Success behind Putnam school's honor
ELEANOR, W.Va. -- When Principal Mike Erwin opens the doors to classrooms at the Putnam Career and Technical Center that lead to auto and wood shops and dentist's offices, he feels proud.
He claims that he doesn't mean to brag about the school he once attended as a student, but he's always known it was a special place - one that offers an array of opportunities and a set of skills hard to find elsewhere.
"I use them every day," he said of the skills he learned as a student.
This year, others noticed the school's success, too.
The state Department of Education named the school the best career and technical facility in the state.
"Kids leave here with the skills to hold positions that need filled," Erwin said, noting how that night, employees at several local businesses were scheduled to meet with educators at the school.
"They provide guidance about the direction we need to move as a school," he said.
Actually, officials say all of Putnam County schools are listening to businesses and have started an initiative to make students ready to enter the workforce after graduating.
This year, Putnam teachers are emphasizing work ethic and communication skills with their students, and those subjects are even counting toward their grades. School board members also recently announced a plan to apply for an innovation zone grant to hire someone to work at the county high schools and help students explore career possibilities outside of college.
"The county is making a big push to determine individual needs," Erwin said.
He attributes the career and technical school's success to two things: the staff and the students.
"Our teachers here are right out of the industry," Erwin said. "We're continuously improving and evaluating our teaching strategies."
A majority of teachers at the school have completed the first step in becoming nationally board certified.
Students have competed every year in the SkillsUSA competition in Kansas City. This year, more than half of the 21 who competed finished in the top 10 percent. Also, two students won gold medals at the Health Occupation Students of America conference in Orlando.
"We set the bar high for ourselves," Erwin said.
Putnam Superintendent Chuck Hatfield has said a large number of high school graduates in Putnam go on to college, but nearly two out of three of those don't earn a degree.
At the career and technical school, 98 percent of students who complete the program leave and move on to a school in their career field or have a job lined up, Erwin said.
Because of those numbers, Erwin said the school is working to explain the career center's program to students at an earlier age.
"We give tours in 8th and 10th grade and familiarize students with what happens," he said. "We're trying to come up with programs to target middle schoolers.
"At 17, I didn't know what I'd be doing, but it helped that I was exposed to a lot."
Kevin Roberts, who teaches automotive courses, said he's impressed so many of his students have gotten jobs at dealerships or small car shops while they're in school. But, he said, some students just take the class for general knowledge.
"About half of my morning class told me they're just doing this for themselves, so they don't have to pay someone $80 an hour to fix their vehicle," Roberts said.
Nick Kersey, 17, of Hurricane, said he started attending the school for the hands-on learning.
"After my class took a field trip here, I loved it and knew it was for me," he said, as he swept the floor of the school's car garage.
Kersey, who didn't know much about cars before he attended the school, now wants to attend the University of Western Ohio, a college level career and technical program, to study automotive repair.
"There's just more learning here," he said.
Reach Kate White at email@example.com or 304-348-1723.