Auto shop

Abilene Board of Education member Chris West asks Abilene High School Principal Ben Smith, second from right, a question about the school’s automotive shop as board members Jennifer Waite, center, and Randy Gassman, right, listen. In the background is Tech Coordinator Mike Liby and district Maintenance Supervisor Dave Canfield, partially hidden. The Abilene Board of Education toured the AHS Vocational-Agriculture building and the bus barn before its March 18 meeting.

Automotive classes no longer will be offered at Abilene High School.

After administrators spent three months looking for an instructor and investigating other options, the Abilene school board made the tough call earlier this month to end the program.

But that doesn’t mean AHS students interested in auto tech are out of luck. Instead, the Abilene school district will bus them to Salina Area Technical College (SATC) in Salina to attend automotive classes at no cost while still attending AHS.

Although it’s new for auto tech students, AHS has been offering that option for students interested in other technical careers for years. A number of Abilene area students have graduated from AHS already having the necessary certification to go directly into high-paying tech careers, including nursing, welding, electrical engineering and others.

Teacher resigned

The future of the district’s auto program has been discussed on-and-off at board meetings since March when AHS auto tech instructor Josh Peterson submitted his resignation, effective at the end of the school year, to take a job teaching math at Abilene Middle School in August.

Abilene High School Principal Ben Smith said at the time finding an automotive teacher was going to be difficult because qualified people can make much higher salaries working in the private sector.

“The first thing we did was advertise for an automotive teacher, but nothing came in. Schools and universities aren’t really putting out teachers to teach automotive,” Smith said.

Although hoping a teacher could be found, the district began connecting with SATC to see what options were available, including:

• Having a SATC instructor teach classes in the AHS shop, allowing students to receive dual credit;

• Have an SATC instructor teach part time at the AHS shop or bus students to SATC and hire a part-time teacher for general classroom instruction at AHS;

• Keep promoting automotive technology and transport students to SATC so students get credits, get elective credits and become certified; or

• Do nothing and the program goes away.

NATEF certified shop

Staff quickly realized having a Salina Tech instructor use the AHS auto shop was not feasible because the shop would have to be NATEF (National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation) certified.

As a high school shop NATEF certification is not necessary; however, it must be certified for college use.

Smith said Peterson started auditing shop equipment to find out what tools were needed for NATEF certification. However, NATEF officials also would need to certify the garage, meaning that even if the right tools were purchased it would be difficult to get it done before August.

“There’s also a cost to that and time factor involved. I don’t know how long it takes to schedule them to do it, but it’s a process,” Smith said.

Plus, the AHS curriculum would have to be compared to SATC classes to “make sure curriculum gets in alignment to look at continuing our pathway while at the same time offering dual credit,” Smith said.

Certification

Smith explained the difference between CTE (Career Technical Education) certification verses regular classroom teacher certification and said while it’s possible that a person can come from industry to teach CTE classes, people usually aren’t interested because it would be a major pay cut.

“People who are qualified to do automotive have to have a teacher’s heart because they are going to be paid significantly less than they are in a garage,” Smith said. “So finding someone from industry who wants to come and teach automotive is a bit problematic — but it’s an option.”

Another of the options presented involved hiring a part-time instructor to teach the classroom portion in Abilene, while students get shop training in Salina. However, Interim Superintendent Gary Nelson noted that would not allow AHS to keep the automotive pathway.

“If we don’t teach it on our own in the building there’s no pathway anymore,” Principal Smith explained. “If we can keep the instruction in the building we can maintain the pathway. If they (students) go to Salina, the pathway likely goes away, but we still have some introduction feeding kids into it.”

“What’s the problem not having it as a pathway and these kids want to go ahead and get it?” asked Board Member Gregg Noel. “Our bottom line is to get them into an employment they enjoy. What are we losing by not having an auto tech pathway?”

Smith said the district is not losing much in terms of CTE funding and said eliminating the pathway eliminates the requirements for pathway funding.

“There’s extra time and consideration that goes into the instructor’s job duties when it’s part of a pathway,” Smith said.

Board Member Mark Wilson asked if the ag teachers could take on some automotive instructional duties if they geared the classes more toward small engine repair or diesel mechanics.

Smith said both small engine repair and diesel tech are approved classes in the automotive technology track with transportation and said they could conceivably be included as a class.

“We have a location to do it. We just need a person to do it,” Smith said.

“The two ag teachers wouldn’t be able to do that?” Wilson asked.

“No,” Smith replied, “and remember, we’re at one ag teacher right now. We’re still working on that.”

Board Member Kyle Becker said he didn’t know if AHS would even be able to find a part-time teacher and it could be difficult getting the shop up to speed. If Salina Tech already has the shop and instructors “they (students) are going to end up having a better experience in those type of classes than they have now.

“We won’t have a pathway for it, but we can still get the kids who are interested in that pathway to the right spots to maybe they (follow that career) and do it after high school,” he said.

Smith explained that most think the term “pathway” means “connected classes that start easy and get more rigorous,” but what it actually means is that when a student finishes a class, there’s a path to a post-secondary school.

“The pathway leads from Abilene High School to whatever school they want to go to because they finished that program (in high school),” Smith said.

“So whether it’s Salina Area or Beloit or somewhere else, they can have immediate qualified entry into that program — and then depending on what that program is — within a few months they can have an industry credential or working towards a two-year associate degree.

“The pathway leads to a credential or degree,” he concluded. “If they were to take classes simply through Salina Area Tech, they’re not losing out on that.”

Wilson and Board President Jeff Bathurst said they felt having an introductory class taught at AHS in small engine repair or diesel mechanics could help create student interest in the automotive field, but Wilson also noted that finding a person to teach it was a problem.

“The other thing is that teacher has to be passionate about it,” Noel added. “Are they going to make it exciting for those 51 students (in an intro class) or are we just putting someone in there to teach it and they’re not going to get excited about it anyway?”

Becker noted the board wouldn’t want to put in a teacher who wasn’t interested; that might deter students away.

Nelson said the board would talk about possible staffing during executive session if they wanted to try and keep a part-time teacher.

However, after returning to regular session following executive session, the board provided “direction” to allow students to pursue auto tech classes at Salina Area Tech, meaning the program would no longer be offered at Abilene High School.

Contact Kathy Hageman at reporter@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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