CTE Director Dave Gardner
Additional Washington County School District articles:
Introduction: The Washington County School District is in its
fifth year of using the Pitsco Education curriculum as the
technology portion of its required three-phase course at
the intermediate level (Grade 7). The district has enjoyed
unprecedented success on state math, science, and language
arts tests during the past few years, scoring well above state average
in all three subjects at the intermediate level. CTE Director Dave
Gardner has been overseeing the program for nearly two years. A
career educator who taught for 22 years in Utah schools, mostly in
Washington County, Gardner took some time to answer a few questions
about the district’s CTE program.
TPN: The Pitsco Network
DG: Dave Gardner, CTE Director, Washington County School District, St. George, Utah
TPN: Why did you want to be a CTE director?
DG: From an early age, I’ve been interested in CTE – it’s what I’ve lived. At age 12, I started working at the livestock auction every Saturday, along with raising show steers and horses. Later, in high school, I started working in a print shop and weekly newspaper. As a result of taking graphic arts in high school and combined industry experience, I helped to launch a screen print business my senior year. I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity to be creative and work with others. In subsequent years, I was involved in the real estate business and obtained a brokerage license. As a result, I’ve been mentored by many individuals in the CTE clusters.
TPN: As someone who has taught CTE and now heads up a district program, how do you define CTE?
DG: I look at CTE as real-world experience. Everything a student needs to know, I believe can be learned through CTE. Hands-on learning experiences truly help students connect and see career application.
TPN: The Pitsco curriculum program is a cornerstone at the seventh-grade level. How important is it to get kids off to a good start with CTE?
DG: It’s critical because it creates the foundation – a jumping-off point for students to say, “Hey, I’m looking forward to my eighth- or ninth-grade program.” We have the FACS programs, the business programs, the manufacturing program, the intro to transportation, the intro to communications program. Each pathway broadens for students, providing exposure to more career opportunities.
TPN: What sort of skills do students gain from the Pitsco curriculum?
DG: One of the greatest benefits that comes from the Pitsco Modules is that students team up and work together, which is real-world experience. They have to team with others and become more active learners, like in the real world. The Pitsco Modules enhance learning as students problem solve and work closely with their peers.
TPN: What is the Math-in-CTE program?
DG: Math-in-CTE is a program developed by the University of Louisville and the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. With Math-in-CTE, we have one or two CTE teachers team with a math teacher from their school in a week-long program. During this time the CTE teachers will rewrite two to three lesson plans while identifying the embedded math. The walls between teachers disappear and they recognize that, “It’s OK if I don’t understand a math skill. Now I have a math teacher who can assist and coach with teaching the math concept correctly.”
TPN: How do math and CTE officials work together to benefit students and teachers?
DG: Our district believes in working together across all disciplines. We work collaboratively with teachers saying, “We’re in this as a team, so how can we best bring relevance to the classroom? How can we integrate and enhance the math concepts already taught in CTE?” We simply invite our math teachers to join us and help us improve our delivery, so we are talking the same math language with students. The spirit of cooperation is fundamental in this student success.
TPN: You talk about relevance quite a bit. Please explain.
DG: We want to be sure that the outcomes in our labs are relevant to careers. Our students need to see the connection with their projects – and the relevance to the real world.
TPN: How does CTE give students options when learning about careers?
DG: If the student’s career goal is to become a nurse or a doctor, then becoming a phlebotomist could be a natural sequence in their career pathway. Having choices along the pathway motivates students to move at the speed and level they are ready for. Some people step off and then come back on. Some people step off their pathway and say, “This is the right place for me.” Or a student may simply want to be a dental hygienist and later, work toward becoming a dentist. Everyone fills a role.
TPN: Tell us how professional learning communities (PLC) function in the schools?
DG: Several years ago our district embraced professional learning communities. Our teachers are very willing to discuss and implement proven strategies that benefit student instruction. Administrators and teachers participate in learning walks twice a year. As teachers observe their colleagues engaged in teaching, they will often comment, “There’s a new and interesting strategy that I could use in my classroom.”
TPN: How have Washington County teachers had to adjust in the era of No Child Left Behind?
DG: Long gone are the days when a teacher thought, “Just let me close my classroom door and put newspaper over the window, I’ll just do my own thing.” Everyone in our district understands the importance of relevance in every subject. Through staff developers and administrators, teachers are provided with the learning data to support and improve instruction.
TPN: How do you help teachers to improve if their students’ scores are subpar?
DG: In our state we have implemented Skills Certification testing in every CTE program. One of our accounting components for Carl Perkins funding is our testing component. Included in this testing are an Internet-based assessment and an individual student evaluation by the teacher on prescribed performance objectives.
TPN: How else do you motivate CTE teachers?
DG: The best way to motivate our teachers is to be in their facility. Associating with teachers and students provides the opportunity to see their needs and discover ways to better assist them. We also encourage our teachers through Skills Certification testing. Through this process they can generate additional funding for their programs when their students score at or above state average. This provides an incentive to help with additional supply and equipment funds. The PLC model has also been a great motivator for our teachers.
TPN: What is the state of Utah doing to prepare students for careers?
DG: Our governor has introduced his 2020 initiative, with a goal that by 2020, 66 percent of the adult population in Utah will have either a four-year degree, a two-year associate, or a one-year certificate. Currently we are about 43 percent. Our state has made a solid effort to provide educational and career opportunities beyond high school, recognizing the importance in all areas related to postsecondary education.
TPN: How does CTE serve the entire spectrum of students in your school district?
DG: [Former CTE Director] Larry [Stephenson] provides an interesting analogy. He talks about the three strata of the student population. We spend a huge amount of time, energy, and resources for the top strata of students . . . we meet the needs of the bottom strata of students through special ed . . . and then, all too often we miss serving the needs of the middle-strata students. In CTE we recognize there are opportunities at every level as we prepare students for the ever-changing world of careers. The Pitsco program and Math-in-CTE are part of the effort in serving all our students.
TPN: Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve with the CTE program in Washington County?
DG: Obviously, we want to continue our tradition of working shoulder-to-shoulder with every professional in all disciplines. Our common goal is for CTE to “blend” into our core subjects. And for students to recognize that CTE is truly a preparation in their future education and career opportunities.