By Brandi Underwood
With more than 80 high school students currently on the waiting list to get a spot in one of Fayette Institute of Technology’s 18 programs, principal Barry Crist is well aware of the crucial role that his technical school is playing in the changing educational landscape.
“The fastest growing segment of the community and technical colleges’ population right now is students with four-year degrees,” said Crist. “People are graduating from college and can’t find jobs.”
Crist thinks that career and technical colleges often have a negative connotation, but believes that attitude is now slowly changing.
“We have really added a continuing-education component to the CTE (career and technical education) world, to where you leave here with job-entry skills, but you are also prepared to go to college,” said Crist. “That’s been our main focus here for the last seven or eight years.”
Every program FIT offers is currently filled to capacity for the 2014-2015 school year, and Crist attributes that to the diversity and practicality of his programming.
“The cool thing about it is everything we do has a paraprofessional side, a continuing-education side and then should have a seamless transition into a four-year school,” said Crist.
Once students complete a program at FIT, they are prepared to transition into a two-year associate’s program at a community and technical school. After which, they can opt to continue into a bachelor’s degree, Crist said.
Eight years ago, Crist said, the school implemented an application process in an effort to add value to FIT’s programming and make entry more competitive.
“It’s that old adage that if you put your bathtub out in the yard and put a ‘free’ sign on it, nobody will take it,” said Crist, “but if you put $10 on it, somebody is at least going to steal it.”
Crist said the application process boosted FIT to a new level, and they now have the option to pick and choose which students are accepted into FIT’s programs.
“Out of the 60 kids coming into the health care programs next year, the grade point average is a 3.2, and the most days they missed (from school) is four,” said Crist.
“The word is out there that if you want to get in (to FIT), you have to start planning now.”
Crist said his students have recently been working on their senior projects, one of which includes a 3,400-square-foot house built from the ground up.
Students from FIT’s masonry, carpentry and electrical engineering programs are heavily involved in the house’s construction, which also included pouring the foundation.
“We take two years to build the house so that students see every facet of the building process,” said Crist. “A lot of people build houses to make money; we are building a house for a learning process, so it’s done the right way.”
Crist said FIT is one of the only career and technical colleges in the state that buys property and builds a house on location, including landscaping. After completion, the property is auctioned to the highest bidder.
Last week, Fayette County Schools Superintendent Keith Butcher announced that the West Virginia Department of Education named FIT one of three of 2014’s West Virginia Premier Career Technical Centers.
Associate State Superintendent of Schools Kathy J. D’Antoni said this recognition is the result of the student achievement levels that are “exemplary in all measurable career technical education categories.”
After also being named a West Virginia School of Excellence and West Virginia Exemplary School for 2013, Christ said the award helps support his belief that his school is one of the top technical schools in the state.
“My philosophy is: If you don’t ask for much, you don’t get much,” said Crist. “We expect excellence, and we get excellence.”
Crist said FIT was judged on its WorkKeys test scores, a hands-on performance exam, attendance and job placement statistics.
“We guide our school from craft councils, people from business and industry who come in and test our students on hands-on performance evaluations, and they give us suggestions and feedback on what they would like to see improved,” said Crist.
When craft councils told Crist a few years ago that students were performing well but their interview skills were lacking, FIT linked with human resource specialists from various industries to help students with interviewing skills, Crist said.
Crist said his 2012-2013 graduating class has a 99 percent job placement rate, which provides that they are either working, enrolled in the military or continuing their education. Furthermore, 88 percent of the students got jobs in their fields, Crist said.
As the demand for his programming is expanding, Crist said the school desperately needs additional space and funding in order to accommodate more students.
“We have got to expand programs, and in expanding the programs we have to have more space,” said Crist. “Every nook and cranny of my building is packed full.”
Crist would like to implement an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) program, plumbing certification program and cosmetology program.
“Once a student is involved in career and technical education, the dropout rate is less than 2 percent,” said Crist. “But yet we spend thousands of dollars doing all these other things to keep kids from dropping out of school, and we ought to be building bigger career and technical colleges.”
Crist said the numbers don’t lie, and he hopes the negative connotation associated with technical school will continue to diminish with time.
“We still have a battle to fight, but that perception is slowly but surely dying,” said Crist.
For more information on FIT’s programming, visit www.fayettetech.net.
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