McMinnville is focused on getting students to earning a family wage
Jack Friberg entered high school knowing he wouldn’t have the money to go to college. He didn’t know what to do. Then he took a welding class as a freshman.
“I realized I am better at working with my hands than I thought,” said Friberg, who is a senior. He is now considering becoming a welder or electrician after he graduates. Friberg said teachers and administrators stress the importance of college, but he said they also seem to recognize that college isn’t the path for everyone.
“The school has been less about pushing for college and more about finding what you are good at,” he said. “I found where I fit in.”
Oregon Department of Education data show students who have taken career and technical education courses are more likely to graduate.
“Sometimes one class a day can keep a kid going,” said Cindy Robertson, math teacher in McMinnville School District’s engineering program.
McMinnville’s 87 percent graduation rate is among the best of Oregon’s largest districts, despite a high incidence of poverty. Career and technical education is a big part of McMinnville’s strategy for helping students graduate.
McMinnville has one of the state’s most extensive career and technical education programs. It wasn’t always that way.
“In 2002, it was really clear that our students had lost their focus in their senior year,” said McMinnville High School Principal Tony Vicknair. “We knew we had some work to do to get the kids re-engaged all four years.”
In 2003, McMinnville had four Career Pathways and not much depth in them. Career Pathways give students a map of what classes to take and when to take them to work toward a career area. McMinnville has added to the depth and number of pathways, and now has more than 15. The number of pathways can fluctuate depending on the skills of available teachers.
The pathways are designed with the overarching goal of giving students the skills and mindset to earn a family wage.
The district wanted to build a college-going, career readiness platform, Vicknair said. The pathways must meet the “three R’s”: relevance, relationships and rigor.
“We wanted to make sure skills are aligned with what industry expects,” Vicknair said.
Pathways, which range from business and computer science to construction and performing arts, incorporate at least 2.5 credits and some offer more. All the pathways must have a tie to a college program after high school, although many also can lead to apprenticeships or jobs. For instance, health services can be a precursor to a pre-med course or to working in emergency services.
McMinnville School District’s career and technical education programs include its Engineering and Aerospace Sciences Academy in the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Math, science and engineering classrooms look out over marvels of aviation and space design that inspire students. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Vicknair places a high priority on pathways that give students a hands-on chance to try something that could connect to a job in McMinnville.
“We really want to give kids opportunities,” Vicknair said.
Senior Robert Dunlap sees the value in the popular culinary arts pathway.
“There are always going to be jobs with cooking, and your wife will love you one day,” he said.
Chip Ford teaches welding. He says career and technical education is not like some of the vocational tech classes of the past, where troublesome students were sometimes placed.
“Now kids are choosing to do them,” he said. Ford hosts a welding club on Wednesday nights for students who want to practice as well as those who just want to learn more.
All students have to take at least three pathway classes to graduate. Students are strongly encouraged to try out career options before they commit to expensive college programs.
“You’re not spending $40,000 on a nursing degree you don’t want to use,” said Mason Brunette, a health services teacher.
The pathways also offer dual-credit options so students can start building their transcripts.
Administrator Jill Long says that McMinnville data show that students who earn 10 or more college credits are twice as likely to enroll in college in the fall. To encourage more enrollment, McMinnville charges students a flat fee per semester for as many college credits as they want to take.
“When you offer classes that give them college credit and give them the opportunity to try career fields, we regain the senior year back,” Vicknair said. “They are here because they want to be here.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA
Monday: McMinnville overcomes graduation obstacles with steady approach
Tuesday: McMinnville staff learn from each other and learn constantly
Wednesday: Graduation success starts with preparation for kindergarten
Thursday: McMinnville works to make all parents feel comfortable at schools
In 2016, 87 percent of McMinnville students graduated, significantly above the state average of 75 percent.
All McMinnville teaching staff and administrators are trained on the same methods and then become the trainers for the rest of the district.
The McMinnville School District offers pre-kindergarten and a program designed for parents of children from birth to age 5.
McMinnville staff want all parents to be able to access the system and fully understand its requirements and rewards.