Commentary: Investing in vocational schools is definitely a winning strategy

I want all Massachusetts’ students to have successful careers and futures. That is why I believe in vocational technical schools and opening the door to opportunity for every single young person. Career vocational technical education (CVTE) is a 21st century three-tiered educational superhighway to success. 

Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal to invest $15 million in CVTE holds enormous promise and potential — for vocational school students, for those in traditional high schools who want to learn additional skills, and for adults who want to learn a marketable skill and begin a career debt-free. Today’s CVTE is a far cry from your grandparents’ days, when students — usually boys — who weren’t cut out for college took “shop” type classes. Back then, there was a stigma attached to vocational classes.

Not so today. CVTE schools not only provide high-quality academic programs, but also a plethora of in-demand career programs, such as web development, culinary arts, graphic design, medical and health assisting, nursing, HVAC (heat, ventilation and air conditioning), cosmetology, criminal justice, construction technology, management, and marketing.

The variety of programs forge pathways to good careers, higher education, and successful futures. It’s a beautiful opportunity for high schools, colleges, and businesses to collaborate to create and sustain Massachusetts’ middle-class.

The 2019 valedictorian at my school, Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, is emblematic of what is possible. Fatuma Hussein is now attending Northeastern University on a full scholarship. She took advantage of Madison Park’s dual-enrollment program (RoxMAPP) by taking classes in our Health Technology program while also attending Bunker Hill Community College free of charge. She graduated with a Madison Park diploma and a few credits short of an associate’s degree, and started at Northeastern with two free years of college behind her.

Spending $15 million on vocational education is a smart investment for our communities — not only because of the individual students it would serve, but also because of the economic impact. Excellent schools like Madison Park are building an infrastructure of thousands of people who are ready to enter the workforce with marketable skills and hit the ground running.

Madison Park has partnerships with major employers, including Boston Medical Center, and with labor unions that offer family sustaining careers, good healthcare, and retirement security -- like the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), New England Carpenters, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). These and other professional partnerships ensure that schools like Madison Park are providing top notch training and skills that employers across the Commonwealth are hiring for.

CVTE seals the cracks that too many students fall through when they feel uninspired or can’t see a path forward. Higher education is a dream for many of our students, and we make sure they reach that goal. A career they’re passionate about is a dream for many of our students, too. At Madison Park, we make sure that students have access to whatever dream is right for them. 

When we open the doors of opportunity, it’s amazing how many people walk through. Preparing our students for the workforce they will enter is smart. Supporting the training of those eager to learn a trade or skill is an investment in our economy and our communities. Schools like Madison Park can offer students hope, potential, and a bright future. Investing in career technical vocation schools is a winning strategy.

Kevin McCaskill is executive director of Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury, the only vocational school in the Boston Public School system.