Our Views: A journey to a new start

If one of the tougher challenges for Louisiana’s high schools is vocational education, we are encouraged that the state’s new efforts are being launched over the next couple of years in collaboration with business and industry.

Time is a-wasting.

That’s not just because of the huge boom in new petrochemical manufacturing and natural gas exporting projects, to the tune of $50 billion or so. That’s a huge number of jobs in everything from welding and fabrication, employing engineers down to workmen’s helpers.

Yet the issue of career education is broader, and time is not on the side of the state’s efforts, despite some strong expansion of community and technical colleges begun under Gov. Mike Foster in the 1990s.

In high schools, challenges might be even greater than in the post-high-school training of vocational schools and community colleges. For one thing, of course, despite improvement lately, too many Louisiana students don’t even finish high school; for the increasingly technical environments of today’s business world, literacy and the ability to think are vital to employment.

A plan by state Superintendent of Education John White is called Jump Start, and it envisions school districts across the state working with technical colleges and private business. Regional teams will forge collaborations that identify the fields that can pay good wages, and generate the internships or half-day school programs that can supplement the curriculum and give students a jump-start on a well-paying job.

The plan eventually would affect about 25,000 students, White said, but he acknowledges the difficulties ahead. Whether in rural areas or urban districts, the intensive programs are sparse on the ground — those that will make a student into the holder of a both a high school diploma and a certificate of proficiency in a field that can pay well.

The staff available to schools and qualified to teach the vocational programs at a high level is not unlimited, and many of the internships or apprenticeships that are effective require more money spent on up-to-date equipment for training.

Getting this done will be difficult, whether in the country or the city, but we commend White and his team for reaching out across the state to develop the plan.

In its comprehensive approach, Jump Start might be unique in the United States. Yet the schools from which these students and future technicians are drawn face significant problems with everything from attendance to attentiveness, much less meeting meaningful academic benchmarks.

Is this hopeless? We don’t mean to say that, but it is clear this new plan will require innovation and a great deal of flexibility from leaders at the state, district and school level. And business and industry will also have a vital role in making Jump Start into a success.