Tony Bennett

Dr. Tony Bennett
State Superintendent

I had the opportunity to hear State Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Tony Bennett, speak last week at the State Board meeting of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) in Indianapolis.  It was interesting to hear the changes that he and Governor Daniels have made in the Indiana school systems over the past few years.  While it had a campaign speech theme, I was pleased and impressed with a lot of the questions and answers that followed.  Through my association with the Marshall County Economic Development Corporation, MCEDC, I constantly hear that educating the workforce is the number one request from the business community.  Dr. Bennett said that graduation rates are up 4%, and 10% more students are participating in Advanced Placement in preparation for college from 2009 to 2011.

 

As it affects our industry, I was more interested in how schools can earn credit for vocational education.  This has long been a frustration of mine.  I’ve often felt that high schools have divided the students into two tracks, 1) College Prep and 2) High School Graduation.  Track 1 kids are prepared for higher learning and are made to understand that high school is just a step along the way.  Less than three months after high school graduation they will be back in school and expected to continue their career path education.  Track 2 kids are given the goal of getting their high school diploma.  I feel that it often hasn’t been explained to them that they will still be expected to “learn” in order to make whatever job they take into a career.  Kids that we hire are often shocked and almost offended that we would suggest that they need to participate in Apprenticeship programs and continue their education in order to advance with our company.

For years now, ABC has offered a program to our schools that allows high school students participating in the Building Trades programs to earn their first year of apprenticeship.  The program is Bureau of Apprenticeship Training (BAT) approved, meaning that they could continue their training through union or merit shop training after graduation.  I think this accomplishes a three things:  1)  It fosters the idea that construction workers need to be educated in order to make their job a career.  2)  It gives the students a leg-up on the competition when they enter the job market.  3)  It elevates a graduate’s pay potential.  (They would still need to complete On the Job Training (OJT’s) hours to complete their first year, but the programs are set up with graduated pay increases with each year of apprenticeship successfully completed.  At Easterday Construction, we generally require a year of service before we would consider sending someone to Apprenticeship Training, but if someone came out of a high school building trades program with a year of apprenticeship under their belt, I would seriously consider sending them for year two the following Fall.)  I have approached the Culver and Plymouth Schools regarding this opportunity in the past and I have been rebuffed.  Hopefully they will reconsider this in the future since it would now count favorably in the school’s overall assessment by the State.

All in all, I was impressed with Dr. Bennett and the programs he has put into place.  I think Indiana could do worse than giving Dr. Bennett another term to further his programs and give the ones currently implemented a chance to bear fruit.

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