Vocational education, teacher licensure are linked by lawmakers

Friday, December 7, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

State Sen. Jim Tracy and recently-elected Rep. Billy Spivey agree with Marshall County school leaders that career and technical education should be emphasized more.

Monday night, Schools Director Jackie Abernathy led a wide-ranging discussion with Marshall County's delegation to the Tennessee General Assembly. Written questions came from principals and administrators.

"We need to put more emphasis on career and technical education," Tracy (R-Shelbyville) said, recalling that curriculum was once referred to as vocational education.

Spivey, a Lewisburg resident who works as maintenance director at Walker Die Casting, drew on his industrial experience to discuss the issue.

"It's grossly overlooked," Spivey said of classes that wouldn't normally result in a university diploma.

He and Tracy agreed that such a career choice could pay more than what a college graduate might earn.

Lyn Stacey, director of career and technology education programs at Marshall County's Spot Lowe Technology Center, asked about funding.

"Progress is difficult because of finances," Stacey said. "It used to be hammers and saws."

Now it's computers, he and Tracy agreed.

"I think you'll see more," Tracy said, offering insight from a meeting with Gov. Bill Haslam and an industrialist.

"'I want to hire about 1,200 people in the next year,'" Tracy said, quoting the businessman.

Haslam replied, "Great," but the man complained he can't do it here, "because he can't find trained workers."

Tuesday, the governor reported negotiations continue with Nissan North America to have the state build a school next to the Japanese auto manufacturing plant in Smyrna.

Abernathy reported state Education Commissioner Kevin S. Huffman wants to "overhaul teacher licensure," and Tracy said "There needs to be a simplified process" to get teacher licensure for people who leave the business world to start a career in education.

Tracy and Stacey named Jerry Hooper, who sold his Hooper's Tire Auto Service in Chapel Hill to become a teacher, as someone who shouldn't have to work so hard to get a teaching license.

"Especially in career technical," Tracy said.

Hooper teaches auto repair at Spot Lowe Technology Center and Tracy advocated principals and other local educators' judgment as being a significant part of the licensure process.

Stacey emphasized the point.

"Eighteen hours of education (credits) is quite frequently a deal breaker," Stacey said. "And quite frankly we question the value of the program" that is imposed on prospective teachers of vocational classes.

Other topics discussed include parental responsibility, magnet schools, teacher evaluations, charter schools and online testing.