Wake County may do more to encourage high school students to pursue careers in law enforcement, teaching and other fields that will need additional local workers in the near future.
School administrators have identified six broad career themes that they may want to offer more in high schools: design, education, engineering, food industry, senior-citizen care and public safety.
The six fields cover a wide range of jobs, including police officer, firefighter, teacher, farmer, chef, carpenter, home health aide and wind turbine technician.
“We find that there are a number of different jobs that are going to be looking for people to step into these roles in the next five to 10 years,” Angie Wright, the school system’s senior director of grants, told a school board committee Monday.
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Figures presented Monday show that over the next decade, Wake County will need 27,863 more food-industry workers, 5,653 more teachers, 2,549 more construction workers, 1,731 more home health aides and 421 more landscape and building architects.
Some of the concepts cover a broad spectrum of topics. For instance, the “grand challenges of engineering” theme could include having students study how to make solar energy economical, provide access to clean water and prevent nuclear terrorism.
Administrators said Monday they might offer the six themes as programs within existing schools. But administrators said the district may also want to offer them as new standalone schools.
As an example, administrators said the district could operate a 500-student high school based on the public safety theme. Students would be exposed to jobs within the theme in high school so that they might pursue them after graduation.
The public safety theme comes as Wake County will need 1,114 more law enforcement officers, 407 more firefighters and 257 more emergency medical technicians and paramedics over the next decade.
“What we’re looking for here is to create a pipeline for the municipalities across Wake County,” said Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for academic advancement.
Marvin Connelly, chief of staff and strategic planning, said several agencies have expressed interest and are willing to provide workers, such as firefighters and EMTs, to help staff the school.
Some board members said they could support offering the six models as programs within existing schools but not as standalone schools. Board member Jim Martin said Wake should focus more on strengthening comprehensive schools than on creating specialty schools.
“You’re not going to solve the water problems with a high school focused on engineering grand challenges,” Martin said. “Having that as an elective: fantastic idea. Having it be a club, a theme that people are working on, is a great idea incorporated into a comprehensive high school.”
A rare public tiff between staff and the board occurred when Martin said he felt administrators were trying to push through the concept. This drew a sharp response from Superintendent Jim Merrill, who said the staff’s effort to get feedback on ideas that are still under development left them with the feeling “we just need to close shop.”
“We’re trying to bring you some creative ideas for the future, but some of what we’re getting here right now is, ‘Don’t bother,’ ” Merrill said. “That’s what we’re feeling.”
The situation was defused when the committee asked administrators to bring the issue to the full board for review.