PREPARING THE CURRENT
Area superintendents weigh in on the workforce
of the future.
|By James Nicholson
In an America where manufacturing jobs have declined, where a Bachelor’s
degree more or less equates to the high school diploma of a generation
ago, where, seemingly daily, jobs are being outsourced to other
countries and where the middle class is rapidly disappearing, it
is logical to ask how our schools are preparing the current generation
of high schoolers to be the workforce of the future.
Six school superintendents from across the metropolitan area weighed
in on the issue and, with some predictable and some surprising overlaps,
provided six varying answers based upon the social and economic
needs and compositions of six wildly varying districts. What holds
true in Collinsville is off the radar in Clayton. A bold choice
for Fort Zumwalt is a non-issue in Rockwood. Pattonville’s answers
segue into questions affecting many of the schools of the Cooperating
School Districts. It’s soon obvious that there is no universal preparation
plan, but there is a universal preparation goal: students need to
be prepared for a workforce that is guaranteed to encounter, for
better or worse, occupational surprises in the workplace.
District of Clayton
Unit School District 10
Cooperating School Districts
Zumwalt School District
None of this should come as a surprise to today’s students or their
families. Self-scanners at the supermarket presage the disappearance
of checkout clerks. Corporate mergers immediately and permanently
change the local employment landscape. Saying goodbye to Famous-Barr,
may mean saying hello to Macy’s if you’re shopping, but it also
means the end of a career for any number of May Department Stores
HQ employees. A member of former TWA flight attendants are still
attempting to locate new careers (as opposed to new jobs), while
a simple shift in administrative priorities at Washington University
can significantly alter staffing, while terminating the careers
of the staff affected.
A number of students have seen their parents’ jobs disappear. A
number of parents are working two or three jobs merely to maintain
a semblance of the lifestyle they had a decade ago. In a mobile
society, families are constantly being uprooted to follow jobs which
move at a corporate whim. When it comes to employment, relocation
and revocation suddenly have more than a mere letter difference
Dr. Craig Larson, the superintendent of the Rockwood
School District, immediately focuses on the need for
further education. “No graduate is done (with education) simply
by graduating from high school” is his mantra. Most Rockwood graduates
head straight for college and the district provides them a serious
core curriculum of three to four units of Math, Science and Social
Studies and four units of English (“In most cases,” Larson points
out, “the student opts for four units in all core areas.” Taking
two to four units of a Foreign Language is also recommended. “Admittedly,”
Larson continues, “this doesn’t give much time for non-academic
Recognizing a nation-wide shortfall in the development of engineers,
Rockwood works the Project Lead the Way, a national curriculum which
is the collective effort of the local business community, the Junior
College District and the school district, and is coordinated regionally
by the University of Missouri-Rolla. The program, which commences
with a middle school component, allows students to do work which
gives them a hands-on sense as to what engineers actually do. To
be in the course, students must take core courses in math and science
and, after only two years, a full 10 percent of Rockwood students
are taking advantage of the opportunity. “We need to do other things
like this”, Larson readily admits, although he also points out that
a similar course, coordinated by the Barnes-Jewish college training
program and covering 256 different occupations, from orderly to
surgeon, already exists.
On the trades level, Rockwood offers two very different options
leading straight into apprenticeships with various (carpenters,
plumbers, mechanics) unions and points out that there are real career
paths in existence for future chefs. “No matter what the focus,”
he underscores, “there are very few occupations a student can walk
out of high school and pursue.”
School District Superintendent Dr. Hugh Kinney.
At Pattonville, Superintendent
Dr. Hugh Kinney immediately points out that most of the District’s
parents want their children to go to college and to get a four-year
college degree. In the very next breath, he cautions that that degree
“may or may not relate to the workforce.” Many degrees, he points
out, simply do not equate to jobs upon graduation. “Are we (meaning
contemporary educators at both the K-12 and collegiate level) training
students for a work life after school?”, he asks before answering
for his own district. “We’re better than the norm. We counsel students
that the degree they want, and the degree they need may not be the
A very practical thinker, Dr. Kinney points out that the workforce
of the future must be more technologically oriented. He also observes
that there is a major shortage of skilled craftsmen in the St. Louis
area. “The Carpenters Union”, he relates, “is short 100 to 150 members”.
Pattonville, consequently, offers its students a wide array of technical-oriented
options, including Project Lead the Way. The Information Technology
Academy prepares students for a number of certification exams based
on courses selected by the students. A new Culinary Arts Program
will prepare students for Serve Safe certification and, with a work
component, a National ProStart certificate of achievement. Accounting,
Child Development and Home Construction options are also available,
as are connections to Technical Schools in a boggling variety of
Pattonville is particularly proud of its Community Service component
for graduation. “Students must commit to 50 hours of community service,”
Dr. Kinney, relates. They may have to commit to 50 hours, but he
is quick to point out “they average 250 hours and some students
have over 1,500 hours.” The students work with nursing homes, hospitals
and schools, and develop character education along the way. “If
employees can’t get along with co-workers and clients, they lose
their jobs,” Kinney illustrates. “Pattonville students develop character
traits of honesty, respect and empathy prior to graduation.”
Dr. Dennis Craft is quick to talk about Collinsville’s unique vocational
education center located on its high school campus. “Too often educators
pigeon hole all students as college bound,” Dr. Craft explains,
“but not all students move on to college. We try to make our students
aware of other career fields by offering the trades as an option
and making them aware of that option. History has proven, for instance,
that graduates of our two-year welding program can find immediate
jobs and earn approximately $60,000 a year with overtime. The building
trades are able to place our students in union jobs earning a good
Collinsville’s Vocational Education Center attracts students from
surrounding districts without similar programs such as Madison,
Mascoutah and O’Fallon, and includes an auto body shop, mechanical
trades and food services and places students in on-job training
“We’re offering our students a well-rounded education,” Craft continues.
“We provide probably the most Advanced Placement courses on the
East Side.” College bound students can take AP courses in math,
science, social studies and English and, should they do well on
college level AP tests, receive college credit for their work. “We’re
proud of the fact we offer so many options,” Craft explains, “because
a lot of students don’t know what direction (career-wise) they want
“The workforce is more technically oriented than ever before” begins
Fort Zumwalt Superintendent, Dr. Bernard DuBray. “We are instituting
a technological plan further into the lower grade levels that will
become comprehensive throughout the school district. Students have
to be technologically literate or they will be left at the starting
gate when it comes to getting jobs. Even service jobs (and there
are a lot of them out there) require technological skills.”
Fort Zumwalt’s technological task force is designed to solve the
problem of obsolescence (“you used to buy equipment and plan for
it to last the life of the product; that isn’t the case when it
comes to contemporary technology”) and to put the district’s students
on an even footing with students across the country.
Zumwalt Superintendent Dr. Bernard DuBray.
Dr. DuBray is pleased to point out that Fort
Zumwalt is the only district in the State with three
A+ High Schools. The A+ refers to a pact between the student and
the school and focuses on attendance, behavior and community services.
Students who meet the pact qualify to have their tuition and supplies
paid for at community colleges and technical schools. “It encourages
a number of students who may not have gone on”, explains DuBray.
He goes on to point out that local community colleges are doing
“a great job” bridging the period between high school and higher
Fort Zumwalt possesses articulation agreements between the school
district and local community colleges, technical schools (such as
Ranken) and even the Art Institute of Chicago, which allow students
to take certain courses to satisfy prerequisites for continuing
education. It also provides child development courses (“an emerging
field for employment” according to DuBray) which will lead students
straight into a community college curriculum.
DuBray believes the District’s college prep students do not need
as much help when it comes to career guidance, but provides the
best of those students with the possibility of graduating with up
to 16 hours of college credit behind them at local institutions
such as Lindenwood, Saint Louis University, UMSL and Missouri Baptist.
Superintendent Dr. Don Senti.
“We’re a College Prep School District. Period,” asserts Clayton
Superintendent Dr. Don Senti. “We do a very good job turning out
kids ready for college,” Senti continues. “Every student here graduates.
92 percent of them go on to college. Those who don’t go into the
Military. We don’t think much about preparing students to work.
We think about preparing them to function in college. We view graduation
as only a benchmark in one’s education and presume that a student
will continue his or her education until he or she is prepared for
Clayton prides itself on its commitment to diversity through the
Voluntary Transfer Program. “Candidates run for the School Board
here on a pro-transfer ticket,’ Senti shares with a smile. “You
might say we’re a highly successful Charter School for the city.
We have 500 transfer students who live north of Lindell and west
of Union. They come to us in kindergarten and they stay until they
Senti acknowledges the major societal changes the current student
generation will face. “In American History each successive generation
of kids did better economically than their parents. That’s no longer
necessarily the case. Kids graduating from college today may very
well not achieve the incomes of their parents—even in Clayton.”
Clayton students are not only prepared for college, but they tend
to go to colleges in the Northeast. (“It seems as if some of our
residents view going to college in Missouri as an embarrassment,”
shrugs Senti.) They may go to college in the Northeast, but they
also tend to stay in the Northeast leaving Senti to query if “that
has something to say about employment options in the immediate region”.
The Cooperating School Districts
is a service agency with 62 member school districts serving over
320,000 students. Its Superintendent, Dr. John Oldani offers an
overview of the employment situation, which will confront the current
generation of students. “It’s not just what you know, but what you
can do” is his current mantra.
“There is a desperate need for skilled labor”, he observes. “We
are constantly being bombarded with requests for skilled students.
A student can graduate and immediately enter a training program.
Healthcare is another field offering tremendous opportunity with
great demand. The country, after all, has an aging population.”
“There is a need for graduates with Science and Engineering degrees,”
he continues. Locally, the Danforth Plant Science Center and Monsanto
are options. St. Louis is being hyped as the center of the new BioBelt.
If a student has the interest, there are tremendous possibilities—especially
when one considers the potential of anticipated breakthroughs.”
“Even traditional entry level jobs today demand technical knowledge,”
he explains. “This shows the need for students to gain that knowledge
in the K through 12 progression, but they still need the basics.
As we look at today’s workforce, literacy is a major issue.”
Oldani easily segues into the realities of contemporary employment.
“People can no longer assume they will get a job and have a career
with one company. They will have to retool and gain more skills.
They will need to become lifelong learners. If you look at the local
community colleges, the majority of the students are older and are
retooling for changes and needs they’ve encountered in the workforce.
He also tackles the question of standardized testing. “There is
a place for it, but there is an overemphasis on it at a National
level. We’re focused on what’s easiest to measure, but, if kids
can’t think (as opposed to regurgitate information) as adults, they’re
not going to make it. We need to be teaching kids to think and to
be prepared to deal with change.
Dr. Oldani also worries about school districts eliminating arts
and music programs. “They’re important,” he emphasizes, “not to
turn students into artists or musicians, but to allow them to see
the world and to think in different ways.” Music, after all, equates
to learning a foreign language and is directly related to math skills;
while the visual and performing arts are areas requiring abstract
thought processes—exactly those processes diminished by an overemphasis
on standardized testing. “Some schools are talking about trimming
Physical Education classes or eliminating recess,” he marvels. “Can
you imagine eliminating physical activity in an age where childhood
obesity is reaching epidemic proportions? The workforce, after all,
needs to be healthy.”
In off-record conversations with the superintendents one becomes
aware of other obstacles facing today’s students. Poverty in the
schools is an unwelcome, but decided reality with some districts
reporting over a third of their student population subsisting at
the poverty level. Students have watched their parents lose jobs
through downsizing, outsourcing and factory closings and know first
hand that being well-trained does not necessarily mean one can retain
a job. Split homes, permanently unemployed parents and an ingrained
reliance on welfare are simple realities for far too many students.
Many others lead transient lives as the mobility of our society
and the constant need to move to retain certain jobs collide with
the concept of economic stability. Even the school districts can
be majorly impacted by societal change. Pattonville, after all,
received a major blow in the airport expansion losing two schools
and a substantial number of students.
“Education is a lifelong job,” says Oldani. It’s obvious that part
of preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s workforce is to instill
within them a lifelong desire for knowledge and the ability to continue