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KHSD opens its brand-new Career Technical Education Center

It’s been years in the making and the crown jewel of the Kern High School District’s career education program, if not the district itself, has begun to open its doors.

There are no students in the brand-new Career Technical Education Center, but that won’t be true for long. Students will begin to filter into the new campus that is next door to Independence High School on Nov. 9.

Brian Miller, the principal of both the new CTEC campus and the Regional Occupational Center, says the district is going to prioritize small cohorts of at-risk and high-need students. That could include students with special needs who have an individualized education plan, foster and homeless youth, and students who are having a difficult time connecting at home. But he’s hoping to soon bring all 1,200 students who are currently taking classes through CTEC right now in small cohorts.

Miller does feel urgency in bringing students back. The goal of career education in KHSD is to set every student up to get an entry-level job in their field — and some of those jobs need a certificate requiring hands-on training. Miller wants to make sure students get that training in time.

“There is a big hands-on portion of the curriculum,” Miller said. “Some of those classes are required for certain kinds of certifications and we want students to be able to take those before we get too deep into the school year.”

Work crews are still on campuses putting together some final touches, but those hands-on components, for the most part, are already in place. The final budget for CTEC came in at $68 million, which was $2 million under the projected budget. A total of $25 million came from local bond measures levied by the district, but more than $20 million came from state sources aimed at improving state school facilities and career technical grant funding.

Its design — open, airy and light-drenched — is more “business-style than high school” said assistant principal Tina Cox, pointing out several conference rooms and the Student Success Center that helps students with soft skills like interviewing that prepare them to get hired straight out of high school.

All of the health career education programs that were once at the district’s Regional Occupational Center are at the new center. The nursing program has mannequins on hospital beds and the dental program has a mannequin in a chair with its mouth wide open, ready for inspection.

There’s a beautifully decorated classroom fit for a third grader: that’s for the aspiring educators in the district’s new program. Crafting kits are awaiting teachers-in-training.

Teachers are already making themselves at home on their new campus. Brittany Patteson-Johnston’s white board is full of concepts for her class of pharmacy technicians learning remotely. When they arrive, they will be able to learn how to dispense from an area that is a dead-ringer for your local pharmacy — with a window and everything.

Andrew Hong, who teaches sports medicine injury care management and personal training, looks at home in his new classroom, where he’s teaching remotely.

Hong’s new classroom is attached to a fully-functioning sports clinic where student athletes will be able to come in and get help from fellow students. The clinic will serve as a bridge between the concepts they’re learning and the real world. It’s a big upgrade from the portable building that he had been working out of before.

“This was the ultimate vision: to provide high-quality, hands-on education,” he said.

The gym the class will use is ready to go, and it’s fully stocked with weights and machines. They will be sharing it along with the fully-landscaped outdoor recreational area with the school’s public safety programs, police and fire, which can also benefit from physical training.

Liberty senior Josiah Bunde is taking classes through CTEC, but he can’t wait to get inside his new classroom. He has been taking classes with an eye on getting into the entertainment industry. He’s a magician who has performed at the Magic Castle, and he hopes to attend Los Angeles Film School.

Last year he took a class on small business entrepreneurship with Mike Russo, a class he raves about. Now he’s taking a video production class with local news veteran Lisa Krch, where he’s learning in-depth about lighting, equipment and scripts. He’s eager to see his new classroom where the finishing touches are being put on a studio adjacent to a classroom with rows of brand-new desktops.

He said he always felt more at home last year when he would take classes in the district’s ROC program, so he looks forward to what this year has in store.

“You’re being taught by industry professionals,” he said. “It’s not just a classroom anymore, it’s a work space.”