Coalition of OC districts and partners unites to boost career education

An OCDE-led coalition of Orange County school districts, community colleges and ROPs has secured a sweeping round of new funding to strengthen career technical education programs, enhance career pathways and expand work-based learning opportunities for students.

Working through OCDE’s OC Pathways initiative, the local agencies were collectively awarded seven state allocations totaling more than $11.3 million through the K12 Strong Workforce Program in a competitive process facilitated by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office.

students show off their work to attendee at OC Pathways Showcase
Students from Savanna High in the Anaheim Union High School District discuss their Medical Careers Academy training program during the fourth annual OC Pathways Showcase in November.

The K12 Strong Workforce Program seeks to spur high-quality career technical education, particularly efforts that align with regional economic priorities. The program is also working to streamline the transition from secondary to post-secondary, with an emphasis on linking the K-12 and community college systems.

School districts and county offices of education throughout the state were eligible to apply for funding. Orange County’s 28 districts, nine community colleges and four regional occupational programs banded together to propose a raft of integrated measures, presenting a regionalized vision for college and career readiness.

“This represents a very comprehensive strategy with multiple initiatives that will help us make progress in several dimensions of career education at the same time,” said OCDE Chief Academic Officer Jeff Hittenberger. “To have every single district, community college and ROP on board is really mind-blowing and truly unique to Orange County. Our five years of working together and building relationships through OC Pathways made this possible.”

With the Orange County Department of Education listed as the lead agency, the local consortium applied for eight funding allocations and was awarded seven. Here’s how they break down:

  • More than $4.6 million will fund a counseling coordinator position at each district. The goal is to identify a point-person who can embed career education systemically with knowledge of early college and community college options, industry certifications and work-based learning opportunities.
  • More than $2.1 million will be used to build career technical education (CTE) dual enrollment so students can take courses in high school and college at the same time. One strategy might be to promote co-teaching between high schools and community college educators.
  • Nearly $530,000 will be allocated to create industry certification opportunities for local students, essentially bringing industry standards into the classroom. This could be tied to their coursework, career pathway sequences or programs of study such as medical assistant or dental assistant training.
  • Approximately $2 million will be used to design career-based student leadership programs. This work could focus on certifications, competitions, robotics or other efforts.
  • $400,000 will be used to form multidisciplinary pathway teams that can develop and refine career pathway sequences that combine core academic courses and CTE classes, along with common, integrated projects.
  • And nearly $220,000 will be used to advance work-based learning across the county — including expanded opportunities for internships — building on the established practices of local ROPs and the specific technical and employability needs identified by business partners.

“We really wanted to take a thoughtful and holistic approach to drafting initiatives that are interconnected and based on proven elements of high-qualify career technical education,” said Kathy Boyd, who oversees OCDE’s Career Education, including OC Pathways. “These Orange County initiatives were ultimately created to prepare our students to be strong communicators, engaged citizens and successful in their careers.”

High-demand, high-wage careers

Established in 2014, OC Pathways connects educators and industry leaders to create navigable career paths and work-based learning opportunities for students in 15 distinct career sectors. The countywide initiative is led by OCDE in partnership with the Los Angeles and Orange County Regional Consortium of community colleges — or LAOCRC for short — and has grown to include all 28 school districts, nine community colleges and four ROPs, along with scores of universities, regional agencies and industry and community partners.

Elevating California’s workers into high-demand, high-wage careers was similarly the goal of the Strong Workforce Program, a statewide effort led by the Community College Chancellor’s Office. Legislation approved in June 2016 included an annual recurring investment of $248 million to enhance career technical education and workforce training within California’s community colleges.

Based on the early success of the community college model, the K12 Strong Workforce Program was launched this year, allocating another $150 million in annual ongoing career education funding to strengthen pathways for students from secondary to post-secondary education. Because the LAOCRC already had years of experience building frameworks and distributing funds on the college side, that consortium has been tapped to help lead the K-12 version.

“This gives us even a greater opportunity to align initiatives starting at the K-12 level and continuing to community colleges,” said Gustavo Chamorro, the LAOCRC’s Orange County director. “With OC Pathways and its background, this initiative is really going to do what the legislation intended, which is to strengthen our work plan and expand into different industry sectors.”

As the world of work evolves and adapts to disruptions such as automation and artificial intelligence, educational organizations including OCDE are also changing, Boyd said.

“We want to build opportunities for young people to be adaptable and to be excited to learn throughout their lives,” she said. “Through technology and partnerships with business and community-based organizations, students’ learning time can extend beyond the school day, school year and school buildings to include work-based learning and internships.”