“Almost too smooth, very smooth, very smooth,” Tom Hankinson, career and technical education director, said of developing the vocational program. “But I think that’s communications. We’ve communicated a lot (with TCAT officials). We work together a lot. We talk on the phone. We email. We talk in person. We’ve met a lot and have had a lot of meetings, and I think that’s the biggest thing is the communication back and forth.”
Hankinson said interest has remained high for the program, with 18 students “seriously interested.” Twelve students are expected to attend the class in January, and the remaining six should join the following year.
TCAT Director Danice Turpin said the first class will be small to ensure students excel in the course, especially with the program being new.
“We’re actually going to start it out with a low number because being a new venture, we want to focus on quality versus quantity,” Turpin said.
Eventually, officials would like to add a welding course and even a health science course, with the help from Roane State Community College. Turpin said she has been keeping Roane State officials up to date on the happenings of the vocational program.
“We’d have to have the roof repaired before we do anything upstairs, and that’s when with — say when we start the diesel program we plan on doing the classroom in the welding area, but say we really see this going well in June, and we say we really want the welding program to start August,” Hankinson said. “We are going to have to have the roof (repaired) because we’re going to have to move the classroom upstairs then or squeeze it in there somewhere.”
Students are going through a screening process to make sure they are serious about the hands-on training, such as taking into account a student’s attendance, grades and discipline, he said.
“Our grading scale, we’ve got grades for skill, which that’s what they’re here learning, but we also have grades for worker characteristics, and that’s what the employers look for is the things Tom’s mentioned,” Turpin said. “Will they show up on time? Will they do a good quantity of work? Good attitude? Are they a team player? So, they’ll get two grades from us.”
The program will be considered dual enrollment for seniors at Loudon High and Greenback schools, Hankinson said. County schools and TCAT recruiters teamed up to inform students about the program at both schools.
“They teamed up and had — what they did was set up in the lobby and near the CTE program so the interest would be there, you know, like the auto mechanics machine shop, carpentry, those type of shop programs,” Hankinson said. “They set up right there where those programs were and had kids come in and recruited them right there, both counselors. I mean, they did a super job.”
Since August, when the program was first announced, Hankinson said storage has been removed from the building to make way for the class, TCAT students repaired electrical sockets and an industrial maintenance crew will review the fans and ventilation in the building to ensure everything still works properly. Inspection from the Lenoir City codes enforcement office, fire marshal and state fire marshal will then occur shortly thereafter.
Needed equipment should be moved into the building within six weeks.
Turpin said the equipment, afforded through two Carl Perkins grants, is expected to total about $100,000. Necessary class learning materials include computers, a 12,000-pound lift, two welders, hand tools, analysis equipment, diesel engines and “live work.”
“It’s a very powerful part of the program because like I said it’s real,” Turpin said. “We call it live work, and so when we put our students to work it’s not a matter of, ‘Oh, I did that on a trainer,’ it’s a, ‘I’ve done that on the real thing.’”
Hankinson said he expects volunteers to “come out of the woodwork” once the class begins.
“It’s going to be great,” he said. “It’s going to be for kids. It’s going to be good for the community. We haven’t seen any downfalls yet.”
Hankinson said the course itself is “ongoing,” meaning that from noon-3 p.m. Monday-Friday students will be able to attend class and learn at their own pace. Students usually take about two years to fully complete the class, but that doesn’t mean a student who excels early on can’t graduate earlier.
“Once they’ve earned it or they can demonstrate it, then it’s just pick up and go,” Turpin said.
Adding an adult course
Turpin said seniors graduating high school will have the opportunity to continue their education in the vocational course if they wish.
“As the kids graduate from high school, they can roll into the adult night-time program and all their credits are retained and they can just continue on,” Turpin said. “And they have the availability of doing that here or they could go to Harriman.”
Plans are to eventually start a similar adult program in either March or May, Turpin said. Classes will be held 4-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and five Loudon County residents will be given the first pick into the class.
“Yeah, they kind of stay in the program,” Hankinson said. “We really eventually want to set it up to where say Johnny is going 12 to 3 (p.m.), good student, hardworking, instructed, good connection, he can stay on from that 4 to 9 (p.m.) and can get some more clock hours. That’d be great for the kid. I mean I can just see — and in other words they could probably graduate probably (in) half the time.”
TCAT is “actively searching” for a teacher to fill the slot for both student- and adult-based classes, and plans are to make a hire by mid-December, Turpin said.
An open house is expected to be available for the community sometime around mid-December as well.