Promoting career technical education for all students, OCDE administrator earns state and national honors

Jillian Johnson-Sharp wants to clear up any lingering misconceptions about career technical education, also known as CTE.

Enrollment in these courses should not be viewed as a separate, non-college track for students eager to pick up job skills, she says. Instead, today’s CTE offerings are designed for all students, pairing standards-based instruction with career training to provide the kinds of integrated, real-world skills young people need for high-demand fields such as engineering, health science, business management, information technology and marketing.

Jillian Johnson-Sharp“So if you’re taking an engineering pathway, then ideally the math that you’re doing could be delivered through the lens of engineering.” she says. “If you’re doing health, then science relates. Integrating the core academics with the real world application of the career pathway is hugely valuable. It engages students, and brings relevance and understanding to their studies.”  

“Everything relates and everything ties together, and it has value,” she adds. “It’s not a hobby shop. This is serious application of career technical education and core academics.”

That’s the overarching charge of the OCDE’s Central Orange County CTE Partnership, or CTEp, a regional consortium that offers CTE programs covering 15 industry sectors to more than 15,000 students in the Garden Grove, Orange and Santa Ana unified school districts.

CTEp — pronounced SEE-tep — has been under the umbrella of the Orange County Department of Education since the mid-1970s, and in recent years it’s been led by Johnson-Sharp, who holds the title of administrator. Her job is built around supporting the member districts by creating and maintaining career technical education pathways, including the development of rigorous courses that meet state standards and industry requirements. In many cases, these courses are also approved for credit by the University of California.

To date, the three CTEp districts are running about 770 sections in 13 of the 15 industry sectors. Meanwhile, the program also provides training and instructional support, creates assessments, builds post-secondary and industry partnerships, establishes pathways, and monitors legislation impacting career technical education. (On the latter front, the state recently added college and career readiness indicators to its new accountability tool, the California School Dashboard.)

Johnson-Sharp, who spent nearly 30 years at Saddleback College as an associate faculty member before joining OCDE in 2005, still has a decidedly London accent, and her words quicken with enthusiasm as she talks about raising the profile of career technical courses so the public understands how they support and reinforce core academic subjects.

That’s partly what drove her to launch the ocMaker Challenge, a yearly STEM design competition that promotes creativity and innovation by asking students to use 3D modeling, 3D printing and other advanced technologies to build prototypes of products capable of solving real-world problems. Now entering its fifth year, the ocMaker Challenge is hosted by Chapman University and last year drew more than 3,000 participants in grades seven through 14.

“I decided to use ‘making’ as the vehicle for delivering STEM competencies across the curriculum,” she tells the OCDE Newsroom. “I started it as a STEM design project, but it also aligns with California’s standards and other instructional initiatives such as the Next Generation Science Standards and the P21 competencies of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving, all this in one competition.”

For all of these efforts, Johnson-Sharp was named CTE Administrator of the Year in February by the California Association for Career and Technical Education, and in December she was honored by the national Association for Career and Technical Education. In addition to being selected as the ACTE’s Administrator of the Year for Region V, which includes more than a dozen western states and territories, she also earned a place among the 2018 national finalists.

She calls these honors “surprising and humbling.”

“It was an honor to have the opportunity to represent my CTE colleagues in California — any and all of whom deserve to be recognized for the work that they do,” Johnson-Sharp says. “You shouldn’t be in it unless you’re passionate for it. But the people who are involved in career technical education really want to help students, really want to make sure that they get opportunities that might not otherwise come their way. I’m just doing my job like everybody else is doing their job.”