Vocational Program Shifts Direction

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 ROP Multimedia Design student Donovan Kelly  with the 3D printer.

Multimedia Design student Donovan Kelly with the 3D printer.

The location of Regional Occupational Program classes for Laguna Beach High School students may change next year, with the program eventually dissolving into a broader curriculum, according to school officials.

“ROPs are going away across the state,” Darlene Messinger, the district’s assistant superintendent in charge of instructional services, said during a school board meeting this past Tuesday. “It’s going to be a matter of time.” Funding focus is switching to Career and Technical Education, a broader approach to career readiness for students and adults that Laguna plans to pursue, she said. “It’s the next big funding. It’s the next big thing,” Messinger said Wednesday.

Currently, the school district offers students vocational education classes in a shared arrangement with Capistrano Unified School District through South Coast ROP. Ranging from forensic science and graphic design to fashion and restaurant management, 50 classes a semester are offered at seven Capistrano district campuses and at LBHS. About 2,000 students from Capistrano high school students and 200 LBHS students participate in the program.

“Proportionately, we’re at a much higher rate of participation than they are,” said Messinger. ROP curriculum is evolving to more college-prep technical classes with some courses qualifying for college credit.

Under the current agreement, LBUSD contributes $140,000 to support the ROP program, which pays for ROP classes at LBHS. Teachers are credentialed but are not compensated at union scale, Messinger said. “We would have to explore how CTE would pay for teachers because our teachers are pretty expensive. We really want people with experience to teach those courses,” she said.

Funding is available from state and national education programs as well as private enterprise. “There’s a bunch of organizations pumping money into career-technical and supportive education right now,” Messinger said Wednesday.

Under the new agreement unanimously approved by the Laguna Beach school board Tuesday, Capistrano will cut its contribution to $1.25 million for the 2015-16 school year from $2.9 million. LBUSD agreed to contribute the same amount as it paid last year, $140,000. CUSD has yet to approve the agreement. The changes result from the state Department of Education giving school districts the option of offering ROP classes or reallocating the money for other uses.

CUSD is downsizing its allocation because it is aligning with Saddleback Community College’s ROP curriculum, and moving away from supporting ROP classes at LBHS, said board member Ketta Brown.

“We are all aware of what they’re doing,” said board member Jan Vickers, who sits on the South Coast ROP committee with Brown. “And our tenuous place in it,” added Brown.

The plan to downsize the ROP schedule by Capistrano was a surprise to Vickers and Brown, new members to the ROP committee replacing former district board members Betsy Jenkins and Theresa O’Hare. “It was a surprise to everyone,” said Vickers, “and that’s not a good way to go.”

Vickers said it was an issue just to keep two LBUSD board members on the committee, saying that she and Brown wanted to expand that number to five since CUSD was expanding from five to seven members. “…they would still have a majority. That doesn’t make a partnership,” she said. “They don’t need us,” Brown said. The Capistrano district will continue to manage the South Coast ROP.

Laguna board members asked district administrators to develop other options for students interested in ROP classes, including classes at community colleges as well as expanding course offerings at LBHS.

“Because our pool of students is small, we can’t offer the range of programs that a large district can offer,” said Supt. Sherine Smith. Nor does the high school have the space to accommodate such classes as auto shop and paramedics training, Smith said.

“Our hope is to stay with South Coast ROP through Capo,” because of the established ties and proximity of classes,” Messinger said Wednesday. “That would be the ideal.” The classes are more innovative than what’s offered elsewhere, she said, and the curriculum could roll-over into a CTE program.

Messinger said Pati Romo, assistant superintendent of South Coast ROP assured her that the same level of services would be maintained. “That remains to be seen,” she said at the board meeting.

“I don’t like it,” said board member Bill Landsiedel, adding that CUSD has the legal option to change the program. “I’m kind of distressed by what’s happened. It has all the appearance of a shell game, pulling money out of this to put it somewhere else.”

Instead of operating under an agreement, Messinger said the district could “buy” ROP classes for interested students. An ROP robotics engineering class will be offered at LBHS in the fall. “That will be a hot class,” she said.

South Coast ROP offers classes in a wide variety of subjects, including crime, fire safety, automotive repair, paramedic technology, fashion and dentistry. Traditionally a vocational program, college-bound students often enroll in ROP classes in engineering, digital technology, dance, medicine, business, computer coding and education as a way to help them decide on further study or four-year degrees, said Dawn Hunnicutt, the career guidance specialist for the LBHS ROP program.

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