School system, college focus on student success

School system, college focus on student success
Posted on 08/14/2019

Morganton, NC – Monday, Aug. 12, 2019

Leaders from Burke County Public Schools and Western Piedmont Community College recently gathered for a special called meeting led by Burke County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Larry Putnam to discuss workforce development. Burke County Public Schools plays an integral part in Western Piedmont Community College’s enrollment and together the two teams discussed ways to get more students involved in workforce programs and earn college credits while still in high school. 

The number 936 was the number of the day. That is the number in the Burke County Public Schools graduating class of 2019. In a recent survey of those graduates, 767 responded to questions related to their plans after high school. Of those who responded, 280 said they are going off to a four-year college or university, 317 said they are going to a two-year community college, 150 said they are going to straight into the workforce or “other” and 20 said they are going into the military.

Putnam said, “That number 936 has stuck with me. We have 936 reasons to do better serving our students, helping them be successful and keeping the end game in mind. This meeting was just the first step as we will continue to meet at least quarterly, continue to ask the hard questions and map a path to reach our goals.”

Putnam said Burke County Public Schools is a key component to enrollment at Western Piedmont Community College. The planning session came on the heels of a similar one Burke County Public Schools leaders held about a month previous.

Putnam said, “We wanted to get all of our playmakers at the table to share information on how we can do better collectively. The purpose is two-fold. We want to help Western Piedmont boost enrollment and help our students gain valuable training and skills they need to be viable members of the local workforce. We have realized for years that not all kids are going off to college, and that is OK. Students and recent graduates need direction and access to multiple programs and work opportunities as they navigate life after high school. Whatever their path, students who continue in some type of additional training or certification will do better at the job they choose.”

Alan Wood, CEO of Burke Development Incorporated, also attended the meeting. He echoed Putnam’s comments about workforce development and said as he travels across the nation and talks to people about education and the workforce, he sees how advanced Burke County is compared to others when it comes to bringing the right people into these conversations, making plans and taking action.

Current options for high school students to be on the Western Piedmont Community College campus include Burke Middle College, Career and College Promise, the STEAM Academy and a mechatronics cohort. Elementary and middle school students also visit the campus on Academically and Intellectually Gifted field trips several times a year. Burke Middle College allows juniors and seniors to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. Career and College Promise offers college courses to high school students, taught either at Western Piedmont, online or through Western Piedmont instructors coming to the high school campus. The courses are free and the credits are transferable to any school in the University of North Carolina system. The STEAM Academy offers science, technology, engineering, arts and agriculture and math courses taught in a seated class or virtually through a partnership with the North Carolina School of Science and Math. The mechatronics cohort is a group of juniors and seniors completing mechanical engineering courses at Western Piedmont. Those who complete the program earn a mechatronics certificate.

Putnam reiterated that Burke County Public Schools K-12 plays a large role in Western Piedmont Community College as Burke Middle College and STEAM are located on the college campus and the college coordinates the Career and College Promise program and the mechatronics cohort, all for high school students, and elementary and middle school students visit the college on STEAM field trips several times a year.

Putnam said, “We enjoy a great relationship and partnership with Western Piedmont Community and it is such an asset to our community. In my letter to graduates each year I tout Western Piedmont as a wonderful option for our graduates as I can think of no better place to gain additional training and to hone those job-related skills. I am hopeful that our graduates will continue to reside here, go to school here and work in Burke.”

Putnam continued, “Western Piedmont Community College President Dr. Mike Helmick is always open to our ideas and listens as we work together. I appreciate everyone coming to the table for great conversation as we push to increase enrollment at WPCC. We brought together college deans, school directors, career coaches, career development coordinators and the president and CEO of Burke Development Incorporated. We started the process of taking our relationship to the next levels to better serve students, graduates and ultimately our workforce community. We identified what we are doing well, where we can improve, our goals, the barriers we face and how to meet our goals of seamlessly transitioning students from high school to the community college before and after they leave us. One thing we want to do is communicate better with parents as 18-year-olds still need guidance from their parents and help in making decisions and plotting a direction for their life.”

Helmick and Wood thanked Putnam for bringing the groups together as they set the next meeting date of collaboration for the fall. 

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