New QCSD Board Addresses New USA Needs - And More

February 27, 2012

QCSD, and a lot of other school districts, typically measure "success" by the percentage of students that go on to college. And there can be no argument that education is the key to a wider range of choices in life.

But higher education isn't for everyone. We weren't all cut out to be academics, or to learn in traditional classrooms. (In fact, Rick Santoum feels that if you do want to go to college, you are an Obama-snob.) And, surprisingly, there is an immediate, and increasing, demand for those who didn't embrace SAT's, college interviews, and the spectre of six-digit tuition debt.

While President Obama has spoken of making college more affordable, states like PA have been hard hit by budget cuts to higher education. Graduates of public universities can now expect a graduation present of a four-year bill totaling $50,000-$100,000, and the outlook is even worse. Private schools can be double that number. Newbies in the work force, if they can even get jobs, face years of debt.

But, like college, this scenario isn't for everyone. And the kids who were once overlooked, because they were better with their hands than their brains, are the ones now in demand.

Contrary to what you may have heard, the US has not outsourced all manufacturing overseas. In fact, our domestic factories are creating many new jobs, and are having a difficult time finding skilled workers to fill them.

CNN quoted Rob Akers, vice president at the National Tooling and Machining Association, as lamenting that there is a "critical shortage of machinists", a common and crucial position in factories, and "Enrollment in this field in technical schools has been down for a long time." Domestic contract manufacturers, known as "job shops", are seeing a boom in business, but can't find the skilled workers to meet the demand. Some have been advertising for over a year for positions like manual machinists, quality control inspectors, and machinists trained to use computer-controlled systems, with few qualified responses.

Every factory needs a machinist to operate it, whether it's to run machines or to create machine parts. And machinists also create molds and casings to make plastic parts that are used in everyday products, such as computers and cell phones. It is a highly technical craft which requires knowledge of computers, programming, even geometry. You can't just hire someone off the street. It takes about a year in trade school to become a machinist, followed by a few (paid) years of apprenticeship at a manufacturing facility. But machinists make about $60,000 a year, and with the ubiquitous overtime, that can rise to $100,000.

So while machinists may have dirtier hands than those college grads, they have tons of jobs waiting for them, little or no educational loans to pay off, and a lifetime career in a growing industry. High schools should be taking notice.

Fortunately for families in this area, the new QCSD school board is doing just that. Rather than the tunnel-vision focus on college admissions that pre-occupied the old boards (and Superintendent Lisa Andrejko), the directors are rethinking our entire approach to education. And it starts with questioning everything.

You might remember that last December, the two holdovers from the old majority, President Bob Smith, and Vice-President Kelly Van Valkenburg, attempted to prevent the new board from surveying students, teachers, alumni, and parents regarding their QCSD experiences. They were outvoted 7-2, but not until after Smith attempted to table the motion, then declared that the vote was "undefined", and that the board should not follow it. Andrejko agreed.

Fortunately, they weren't successful. At the February 9 board meeting, the topic of surveys was brought up, and the discussion leapfrogged any opposition, and went right to identifying how they would be done. In fact, Smith likely had seen the embarrassing handwriting on the wall - he was going to be badly outvoted every time he tried to prevent the progress which the voters had mandated in the last election. So, he had "changed his mind" about the surveys, after attending a training session for new board presidents.

Apparently the instructor at that session, a long-time board president, stated that surveys are a must. And he went even further, noting that boards absolutely must use surveys to evaluate the superintendent!!! After all, board members never see the super at work during normal business hours, and in normal work situations, so how could the directors properly evaluate a super's performance without getting input from those who work with, and for, her/him??

Board member Zane Stauffer went on to say that the tech school students are surveyed every year, and the results are very valuable in determining the usefulness of each program. He said the tech school could not function without the surveys. With that, there was no discussion on whether to do the surveys, just on how to implement them. Smith, who is absolutely in love with committees, suggested that - surprise! - the curriculum/education committee, chaired by Mitch Anderson and Anna Cattie, would be best suited to prepare the survey for teachers, administrators, parents, and former students. Mitch was tasked with pulling together the appropriate questions, and the committee will finalize a survey to present to the board.

And those surveys won't just be focused on the usual college prep programs. They will address the general issue of how well QCSD prepares its students for life after graduation, be it college, technical fields, special training, military, workforce, etc. Finally, those people most intimately involved with, and affected by, QCSD education will have meaningful input!

The last time QCSD did surveying, in 2005/06, the replies were so scathing that they were not released for 16 months, until this column made them public. The real test of our progress will be what happens to the surveys once they come out of the committee, and the full board - including Smith and Van Valkenburg - have to deal with the committee recommendations. That should happen some time in March.

It was also interesting to note Superintendent Andrejko's demeanor during the survey discussions. Unlike the meeting in December, when she spoke out against them, she sat very quietly this time. She did not react at all, and kept her head down, when Smith mentioned that other boards perform surveys to evaluate their superintendents. Andrejko no longer dominates the QCSD directors as she did when Kathy Mosley, Linda Martin, Nancy Tirjan, and the other departed sycophants drooled all over her. A sked if he foresaw any change to the district's mission statement, or school/superintendent goals, director Paul Stepanoff replied "Yes. All is on the table now with the new board".

And that is the best progress of all.