Board considers county vocational school

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

BOLIVIA—Brunswick County’s vocational future is a key consideration of the school system’s 2012 facilities master plan, school officials informally agreed Monday.

“This is a four-phase process, and we’re in the initiation phase and the launching phase,” said consultant Bill Klein of KBR Building Group at the start of a school board workshop. “This is where we’re going to make sure that we have our goals and our mission clearly defined.”

Brunswick County school board member John Thompson said he’d like to see answered a basic question that’s often talked about in the community.

“We need a vocational high school.” Thompson said. “I’d like to have a sense when this plan comes out in order to meet the needs of students in the future and align with economic growth. I’d like to know whether that’s something we could have in whole or in part.”

“Ultimately, you’re looking for answers—opportunities students may or may not have,” Klein said.

School board chairwoman Shirley Babson said she’s interested in “what we would teach and what businesses would need.”

She cited as an example an area company that makes Boeing airplane parts, suggesting research needs to be done about other industrial opportunities.

“There might be a lot of pleasant surprises in Brunswick County,” she said, adding the end result could be for schools to help provide children with skills to carry them into the workforce if they’re not planning to pursue a four-year college degree. Or she said they could continue at Brunswick Community College.

“We want every one of them to be able to get a job,” Babson said.

Klein said the consulting team will “be as effective with the research as we can in that.”

“We definitely want to make sure we’re aligned,” Thompson said.

Babson cited Brunswick County Academy, the learning center, ninth-grade academy and early college facilities.

“We already have students willing to be bused if they’re interested in a subject,” she said.

Consultant Tom Balke cited health occupations that are supported in schools in Elkin and Surry County, adding “you may be doing those things, too.”

Steve Miley, director of operations for Brunswick County Schools, said, “We need to be cognizant of the condition of our facilities [and] plan how we’re going to keep them alive and well. Form follows function. We want to make sure there’s purpose in mind as soon as we start looking at any kind of special education and planning how to facilitate.”

Citing the state’s current 9.7 percent unemployment rate, Miley said the goal is to “make citizens more employable and give a leg up to those kids that are graduating from high school.”

Consultant Douglas C. Burns said he likes the workforce-ready idea, suggesting they could even look beyond the borders of Brunswick County, citing work with nuclear reactors in neighboring New Hanover County.

Klein said there are high-tech jobs out there, with companies that are “desperate for people to fill the roles. They can’t hire enough of them.”

As work on the plan continues, “you’re going to find out what the community can support and what you need to offer,” consultant Travis Twiford said. “You need to remember that the environment can enhance or hinder what’s taking place, then know what facilities are to be like so you can support what’s taking place.”

“We are really asking basic questions,” Thompson said. “There is no underlying presumption that we’re looking at a big bond referendum.”

“We’re here to listen to you and what the community says,” Twiford said.

The next step of the work—Phase II tentatively targeted for Oct. 1 through Dec. 1—is designated for information-gathering and interviewing stakeholders and focus groups.

Phase III, designated for Dec. 1-21, will consist of workshops with the school board and superintendent to address prioritized curriculum offerings and facility recommendations and to select a “best use” plan to be included in the 2012 master plan.

Phase IV, targeted from December through next March, will consist of preparing and presenting to the public a final master plan and report.


Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.