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BOSTON — Students at vocational-technical schools will soon have a new partner as they prepare for careers and college.
Lt. Gov. Tim Murray announced yesterday that the state is starting a search for an associate commissioner for vocational, workforce and college-readiness programs.
“This position will work with our community colleges, and work with regional employment boards to make sure that we’re meeting employers’ needs,” Murray said after meeting with vocational and technical school administrators at the Statehouse. “Increasingly, employers say they want more vocational-technical training.”
The new associate commissioner will collaborate with schools, state agencies, colleges and businesses to improve training, strengthen ties with local employers, and open schools to more people seeking job training.
This could include programs to help students earn associates degrees or certificates more quickly; adjusting vocational education to meet demands of employers; or opening schools for night or weekend classes for adults, Murray said.
The state had such a liaison in the past, but the position was eliminated in 1993.
Superintendents of local vocational and technical schools welcomed the news.
“It really highlights the importance of vocational-technical opportunities for the students in the commonwealth and it also sends the message the commonwealth values the work that we are doing,” said Mary Jo Santoro, superintendent of Greater Lowell Technical High School in Tyngsboro.
Greater Lowell Technical is one of 60 vocational and technical schools in the state, which serve more than 44,000 students. The school has 2,100 students, and has seen demand grow in the past decade into a waiting list of 500.
The region’s other technical schools have seen similar increases in applicants and some have waiting lists.
“If we could get creative about offering opportunities to expand utilization of facilities and programs, that would be great,” Santoro said.
Vocational and technical schools also have higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates compared to overall high-school rates, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“We’re the proof in the pudding. Students come every day, work hard, graduate on time and get decent jobs,” said Charles Lyons, superintendent of Shawsheen Valley Technical High School in Billerica.
Lyons applauded Murray’s announcement, and said he supports expanding access to the school’s facilities if there is adequate funding.
Shawsheen Tech is already working to improve job placement and expand services. It is building a $4.6 million life-sciences wing to expand its medical and dental-technician programs.
Lyons also supports allowing students to earn associates degrees.
“We are committed to modifying our curricula to meet the needs of the labor market,” he said.
Local superintendents were quick to note that vocational-technical schools are not only focused on job placement, but have increased emphasis on academics
“Parents realize vocational-technical education is quite different than they remember as children,” said Judith Klimkiewicz, superintendent of Nashoba Valley Technical High School in Westford.
Students graduating from the region’s vocational-technical schools attend a variety of community colleges, and state and private universities, including Harvard, Boston College and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.