2018 will be first class to graduate under new career-focused guidelines

Randy Mumy, left, and Qlo Gossett, center, employees with D. Locke Inc., paint the walls of River Road Independent School District’s new cosmetology classroom. (Lauren Koski / Amarillo Globe-News)

River Road ISD Superintendent Richard Kelley uses a white board to track how many of the district’s high school graduates have gone on to college.

 

“I’ll be curious to see how the followup looks for the Class of 2018,” he said.

This spring’s group of graduates will be the first under revamped graduation standards, giving a hint about the success of an educational shift that started in 2014.

In 2013, Texas approved a law peeling back the number of state- mandated standardized tests and getting rid of the “4x4” program that required high schoolers take four credits in four main subjects: science, English, social studies and math. Supporters have said it allows students more flexibility to choose postsecondary routes other than college.

Kelley wasn’t happy with what his white board showed for the Class of 2016: 36 of the students were doing nothing, working only or taking some college classes while working.

The 1,300-student district is starting the school year with a ribbon cutting for a new cosmetology center and renovated ag shop that Kelley hopes will help turn that around. Students will be able to finish with a diploma and industry-level certification in cosmetology, nursing and welding programs — giving them an opportunity to learn more than a minimum-wage job after high school.

News of the programs at River Road ISD was met with a positive reaction.

“Hope the rest of area schools will follow suit!!” Susan Reef Stafford wrote on Facebook. “Not everyone belongs at or needs to go to a 4-year university.”

Kelley credits the 2013 law change with spurring the shift. Under 4x4, students had less time to pursue vocational courses.

Upon entering high school, students now choose from five different “endorsements,” or areas of study: arts and humanities; business and industry; public services; science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and multidisciplinary studies. A student’s graduation requirements are based on the endorsement they pick.

The district is eyeing electrical courses, plumbing courses and more for the future, Kelley said.

Other schools have been beefing up their career and technical education offerings, too.

Canyon ISD, which has placed a spotlight on college and career readiness in its back-to-school materials distributed parents, is working on plans to implement a manufacturing academy that will let its students earn a certification in welding and occupational safety.

The academy — to be housed in a building at 23rd Street in Canyon — is in partnership with Bell Helicopter, which operates an aircraft assembly center in Amarillo.

“Our major industry continues to tell us there’s a shortage of manufacturing skill sets,” said Darryl Flusche, Canyon ISD superintendent.

“The relief of 4x4 provides an opportunity for kids to get some skills that allow them to have a living wage.”

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