By James Draper
Three local high schools are working together with Kilgore College to open the workforce to students as soon as they’re ready.
Based at White Oak ISD and ready to serve students from both Gladewater and Union Grove as well, the developing KC satellite puts dual credit coursework in even easier reach. With Career and Technical Education (CTE) options in the mix as well, it also emphasizes student safety, sparing them a regular commute for their advanced coursework.
“Right now it’s kind of a seedling program, but it’s got a lot of potential,” according Dr. William Paul, WOISD superintendent. “Hopefully it’ll get some momentum and it’ll grow.”
But for a handful of final items on the punchlist, the ‘Kilgore College at White Oak’ campus is ready to launch this semester. Already, talks are underway to integrate more students, an open invitation to Sabine and Big Sandy ISDs that would add even more cost efficiencies and learning options to a project focused on practicality.
“It’s kind of come out of necessity,” Paul said, a need to get students the education they need as soon as possible, whether it’s core subjects or vocational skills in (eventually) a myriad of careers. “The workforce right now is so thin. It’s hard to find people qualified to do these things. That’s kind of created an issue, but we can’t slow down in preparing our kids for the real world.
“This is an innovative way to continue serving kids, which is what we’re here for – hopefully boosting the economy down the road.”
All the partnering districts are already working to grant students access to academic dual credit or career dual credit options, he added.
“The issue you run into there is you can’t always find individuals who are qualified to teach those courses. You wind up with a mismatch of what you can and can’t offer.”
That challenge typically leads to a partnership with a local college or junior college for an alternative in-person or online course. Facilities are another obstacle, particularly for CTE – it’s hard to have an autobody repair program without an adequate shop.
Diving into the discussion upon joining WOISD in late-Spring, Paul said he was soon inviting his fellow superintendents to come tour available space at the district: centrally-located, ready to renovate as necessary.
Four months and a lot of coordination later, the program’s ready to launch, in-person with online options.
Students with the partnering schools will soon descend on a two-story building near White Oak’s auditorium – academic courses up top, CTE on the first floor. The central thrust of the program is to offer, initially, academic credits in all core subjects as well as a medical pathway to become a Patient Care Technician. After successfully completing the PCT program, the student will be certified to go straight from high school to a hospital or similar facility.
It’s Gladewater ISD’s responsibility to equip its students, Dr. Sedric Clark says, whether that’s for college or to enter the workforce. For GISD’s superintendent, the new initiative is accomplishing both goals.
“For our students, it gives them more opportunities,” he said, “to both select career paths and to be equipped once they graduate from high school to enter those career paths. For them, this is possibly a life-changing partnership.
“Our desire is to make sure that every child when they graduate, every student when they graduate from Gladewater High has and knows their place in the workforce.”
Additional courses are already in discussions: construction management, carpentry, electrical, plumbing and even a fire academy extension.
Already, “At White Oak, we have a pretty robust culinary program. We’re working on building up the audio/visual arts CTE program. There’s a print shop we are renting out that’s doing T-shirts and everything else. It’s got a lot of potential there.”
Through a Memorandum of Understanding with KC, the college ensures credits for the coursework taught by qualified White Oak personnel.
“We have the nursing person. We have the math, the science, the social studies. We have in-person teachers,” Paul said. “We already have the facility, so that’s taken care of.”
Only one key element is missing for the project – as soon as new program signage is installed at White Oak ISD, everything will be ready to roll following a ceremonial opening.
For KC’s president, “It’s going to be a great partnership for Kilgore College,” Dr. Brenda Kays said. “We have great plans, and I can’t tell you how much we appreciate Dr. Paul and his board. We look forward to the Fall semester kicking off.”
It’s not the first partnership of its kind for KC – an initial program pioneered at Overton ISD has five districts participating.
“That was our first success with this model,” Kays said. It quickly became apparent that success could be replicated elsewhere, “The idea of where else we wanted to do that in both our taxing district as well as our service area.”
Of course, KC has already been serving individual students of the participating high schools, whether as graduates or current dual-credit scholars.
“Now we’re going to be able to serve them as a group,” Kays said. “This produces volume. As you have a number of students that come together to be in a class, we can serve those students in a face-to-face classroom environment. We can have a greater list of class offerings for those students.”
Fortunately, Paul said, the program doesn’t require a lot of funding.
“Kilgore pays all the adjunct professors. We pay the base salary. We already had the teachers in place,” he noted. “The students are paying for the dual credits. They’re supporting the Kilgore side of it.
“Anything that we’re adding that’s new, we’re sharing the cost of – if we have to add new personnel in the future, we can share the cost of that.”
Meanwhile, the schools generate more state funding by having the enhanced courseload available for students.
“The district’s pitch in some, TEA gives us more funding, and Kilgore College gives too,” Paul said. Only the PCT position had to be added to White Oak’s faculty: “Everything has really been either donated or a system that’s already in place.
All the necessary furniture’s ready, too, save for the PCT program’s hospital beds – on the way.
“We can expand this out to as big as we want it to be. It can become a full-blown program,” Paul said, “kind of like a satellite campus.
“Right now, it’s small, but we at least have it in motion. All in all, I think it’s got a lot of potential.”