Impact - Worcester Vocational High School
At the beginning of the 20th century, Worcester was a national leader in the development of trade and vocational education: Worcester Boys Trade School, opened in 1910, was among the first vocational schools in the nation, training young men to be machinists, and, according to its mission, graduating "well informed citizens and good workmen." It was supervised by an independent Board of Trustees, first headed by Milton Higgins of Norton Company, and reporting annually to the Worcester City Council. (After Council-Manager form of government was adopted in 1949, the Board of Trustees reported to the City Manager.) By 1996, however, the quality of vocational education in Worcester had been seriously compromised:
- Over the previous decade, enrollment in the vocational high school programs had declined from 1,503 to 892, or 41%.
- The number of non-Worcester residents attending had also dropped by 91% between 1986-1996.
- During that same decade, expenditures for the school had increased by 65%, while the number of teachers and other professional staff had decreased by 13%.
- Two vocational school superintendents were hired and fired over a period of two years.
- Four of five trustees were removed for challenging the City Manager's authority to hire and fire the superintendent.
- Based on a Research Bureau survey, a number of local companies were no longer recruiting vocational school graduates because they lacked the range of skills needed by those companies, and the school had not kept current with the latest technologies.
- The need for a new facility had been debated for a decade without resolution. In 1997, the school was placed on warning status by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the regional accrediting body for schools and colleges, for failing to meet NEASC's school facilities standards.
- Since the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 required vocational education students to meet the same academic standards as all other high school students, including passing MCAS tests to graduate, the teaching of core academic subjects has to be expanded in order to meet state requirements.
- The school had not kept pace with national trends in vocational education establishing occupational clusters within high schools, that is training for several kinds of positions within one field, for example, construction.
In 1996, the Research Bureau issued a report documenting all these challenges, and recommending the establishment of a "blue ribbon" commission that would determine the school's programs, the technical education curriculum, the governance structure (either merging with the Worcester Public Schools or establishing a regional school with nearby towns), and the site for a new facility.
The City manager appointed a "blue ribbon" commission, and in 1997, the City Council transferred governance of the Vocational High School to the Worcester School Committee. It subsequently decided to construct a new campus on the site of the former Belmont Home. The Commonwealth is financing 90% of the $100 million, 400,000 square-foot school located on 21 acres. The new school will consist of four technology academies, and twenty-four learning centers: information technology and business management academy, allied health and human services academy, construction technologies academy, and Alden design and engineering academy. Regarding the City's portion of the financing, $6 million of the $9 million is being paid by taxpayers, and $3 million is being raised by business and the community at large, mainly by Ted Coghlin, a long-time advocate of vocational education and former head of Coghlin Electrical Contractors. Businesses have agreed to monitor programs and keep equipment and technology current for each of the 24 learning centers. The new school will accommodate 1,500 day students and 3,000 working adults who will be able to take afternoon and evening classes. The new facility is scheduled to open in August 2006. Since 1999, there has been a waiting list of 300 students. In addition to the new facility, the academic achievement of Worcester's vocational students has improved as well. In the class of 2005, 93% passed MCAS, the statewide tests required for graduation from high school. From 1998 to 2003, the proportion of vocational students planning to enroll in a 2- or 4-year college following graduation increased dramatically, from 14% to 70%.