An investment in talent

NE Michigan schools partner to seek state career-readiness grant

News Photo by Julie Goldberg In this photo from March, Alpena High School graduate Nick Schultz welds in the lab at the high school’s Career and Technical Education Program.

ALPENA — School districts in Alpena, Alcona, and Montmorency counties are working together to seek a Marshall Plan grant from the state that could help students be career- and college-ready when they graduate from high school.

Alpena Public Schools, Alcona Community Schools, Hillman Community Schools, Atlanta Community Schools, and the Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona Educational Service District are all involved in the grant request.

The Marshall Plan Talent for Innovation Grants will provide school districts funding for new and expanded curricula, certification programs based on competency, professional equipment, a competency-based education model, and career navigators. The state has more than $59 million in grants to award.

The grant is currently in the third round after two pre-qualifying rounds. The State Board of Education will meet on Dec. 11 and is expected to make a decision then on where to award the grants.

Alpena Superintendent John VanWagoner said the grant request included what the districts plan to do with the money, who is a part of the talent consortium in the three-county region, and what all parties involved would do after receiving the grant.

VanWagoner said the grant is designed to bring together K-12 school districts, two- or four-year community colleges or universities, and employers to talk about what the workforce needs in their area.

“We’re really trying to bring in all those people in our three-county area to be able to make sure we have a unified plan and that we are able to work towards the future and having some funding and some resources to be able to coordinate all of that work,” VanWagoner said.

The grant request from the districts is for just over $2 million. The grant would be used toward equipment, college and career navigators who, in partnership with Alpena Community College, would help students plan for their futures, VanWagoner said.

Joyce McCoy, director of the Alpena High School Career and Technical Education Program, said that, if the districts are awarded the grant, three talent navigators would be hired to help students make good career choices.

“They would provide career explorations for students in all grades K-12,” McCoy said.

The grant would also be used to purchase more CTE equipment. McCoy said Alpena High was built in 1967 and needs upgrades to the labs so those can look like labs in the workforce. The grant would also be used toward transportation to help Alcona, Hillman, and Atlanta students come to Alpena to participate in the CTE program, McCoy said.

Most school districts in the state have a property tax in place to help fund a CTE program, VanWagoner said. Since this three-county area does not have a CTE millage, the grant would help provide more opportunities for the districts and students.

“Any resources that we can have to help offset our costs of being able to make sure that any kid that wants to learn a skilled trade in those very high-demand career and technical education areas have that opportunity,” VanWagoner said.

The grant would help the districts prepare the students for life after college. VanWagoner said resources would be available to help students develop skills that are needed by area employers. He said the goal is that students will be able to grow, increase productivity, and be able to have a high living wage, so they can flourish and stay in the area.

The districts are working with government agencies and employers in all three counties to provide support for students to be able to work toward career- and college-readiness.

Alcona Superintendent Dan O’Connor said the grant would be a significant infusion of resources to Alcona schools. He said the district currently pays tuition and covers the costs of busing to send students to Alpena High and ACC for courses and said the grant would offer some reimbursement opportunities.

“Our students would also benefit with a grant-funded career navigator position to help facilitate students navigating through high school, getting them some work-based or internship opportunities in high-need careers,” O’Connor said. “The grant also includes opportunities for our classes that are in demand to add equipment and supplies to bring it up to industry standards.”

AMA ESD Superintendent Scott Reynolds said the ESD is proud to partner with the school districts on the grant request. He said it’s an opportunity and a responsibility of an educational organization to support the students and help them be career-ready.

With the AMA ESD’s involvement, the school districts were able to apply for a larger amount of money. He said the grant will help each district in some capacity.

Reynolds commended McCoy and VanWagoner for their initiative with the grant request. He said they acknowledged a need and the grant would be a win-win for everyone involved.

“It’s incredible what happens when people come together and problem-solve,” Reynolds said. “Hats off to Alpena, also, for getting an early start and letting students from Alcona, Hillman, and Atlanta participate in their CTE program.”

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.