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The board also approved the Career and Technical Education local plan system presented by Tierra Stark — Watauga High School assistant principal and Watauga Innovation Academy coordinator. In order for the CTE programs to continue to receive funding, Stark said the board must approve the plan, which is then presented at the state level.

Stark stated that the CTE program’s goals for the next year are to “hire the best and grow the best,” help students become productive citizens by providing credentials and certificates, provide work-based learning — to give students the opportunity to learn from industry advisors and experts in the field — and cross-curricular education for students to not only develop CTE skills but grow in academics.

In the past year, Stark said WCS had 2,311 students (sixth through 12th grade) participate in CTE courses with the help of 23 CTE teachers. Of these students, 161 were CTE concentrators at WHS/WIA, meaning these students had taken four or more CTE courses.

WCS also promotes work-based learning through the CTE program, Stark said. She mentioned that the CTE program has about 120 to 150 interns a year at various places across the county such as Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, the elementary schools, Appalachian State University, automotive/welding shops, the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office and Blue Ridge Electric.

In the CTE’s local plan system, it’s graded on six indicators — reading and language arts, math, technical attainment, secondary school completion, student graduation rates and secondary placement. WCS is then compared to other school districts in the northwest region of the state and an affinity group (comprised of schools of similar population, demographics and number of high schools), Stark said.

Stark shared statistics with the board members, including that 94.7 percent of its CTE concentrators passed technical skill assessments aligned to industry standards, 97 percent of WCS concentrators graduated from a secondary school at some point and 99.2 percent of CTE students had a positive outcome.

Marlett and Trew also presented information to the board that they had gathered during their school visits. Marlett said she and Trew had made it a goal to visit with students from every school in the county and collected data based on their feedback.

“A lot of eighth-graders are nervous about coming to the high school, and they feel like they don’t know a lot of people from other schools,” Marlett said. “A lot of students have been calling for more interaction between elementary schools such as more collaborative field trips and more preparation for high school.”

At the high school level, concerns were voiced to the student reps about increasing access to mental health resources. Marlett said while the high school has the ASK center available to students, students are apprehensive about going to the center because of the stigma surrounding mental health.

“It comes off as a passing sort of clinical description,” Marlett said. “Whereas it’s something that many, many students deal with. There’s a lot of stigma around it … it comes across as some sort of dangerous disease rather than something a lot of people just live with.”