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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, June 2, 2014, 5:02 pm

State career pathways trust awards $22.2 million for North Bay schools

‘To align the economic and workforce needs in our region’

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    NORTH BAY — Millions of dollars in new funding will flow to dozens of schools in the North Bay this year through California’s Career Pathways Trust, a one-time, $250 million fund created through education legislation in July 2013.

    A total of $22.2 million will go to schools in the North Bay, according to a grant summary released Friday by the California Department of Education. The funds are meant to boost programs that provide career and technical education aligned with workforce needs of regional employers.

    The largest of those grants, at $15 million, will support a six-county effort to create and enhance linked “pathway” programs between North Bay kindergarten, elementary and high schools; community colleges; four-year universities; and employers, said Stephen Jackson, director of career development and work force preparation at the Sonoma County Office of Education. Matching contributions from various employers, including the value of time pledged for hosting students and other contributions, are expected to boost that dollar amount to around $35 million, he said.

    “The use of the funds is going to be to align the economic and workforce needs in our region with the career pathway programs in the high schools, the community colleges and the four-year universities where they fit,” said Mr. Jackson, whose organization spearheaded the grant application.

    A total of 37 high schools, six county offices of education, five community colleges, five workforce investment boards and a number of regional employers will take part in the “Northern California Career Pathways Alliance,” spanning Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Solano, Mendocino and Lake counties, Mr. Jackson said.

    Other individual grant beneficiaries include the Vallejo City Unified School District, which received nearly $6 million, and the Konocti Unified School District, which received $1.2 million, according to the state department of education.

    Funding for schools in Northern California Career Pathways Alliance will support six areas considered “high-wage, high-growth and high-skill” by regional workforce investment boards: agriculture and natural resources; health, science and medical technology; business and finance; hospitality and tourism; manufacturing; information and communications technology; engineering and architecture and public safety, according to the group’s grant application provided to the North Bay Business Journal.

    Staff will be added in districts to focus directly on coordinating those efforts with schools and employers for potential collaborative programs, along with opportunities for practical courses that combine skills like math and manufacturing, Mr. Jackson said. Tomorrow’s Leaders Today, a nonprofit group already offering career counseling, soft skill training and workplace learning programs at Sonoma County Schools, will provide that staff, he said.

    The first impacts from the grant are expected to be implemented in the next few months, potentially benefiting between 4,000 and 5,000 students enrolled in various career pathway programs throughout the region, he said. A committee composed of representatives from participating districts and employers will determine the allotment of the grant, which is planned to last for three years.

    “The pathways grant is going to provide great opportunities to train and retrain Sonoma County residents for areas where there really are jobs,” said Frank Chong, president of Santa Rosa Junior College and superintendent of its related district.

    It is a similar approach to that seen at Vallejo City Unified, which launched 11 career pathway-oriented “Wall-to-Wall Academies” across its two high schools one year ago. That inaugural year required all 10th-grade students to participate, with programs offered in areas like biomedical science and culinary arts.

    The $6 million award for that 15,000-student district will fund the hiring of staff to facilitate additional work-based learning opportunities as the program expands to ultimately play a role through the final three years of high school education, said Ramona Bishop, district superintendent.

    “It’s really linking the business community to our high schools,” Ms. Bishop said. “The data’s pretty clear. Our high school students need rigorous experiences that answer the question – ‘Why am I in school?’”

    Those pathways are also designed to link with programs available at the nearby Napa Valley College and Solano Community College, she said.

    “This is an exciting time for Napa Valley College and the many students we serve from throughout the region. This funding will allow us to open doors, streamline career pathways and increase relevant training for our students as they move from high school to college and the workforce,” said Beth Pratt, associate dean of career technical education and workforce development at Napa Valley College.

    The $1.2 million grant for Konocti Unified School District will fund the expansion of an existing health occupation pathway program at Lower Lake High School, recasting the school as a health education magnet institution, said Donna Becnel, superintendent of the 3,000 student K-12 district.

    Around 120 to 150 students are enrolled in the current health education pathway, she said. Instruction in the expanded program is planned to produce graduates capable of entering the health care workforce, or who are well-positioned to pursue further education.

    “We’re really looking at how this pathway will support not only our students, but the community as a whole,” she said.

    The broader Northern California consortium, which received the $15 million grant, will hold an inaugural “NCCPA Economic Development Summit” in 2015, Mr. Jackson said. The event will focus on the economic implications of education.

    The grant award follows other efforts to boost career pathway-oriented education in the North Bay, including the Career Technical Education fund launched in 2013 that aims to provide $500,000 in funding for such education at Sonoma County schools.

    The passage of Assembly Bill 86 in 2013 created the California Career Pathways Trust.

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