Cumberland's technical high school on schedule for September opening

By Thomas Barlas, Staff Writer for the Press of Atlantic City on April 6, 2016

VINELAND — There is dust everywhere, and tile, cabinets, lockers and doors to be installed and lots and lots of other jobs that need to be finished. There are five months to go before the first 242 students walk into the new Cumberland County Technology Education Center here. “It will be ready,” said Superintendent Dina Elliott.

While it may not look it, work on the $70 million, 203,000-square-foot facility, designed by Garrison Architects of Bellmawr, and Cumberland County’s first full-time technical high school, is on time and on budget, county officials said.

CCTEC construction began in April 2015. Classes will begin shortly after Labor Day, with maintenance, teachers and other staff arriving in July and August to become familiar with the building.

Cumberland County is one of the last counties in New Jersey to have a full-time technical high school. Elliott said her staff toured many of the other schools, gathering information that led to a functional and cost-efficient design based on what does and doesn’t work at the other facilities.

The result, project manager Bob Prate said, is a building that should function “well after you and I are gone.”One of the main highlights of the building is a student-run cafe and interactive media center. The center allows students, either individually or in small groups, a place to work independently or collaboratively and plug in their laptops, tablets and other devices. The center and cafe have access to two technology laboratories, each of which can hold 40 students.

Cumberland Co TEC
The new Cumberland County Technical Education Center building in Vineland pictured Thursday March 31, 2016 is scheduled to open in September 2016. The building can handle 1200 students. (Michael Ein / Staff Photographer)

Cumberland Co TEC GreenhouseA horticultural greenhouse gets tiled at the new Cumberland County Technical Education Center building in Vineland is pictured Thursday March 31, 2016. The school is scheduled to open in September 2016 and can handle 1200 students. (Michael Ein / Staff Photographer)

Cumberland Co TECThe building trades mechanical shop at the new Cumberland County Technical Education Center building in Vineland is pictured Thursday March 31, 2016. The school is scheduled to open in September 2016 and can handle 1200 students. (Michael Ein / Staff Photographer).

There’s a 1,000-square-foot law-enforcement classroom, which also houses a weapons simulator. The school’s cafeteria holds 500 people. Students can opt to schedule lunch there or in the media center. That decision is one of several that students can make under a school program called Students Maximizing Achievement Relationships Resources and Time.

The program, called SMARRT for short, emphasizes students making decisions on everything from where to eat lunch to scheduling meetings with teachers, said Assistant Superintendent Mario Olson. The goal is to have students take increasing responsibility for their actions, similar to what happens in the workforce or other aspects of their adult lives, he said.

CCTEC is part of a county plan to improve its economy, one of the worst in the state for decades, through a heavy dose of education. CCTEC is on the campus of Cumberland County College, which opened its first satellite campus last year in Bridgeton and is building another satellite campus in downtown Millville. The county, which also built the $8.2 million Cumberland County Center for Workforce & Economic Development on the CCC campus, is hoping a better-trained workforce can attract new businesses.

While work on the school is proceeding smoothly, there have been some bumps. In November, William Shaughnessy, a former longtime recruiter for the school, told the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders that CCTEC’s entrance criteria, which include ranking students based on grades, attendance and an admissions test, are too selective and will eliminate students who might benefit most from a hands-on vocational program. He recommended a sort of lottery program for eligible students.

The issue of selective application for vocation schools is sensitive. Opponents contend vocation schools get to choose their students, taking the most likely to succeed and leaving the remainder of the students to attend their local high schools.

The Atlantic County Institute of Technology received about 1,000 applications last year and accepted only about 500 students. ACIT officials contend some admission criteria is necessary given the specialty nature of the offered courses.

Statistics provided by CCTEC show the school had 507 applications. Admissions exams were taken by 494 students, the statistics show.

 

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