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Vermont To Restructure Vocational Education

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The Vermont Department of Education has drafted a policy paper outlining major revisions in the administration of local vocational-education programs.

Vermont's examination of its governance structure for vocational education is significant in view of the New England area's concern that its schools' programs more closely match the training needs of the local economy, particularly the retraining of adult workers, according to W. Ross Brewer, director of planning and policy development.

Under the reorganization plan, which decentralizes the department into five regional teams, secondary vocational education is combined with adult programs.

"The general feeling is that vocational programs have not been open and flexible enough to serve secondary students or the adult population," Mr. Brewer said. "We're not set in our our minds about how it's going to change, but the response to the policy paper convinces us we're on the right track," he said. So far, two of five public forums have been held to solicit comments.

More than 5,500 adults are enrolled in "short-term courses oriented to job upgrading or avocational and civic interests," according to the policy paper. Nevertheless, the paper asserts that "adults in particular are not served well by the vocational-education system."

Department officials found in their study that the curricula of local programs do not reflect "major changes in the employment market." As a primarily rural state, said Arthur W. Ericson, director of secondary vocational programs, Vermont should provide students with training in several occupational areas. To accomplish this, the department is considering the adoption of a "cluster-of-skills" approach.

For example, Mr. Ericson explained that auto mechanics, a course offered in 15 of the state's vo-cational centers, might be replaced by industrial mechanics, which would include courses on hydraulics, electronics, and internal-combustion engines.

Similarly, the day-care program would be renamed "human ser-vices," with course components in caring for children, the handicapped, and the elderly, according to Mr. Ericson.

Specific plans for curriculum improvement are being developed by a special committee and will be presented to the state board of education for approval.

Also of concern are the "occupational skills of the state and local staff," which the policy paper contends are lagging behind developments in business and industry.

Begun last spring, the policy paper, according to Mr. Brewer, represents the initial stage of the state department's efforts to improve vocational training in the schools and expand the program offerings to adults in the state.

In a much broader context, the policy paper is part of an ambitious reorganization of the state department of education under the leadership of Commissioner of Education Stephen S. Kaagan, who assumed the post in February.

The policy paper also offers suggestions for the revision of the state's present vocational-education governance structure.

Currently, students within 15 miles of each of the centers commute from their high schools.

The sending high schools pay tuition for each student; however, the administration of the centers is the responsibility of a "host" school and its school board.

The host school, usually designated as such because of its proximity to the center, establishes the vocational curriculum and provides for staffing, with very little consultation from other school and community leaders, according to Mr. Ericson. He said in some areas of the state the "system is working quite well"; in other areas, school officials have indicated that they are dissatisfied with the arrangement.

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