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News Maryland Harford County Bel Air

A new Tech? [Editorial]

It's only fair to give credit where credit is due, and the Harford County delegation in Annapolis did manage to accomplish something important and meaningful for the people of the county.

Legislation to establish a task force to study vocational and technological education opportunities made it through the General Assembly thanks in part to Dels. Mary-Dulany James and Rick Impallaria. It's especially noteworthy because James is very much part of the Democratic Party establishment and Impallaria is very much of the iconoclastic branch of the Republican party. The unlikely pair managed to do exactly what people who disagree on a lot of subjects are supposed to do when they're elected to a public body: focus on the areas where they agree.

Getting a committee appointed, however, is only part of what needs to be done to address a problem seized upon this year by legislators. Harford Technical High School, the original magnet school in the county, has long been operating beyond its official capacity. Years ago, technical high schools – designed to prepare graduates to enter the workforce more so than go on to college – were held in low regard. Not so much in the past 20 years. Respect and demand for professions such as entry level nursing, carpentry, auto mechanic, plumber, electrician and such are high and increasing.

There were times when a vo-tech school may have been seen as a school of last resort, but those days are long gone.

Increasing technical high school capacity for students in Harford County is something that seems to be pretty clearly needed.

It's become rather obvious that something needs to be addressed; Harford County Public Schools also has a committee studying the issue. (Among the things that needs to be addressed at this point is that two commissions will be assigned to study essentially the same subject at the same time, the tiny tempest resulting from competing commissions notwithstanding.)

How to increase that capacity is an open question; there are plenty of possibilities, and few limitations, that need to be taken into account.

The limitations relate to the cost of building a new school relative to the amount of high school classroom space available in Harford County. Thanks to an unexpected incremental decline in enrollment over the past decade, combined with the opening of Patterson Mill High School, which roughly coincided with the slow enrollment decline, there is substantial excess capacity at the high school level.

To flat out build a new technical high school with capacity for somewhere in the range of 1,200 to1,500 students would only add to the costly problem of maintaining a too-large infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Harford County has experience with countywide magnet programs at other schools, notably the Math and Science Academy at Aberdeen High School. Any commission studying the issue of technical high schools as magnet schools should do a serious evaluation of the successes and shortcomings associated with the various magnet and near-magnet programs in high schools across the county.

It may prove effective to modernize and convert an existing high school for use as a centralized magnet school for additional technical programs as well as other magnet offerings.

Such a plan could prove disruptive to a community whose high school is suddenly turned into the new technical school. Then again, such a school could well become a source of community pride, every bit as strong as the school pride associated with a traditional all-in-one high school.

It might also be determined that adding new technical magnet programs at schools across the county is an effective way of dealing with the issue at hand – though the matter of providing transportation to the existing magnet programs already has proven to be sticky.

The bottom line here is that when the subject of technical education opportunities in Harford is taken up for study by a state-appointed group, it shouldn't immediately become a discussion of where to build the new tech, or how much it will cost to add on to the existing one. There are a lot of realistic, though not immediately obvious, possibilities out there and an issue of this magnitude deserves to have as many of them considered as is possible.

Legislation to create a task force to study the vocational-technology opportunities in Harford passed the General Assembly.

Del. James introduced legislation to create a task force to study the vocational-tech landscape in the county after many of the programs had been shut down by the Harford County Public Schools.

In recent years, the plumbing program at Harford Technical High School was cut and a shop teacher was removed from Fallston High School, Impallaria said during a delegation meeting earlier in the session. Impallaria said the delegation received letters from people around the county who support more vo-tech options in the area.

"We need to educate people for various careers, not just educate them so they are college ready," Impallaria said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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