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More St. Lawrence County students attending BOCES

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CANTON - Each school day, nearly 45 percent of high school juniors and seniors in St. Lawrence County’s public schools leave their home district to take classes at one of the career and technical centers operated by the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

The growing trend illustrates that regional high schools could work in the north country, according to some educators.

“We’ve already got transportation streams set up,” said Thomas A. Burns, superintendent of St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES. “In several of our districts, more than half their juniors and seniors are taking classes at our tech centers.”

Faced with dwindling financial resources and declining student enrollments, many local school districts have been forced to cut elective classes, programs and teachers over the past several years.

As a result, Mr. Burns said, a growing number of districts are making up the shortfall by sending students to programs offered at one of the three BOCES technical centers. The districts have to pay tuition, but they get reimbursed for a portion of their costs through BOCES aid.

“Because districts have been in tough financial situation they are cutting elective courses at the high school level,” he said. “The career and technical education options have become more viable.”

This year, 43.19 percent of eligible students in the region’s 18 public school districts are enrolled at one of BOCES three career and technical centers, commonly known as Seaway Tech, Norwood, Northwest Tech, Ogdensburg and Southwest Tech, Fowler.

Mr. Burns believes the percentage may be the highest out of all the state’s BOCES regions.

The percentage is higher than neighboring BOCES regions, such as Jefferson-Lewis, which reports about 27 percent, and Franklin-Essex, which has about 32 percent of its juniors and seniors at tech centers.

The student portion varies among the districts, ranging from a high of 64 percent at Harrisville Central to a low of 21 percent from Massena Central. (See chart on page A-4).

The three centers serve a total of 1,006 students this year, a number that’s projected to climb next year, said Rachelle E. Romodo, BOCES supervisor of instruction. This year’s total compares to 994 during the 2011-12 school year.

She said the number of students in the allied health program, for example, is set to increase from 64 to 81 next year. Also, cosmetology is expected to increase from 99 to 124 students.

Besides traditional programs like cosmetology, automotive technology and construction trades, BOCES has expanded in recent years to offer more academically challenging programs such as allied health and pre-engineering, both one-year programs. Other BOCES offerings include culinary arts, criminal justice, early childhood education, building trades, metal working, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, environmental technology, electronics, graphic communications, computer and business technology, and health careers.

Next year, a pharmacy technician program may be offered in conjunction with Kinney Drugs Inc., Gouverneur. While most programs are for two years, expanding into one-year programs provides more options for high school seniors who may have more room in their schedules for BOCES classes.

“We are in constant communication with our districts. We try to be responsive to what the districts are requesting,” Ms. Romodo said.

Faced with a tough job market, more teenagers are receptive to the idea of learning a trade or technical skills that may help them land a job or continue their education.

Some students want to have a job skill so they can earn money while they’re attending college to help pay their tuition bills, Ms. Romodo said.

Using cosmetology as an example, she said some students want to make that field their career, while others see the income potential that can help them pursue other goals.

“They may not be interested in being a cosmetologist for the rest of their life, but they want a solid income while they’re going to college,” she said. “Our programs provide skills that can provide a stable, good income.”

The idea of creating regional high schools in St. Lawrence County was one option mentioned in a 2010 Regional Consolidation, Reorganization and Shared Services Feasibilty Study prepared by the Rural Schools Association. The state does not have legislation in place to authorize regional high schools, but supporters are pushing state officials to create the mechanism.

Concerns have been raised regarding the distances students would have to travel to reach a regional high school. Others are concerned that individual districts would lose their identity, traditions and their own sports teams. Depending on the model that’s chosen, districts could retain their own elementary schools and middle schools.

Supporters argue that a regional high school would be able to offer more advanced placement classes, enhanced music and art programs and a more comprehensive academic program for students.

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