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Education partnership aligns students, needs of workforce

Denise Jonas

An education partnership has been launched to help high school students in West Fargo, Fargo and Northern Cass school districts prepare for college and 21st century technical careers.

The vision of the Cass County Career and Technical Education Consortium is to build a skilled workforce to meet local and regional labor market demands.

A key component, said Director Denise Jonas, is providing career counseling to help high school students recognize their strengths, college and career goals.

More than 800,000 jobs exist in trade, transportation and utilities sectors in the U.S. and nearly 300,000 in manufacturing. Health care makes up 12 to 20 percent of the fastest-growing occupations, according to the Association for Career and Technical Education.

Partnerships with business and industry, in areas like agricultural science, diesel technology, health science, aviation, information technology and engineering, will play strongly into the CCCTEC footprint, Jonas said.

“We take their feedback and try to align our curriculum to the needs of today’s workforce,” she said. “It makes learning come to life through that connection.”

For instance, a business partnership currently links West Fargo High School computer programming students to Microsoft, she said.

For some industries, the demand is high for specialized training but there is not a program for them.

“Diesel technology does not exist at the high school level in North Dakota,” Jonas said.

Local businesses like RDO Equipment, Butler Machinery and General Equipment, have expressed interest in that curriculum area.

“They have been at the table saying, we’re going to help you if you need resources and tools,” Jonas said.

The Fargo Jet Center and University of North Dakota are partnering in aviation.

The credit for that goes to Dave Gravdahl, West Fargo’s Aviation 1 teacher, Jonas said.

“We could have never made that happen for our kids without them,” she said.

The consortium works “very closely” with higher education institutions like North Dakota State College of Science and North Dakota State University, she said.

For instance, NDSU’s Lead the Way program may be a resource for students considering an engineering career.

Students enrolled in West Fargo High School’s recreational engines class may want to further their education by enrolling in the NDSCS Power Sports Technology program, she said.

The Cass County CTE Consortium is currently operating in a virtual mode, Jonas said.

With NDSCS considering developing a local campus in West Fargo, there may be an opportunity to share programs at the high school level. That is being discussed, Jonas said.

Program partnering between the three CCCTEC members is also a goal.

Northern Cass School District has built a greenhouse “that hopefully we can use to expose more kids to ag science,” Jonas said.

Jonas, who was previously the principal at Liberty Middle School and assistant principal at Cheney Middle School in West Fargo, was hired in July to oversee the three-member consortium.

Prior to that, she was CTE director at Devils Lake Public Schools and executive director of the Northeast Education Services Cooperative, located in Devils Lake.

She holds a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership, master’s degree in career technical education, a bachelor’s degree in business education and bachelor’s in business administration.

Jonas credits West Fargo High School shop teacher Bob Bjornson with helping steer her career goals.

Bjornson was her high school shop teacher at Esmond, N.D.

Jonas still has the hope chest that Bjornson taught her to design and build, she said.

“He inspired me to apply math and be creative with projects,” Jonas said. “He’s the reason I love career technical education.”