law enforcement/firefighting, media arts and agriculture. In addition to classroom instruction, students receive hands-on learning through community partnerships with industry leaders at Lockheed Martin, Texas Christian University, Texas Health Huguley Hospital Fort Worth South, VLK Architects, Texas Restaurant Association, area police and fire departments and more than 60 other businesses and institutions. “This is not your father’s CTE,” Kirchner noted. There are no bells on campus, which also lacks a cafeteria. Instead, the large cafeteria kitchen is used for cooking classes. There’s a student-run bistro, or snack room, where money collected goes back into the program. Other amenities include a mock hospital room, a mock court room, repurposed art rooms for cosmetology classes, and a recording studio redesigned from the band hall. There’s even a student union being designed by the interior design students. “It’s like a college campus,” said Melanie Hall-Rich, who teaches fashion design and problems and solutions. “It’s amazing to see kids blossom here. So many times they don’t have a chance to grow on their home campus. It’s good to see them find a place where they’re comfortable and can engage, and can take responsibility for their own education.” Jonathan Saffle, an 11th-grader at Crowley High, already has found his calling. After graduation, he plans to attend Sam Houston State University and study law and criminal justice. “I had no idea what I was going to do,” Saffle said. “When I began taking some law enforcement classes I learned I had a passion for it and I really wanted to pursue it. All the teachers really help you find the right classes to take.” For Locke, the CTE Center is a dream come true. “It’s doing what it was designed to do. The kids are really motivated. They want to do well. They study hard and are making it to college,” she said. “It’s heartwarming to see the enthusiasm of the kids and the teachers and the collaboration with TCC.”