For the past nine months, I’ve been promoting the revised mission of the District with the community: We exist to provide an education that affords our students limitless opportunity for the future. Our “bumper sticker” message related to this is, “We are Visalia Unified. We educate kids. We create futures.” It’s been fun sharing this message with the community and very rewarding hearing these words and the overall message shared by staff at school sites. It is a message of promise for kids and their families and a commitment by our entire staff to work hard to make it come true.

Many of you know that I was a shop teacher. I started my career in Visalia Unified and taught drafting and wood at Mt. Whitney for twelve years. I believe that career technical education (CTE) has value for all kids, regardless of their educational pathway. There is a core of knowledge found within CTE programs that is a powerful combination of technical training and career readiness skills. But times have changed, and the expectations in all areas of education and also of industry have grown. So while the CTE programs of the current day contain that same core that I taught back in the 1980s and 1990s, the shell that surrounds those programs has changed to meet the demands of the 21st century.

One place where this is very apparent is in our newly-established Futures Project. This project is the result of District efforts to build a stronger, work-based learning program and to develop broader and deeper community partnerships with local industry. The Futures Project is a work-based learning initiative intended to engage the Visalia business community in developing meaningful work-based learning experiences for VUSD students. Work-based learning gives students the opportunity to learn a variety of skills by expanding the walls of classroom learning into the community. By connecting classroom theory and actual industry practice, we create more meaningful experiences for students. Work-based learning experiences include a very diverse range of activities, including guest speakers, job shadowing, industry tours, mentorships, and internships.

A few weeks ago, we held a very successful kick-off event for the Futures Project hosted by the Visalia Partners in Education and co-sponsored by the Visalia Economic Development Corporation, Visalia Chamber of Commerce, City of Visalia, and Visalia Unified. That we are able to assemble such a powerful coalition of partners for this project speaks volumes for the value that this brings to our local business community—and that reflects positively on how our community values education for our community’s kids.