Dexter school start includes push for technical education – Roswell Daily Record

Bud Kunkel, a Dexter High School graduate and the past chairman of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., talks Wednesday morning with Dexter schools educators about career technical education. Superintendent Miles Mitchell is seated next to him. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Dexter school teachers will open their doors to students Thursday for the 2021-22 academic year, but before pencils hit paper they heard from a member of a local group about its effort to encourage local students to consider technical education and local jobs.

“We think that there is about 60 to 65% of the graduates here at Dexter High School that go on to a college or university. That is ballpark,” said Bud Kunkel, past chairman of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. “That doesn’t include the youngsters who started in the ninth grade but don’t make it to the 12th grade. So that means there are 35% to 40% of your students that will not go on to college for whatever reasons.”

The economic development group has been working with Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, public school districts in Chaves County and local employers for a few years in a concerted effort to solve two problems: a lack of trained and available workers for local businesses and the exodus of young adults from the area who aren’t aware of or trained for the good-paying careers in the county. Part of the EDC effort has resulted in educational programs, internships and apprenticeships, and scholarships.

In the past two weeks, EDC members have visited every public school district in Chaves County to talk with educators about career technical education, or CTE. They were invited to address Dexter educators during the district’s in-service day before the start of classes by the new superintendent, Miles Mitchell, who has spent much of his 23-year-career in technical education, including his most recent former position as an agricultural education and metal fabrication teacher at Artesia High School.

Mitchell said after the talk that Kunkel was using estimates about graduate outcomes that came from discussions with district counselors. During Mitchell’s own remarks, he told staff and teachers that he wanted to make it a priority to obtain updated data about graduate outcomes, with details about how many go to four-year colleges, to two-year colleges, to other types of vocational training programs, to the military or directly to jobs.

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“The more we can track that, I think that data can be brought back to you guys as teachers and give us a target audience of what we need to do,” he said. “We are going to push in that direction so we know what our target audience is.”

Miller also said that the school district also considers its partnerships with employers and the Economic Development Corp. to be crucial for student success.

“When we talk about moving students forward, that means moving them into a career,” he said, “whether that is immediately out of high school, whether it is after a two-year college or technical school, or a four-year or master’s degree program.”

Kunkel, the 1968 Dexter High School valedictorian, told teachers, counselors and coaches that he considers them the “tip of the spear” in the effort to identify students starting in about the sixth grade that might be interested in or suited to technical education. He noted that it can be difficult to get people to move to Chaves County for entry-level technical jobs and that local leaders need to have a mindset of “growing our own.” He also said later that local students often aren’t even aware of career opportunities in the local area.

Kunkel said educators rely on a functioning economy for their own jobs and are key to creating productive citizens and economic growth.

“Growing our own labor force locally using CTE is obviously a better alternative to creating a functioning, local labor force,” he said. “This will ensure that our local economy will provide opportunities for all citizens in our area. I don’t think we can or should count on another entity or anyone else to make our local labor force functional, except ourselves.”

During Thursday’s talk and prior CTE presentations, Kunkel and other EDC leaders have talked about good-paying jobs in growth fields in the county, with training provided by certificate or degree programs offered at ENMU-Roswell, as well as other colleges.

The growth jobs include aviation maintenance technicians, who can earn $51,250 a year with benefits after a 22 to 24 month training program. Automotive technology is expected to need at least 46,000 new employees in the next five years nationwide, with trained mechanics in the local area able to earn as much as $62,000 after a training program that includes job experience. Experienced electricians; heating, air conditioning and ventilation technicians; and welders also can earn up to $90,000 a year.

According to a September 2019 report by the U.S. Department of Education, 77% of U.S. high school students had taken at least one CTE course from 2009 to 2013, with 37% concentrating on a CTE program. CTE students also had higher graduation rates, higher rates of college attendance, higher employment rates and higher annual earnings eight years after graduation.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at [email protected]