LINCOLN – Given the new state funding formula, the William M. Davies Jr. Career & Technical High School will receive $649,000 less in state aid during the 2012-13 academic year.
So stated Davies' Business/Education Partnership Coordinator Bernie Blumenthal on Thursday.
Neither he nor Gerry Manning, Supervisor of Career & Technical Instruction, truly know how the institution can continue to survive over the next several years.
“We are worried about the future of Davies, and being able to provide students with the technical skills they need to make it in the world,” Manning said. “If these kinds of state aid cuts continue, who knows where we'll be? I know I don't.
“Our future is very uncertain, but we're going ahead with building new programs anyway,” he continued. “We've known about this since June, when the state legislature passed the cuts. Initially, I thought about how they would affect our programs, our students and full-time employees, which are our greatest assets. When you're talking about these cuts, you have to worry.
“But we're trying to get the word out, let the public know, that we're maintaining and even enhancing our programs despite these cuts.”
Stated Blumenthal: “What we're trying now is to do more with less, and we're looking at ways to fund our technical programs at our current high standards.”
Without question it's a conundrum. After all, how does a school fund new programs with less cash?
Manning and Blumenthal aren't sure yet, but already have implemented some changes.
“We've already evaluated our programs in each of the 11 technical areas we offer, among them automotive, electrical, hospitality, electronics, building and construction trades, graphics, health careers, cosmetology and bio-manufacturing,” Manning noted. “Because Davies won't be receiving the same amount of state aid, it's possible one or more of these programs could be eliminated.
“The Department of Labor & Training and Governor's Work Force Board have identified growth industries in Rhode Island where the future work force will be most needed,” he added. “Those industries include health careers, advanced manufacturing, informational technology, hospitality, building and construction with green technologies and bio-manufacturing.
“Therefore, we're in the process of attempting to strengthen such programs here at Davies.”
Blumenthal claimed that Governor's board has indicated the jobs that are, or will be, available require new technical skills in those areas.
“We don't have a choice; we have to provide these students with these skills, and that's why these changes are necessary,” Blumenthal said.
According to both, administrators are looking into developing a new strand within its health careers program, and that would be to offer a course entitled Electronic Health Records.
“By 2014, all records at doctors' offices, health facilities, hospitals, nursing homes, etc. will need to be kept electronically,” he said. “They will replace paper files, so we'll need to educate our students in that realm.
“We're already in the process of having those teachers trained, and we're working in conjunction with the New England Institute of Technology,” he added. “We're educating them about the prerequisites necessary to implement an EHC program here. We're also looking to enhance our electronics program, and it will be called Electronics/Robotics/Pre-Engineering.
“Not only will it give students the background they need in electronics, but also expose them to robotics and pre-engineering skills. This is already happening now. I think those two new expansions will expose the kids to more problem-solving and critical thinking skills.”
Blumenthal mentioned that, within the electrical program, Davies is cultivating expansion into green technologies instruction. Among the categories: Clean and alternative energy, photo-voltaic technology, wind turbines and the like.
“We're also looking to venture into geothermal energy,” Manning said. “That's using the temperature of ground water (and earth) as a system for either heating or cooling a business or house. Venturing into those areas, of course, requires grants and additional resources. The lack of state aid limits the exposure we can give students in those new areas.
“Some of this becomes theoretical, as it could cost as much as $250,000 to use geothermal energy to heat or cool a small building or section here at Davies,” he continued. “We've got to find sources or receive grants to continue to meet the demands of our future work forces, and also to fund these changes in programming.”
In the future, Manning promised, the Davies' automotive section must include a study in hybrid technology. He knew those instructors already have instituted new water-based finishes for car repairs and painting. (For years now, DuPont, Inc. has partnered with the Lincoln school to purchase equipment and other necessary supplies to that department).
“We're being asked to do more with less – to expand programs, to provide students with certificates (75 percent of Davies' students earn industry-based certificates in their technical fields) and provide work-based learning experiences in the community (such as internships, co-op employment or job shadowing).”
Blumenthal insisted administrators are attempting to build more partnerships with industry-based businesses and organizations.
“We have a lot now, but we're attempting to add to that list for all of these technical programs,” he offered. “Some of our teachers are going back to school to strengthen their knowledge so we can enhance the changes we're trying to implement.
“As an example of developing a new partnership, our students will be touring the new Alexion Pharmaceuticals site in Smithfield on March 1; it's a biotechnology company that works on developing and delivering life-changing drug therapies. The kids will learn how such pharmaceuticals are made, 'clean room' techniques (wearing gowns and masks), etc.”
Likewise, Davies has scheduled other field trips. Next Thursday, those students studying in the electrical and bio-manufacturing fields will tour the Pawtucket Water Supply Board building to learn the electrical requirements of delivering water, not to mention the water quality testing system, Manning said.
Meanwhile, the bio-manufacturing students will go into labs and speak with employees educated on the subject.
That same day, freshmen in the health careers category will visit New England Tech in Warwick to become more familiar with keeping electronic health records.
And, on April 12, those in automotive/electronics will trek to General Dynamics/Electric Boat at Quonset Point to hear about opportunities available to them.
Manning said the administration and faculty is excited about the possibility for these new programs, or program additions, to help students glean the skills and credentials necessary to either enter the work force or further their education.
“Our technical instructors are keeping abreast of what's happening within their fields of expertise; that's done through professional development and attending regular advisory board meetings with their industry and post-secondary partners,” Blumenthal offered. “I mean, over the last five years, look at what's changed: Increased emphasis on green technology; advanced manufacturing using robotics; the requirement for all health records to be kept electronically, via computer.
“Those are just a few examples in which we need to keep up. That's why we want to get the message out as to the successes we've had, and the challenges that now face us.”
Revealed Manning: “We don't want to delete or water down programs but instead build them up, and keep pace with the demands of employers. That's why we really want to get the word out that Davies Tech is trying to build partnerships with the business community and post-secondary institutions toward this end.
“That way, we can continue to deliver high-quality programs for all students.”