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By Katherine M. Heinle

My four siblings and I grew up in the Riverside housing projects, raised by a mother who was a young widow. Our mother made the career and technical education programs in Buffalo Public Schools an educational requirement for us all. To date, all my siblings, as well as their children, remain in Western New York and are all gainfully employed.

As the director of career and technical education (formerly vocational ed) for the Buffalo Public Schools, I offer you a clear picture of the district’s CTE programs. We currently offer 25 programs at 12 high schools for approximately 6,000 students in grades 9-12, all with the ability to earn college credit. Currently there are 113 agreements offering 379 credits with 23 post-secondary institutions (13 of them are four-year institutions).

Programs include carpentry, engineering, personal training, welding, aquatic ecology and hospitality – taught in the BPS’s Emerson Commons restaurant located in the Theater District. The majority of our CTE programs have passed the rigorous New York State Education Department certification process, with the remainder pending.

All of this provides our students with a solid foundation, measured in student achievement. Our CTE student graduation rate was 78.49 percent, as reported in the most recent state CTE data. Additionally, these students as a whole exceed all state academic targets.

In terms of success, the Burgard auto team placed 11th in the National Automotive Industry Competition, and 85 percent of East High School certified nurse assistant students graduated with both New York State Regents diplomas and New York State certified nurse sssistant licenses. And then there are those individual examples: the McKinley student who is continuing his CTE career at Buffalo State in electrical engineering, and the African-American female welding student from Burgard who is continuing at Ohio State.

To dispel the oft-quoted phrase: “CTE is for those kids who are not college material,” know that the district’s CTE programs give students the ability to connect and understand academics through practical application. Our students start their high school careers with us in preparation for the world of work, apprenticeships or trade schools, and in many cases, college. They live up to our CTE motto: “Learn to Succeed.”

The district’s CTE program is designed to educate the whole student in a four-year program, in comprehensive high schools, in state-of-the-art classrooms and labs, where academic instruction is taught in conjunction with CTE classes. The ability to offer integrated academics along with career and technical education – in a student’s home school – makes the best use of student time and district resources toward student success.

Katherine M. Heinle is director of career and technical education for Buffalo Public Schools.