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Smaller number of students at South Rowan means fewer vocational classes

By Sarah Nagem
Salisbury Post
If 16-year-old Kip DeMarcus’ career goals don’t work out as he hopes, he has a backup plan.
After high school, the South Rowan High freshman wants to attend ITT Technical Institute and become an automotive master mechanic.
In the meantime, he’s taking a masonry class at school. For the year’s final project, 17 students in Ronnie Miller’s beginning masonry class are slapping mortar and bricks together to create barbecue pits.
“It’s a good trade to learn,” DeMarcus said during class. “With the research center out in Kannapolis, a lot of people are going to have houses built.”
DeMarcus said he would consider trading in his dreams of being a mechanic to cash in on a possible housing boom near the N.C. Research Campus.
He’s thinking ahead.
Maybe more students should do the same. Because the reality of it, Miller said, is that many of his students ó and others involved in career and technical education classes in the Rowan-Salisbury School System ó won’t go to college.
“They need something like this so when they go out in the real world, they can do something,” Miller said.
Limited offerings
But shrinking enrollment at South Rowan High School means fewer career and technical teachers. When Jesse Carson High School opened in 2006, hundreds of students were pulled from South.
The move limited what South can offer.
“We essentially lost an entire school building,” said Judd Starling, principal at South. “It’s different.”
The number of career and technical education teachers at each school is based on student enrollment. That’s the case for all programs and classes.
South Rowan is feeling those effects. Last year, the school had 15 career and technical teachers who taught courses like health occupation, business technology and agriculture.
This year, they have 13. Next year’s projected number is 12, Starling said.
But Starling, who did construction for eight years before he became an educator, knows students need vocational training.
“I think it’s an important part, because not all of our children are going to be doctors and lawyers,” he said. “We’re going to have children who are going to swing a hammer and fix a car.”
DeMarcus is one of those children. He’s planning on taking more masonry classes at South Rowan.
Providing options
It’s not that Miller’s students don’t have lofty goals of futures filled with fancy offices and fat paychecks.
Cody Plott, a 16-year-old sophomore, is thinking about pursuing a law degree. He’s taking Miller’s masonry class at South.
“A lot of my friends said it was fun, so I wanted to try it out and see how it was,” Plott said.
Matt Lamb, 17 and a senior, doesn’t plan on a career in masonry, either. He wants to attend Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in the fall to become a computer technician.
“If I ever need to help someone laying bricks, I’ll know how,” Lamb said. “I’ll know the basics.”
As a teacher, Miller wishes all his students could do whatever they want in life. But life, he said, often gets in the way. College is expensive, and students have to stay focused when they get there ó if they get there at all, he said.
“I wish everyone in the world could go to college,” said Miller, who took masonry classes at South Rowan when he was a student there in the 1960s and ’70s.
That was a different time in Rowan County.
“When I graduated, you could go work in the cotton mill,” Miller said. “There is no cotton mill anymore. What are these students going to do?”High demandSeventeen-year-old Joshua Smith knows exactly what he’s going to do: go to college and become a video-game designer.
But he signed up for masonry at South Rowan High because a carpentry class was no longer available.
“Everyone in my family is in carpentry,” Smith said. He figured he might as well learn something about the family trade.
But when the carpentry teacher retired this school year, the school administration was forced to cut the class from the curriculum, Miller said. Now, stray pieces of wood lay in piles on unused tables in the sprawling workshop.
The school is hoping to offer the class again next year, Miller said.
As for masonry, Miller has 80 spots per year up for grabs. About 150 students sign up, which means 70 are left out.
“I’ve always had to turn students down for my class ó always,” Miller said.
He thinks the school system needs more career and technical education teachers. Last week, he asked the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education to consider it.
The issue isn’t just funding, although the state cut 11/2 CTE positions in the Rowan-Salisbury system, said Kathy McDuffie, director of career and technical education and director of secondary education.
Teaching positions are based on enrollment, McDuffie said. So it only makes sense that South Rowan will have fewer CTE teachers.
Preparing for the future
Jesse Carson High School, where enrollment is increasing, doesn’t have this problem. Next year, the school will have 13 career and technical teachers, the same as this year and last, said Principal Henry Kluttz.
Career training is just as important as ever in the local school system, McDuffie said.
“CTE supports the local job economy,” she said. “It can lead to a good-paying job or a stepping stone to more training.”
A high school student who takes two allied health courses can take the state board examination to become a certified nursing assistant, McDuffie said.
High school principals decide which classes will be offered. The goal, she said, is to prepare students to meet the needs of the local economy.
In Rowan, the research campus will likely shape the economy, bringing renowned scientists from around the world.
But someone has to lay the bricks for the big buildings.
DeMarcus knows that much.

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