Senator Angus King Visits PATHS
Senator Angus King Visits PATHS

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After hosting a discussion at the Portland Arts & Technology High School (PATHS) on career and technical education, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) said, “This kind of education is more important than ever … because of the interconnection with the economy.”

King’s March 28 visit was part of his focus on workforce development, expanding the pool of skilled workers, and growing Maine’s economy. Attending the discussion at PATHS were students, Maine companies eager to employ workers who have the kind of career and technical education (CTE) training that PATHS provides, and CTE school administrators and staff from around the state. They discussed ways to provide Maine students with a high-quality education and support employers seeking a skilled workforce.

King said that Maine lacks enough workers for the jobs in this state. “In the long run, that’s really a problem for Maine’s economy,” he said. “You can’t grow a business and expand a business if you can’t find people to work.”

He continued, “We need qualified workers and trained workers, so that’s where (CTE) programs like this come in.”

Two PATHS students in attendance at the discussion told King about the important role their education at PATHS has played in their lives. PATHS, part of the Portland Public Schools, is a regional high school that partners with 18 nearby high schools to offer CTE programs that prepare students for the job market or post-secondary education.

Portland High School senior Nick Leong said he almost dropped out of school before he started taking courses at PATHS. “I didn’t want to go to school because I was sitting in a class all day,” Leong said.

He enrolled in the new marine technology program at PATHS and liked it so much he has decided it is a career path for him. He’s now headed to Maine Maritime Academy in the fall.

Jilly Brown, who attends Greely High School in Cumberland, is in the biomedical health sciences program at PATHS, which has helped her decide she wants to be a nurse. She had worried about racking up lots of debt attending a four-year college, but now the program she’s taking at PATHS has enabled her to plan out a way to obtain a post-secondary education more affordably. She earned some college credit through the PATHS program and has been offered a job at a local hospital as a certified nursing assistant. She plans to enter Southern Maine Community College’s renowned nursing program this fall and then later transfer to a four-year institution for two years to earn a bachelor’s degree.

PATHS works closely with the business community to make sure that the skills and training that its students receive are the ones in demand by employers, PATHS Director Kevin Stilphen told King.

For example, Jason Curtis, of Portland Yacht Services, said that company helped PATHS establish its marine technology program.

And Stilphen said PATHS business partners donate materials and equipment, such as $10,000 welding camera.

One of those generous business partners is Casco Bay Steel Structures, a bridge fabrication company. Casco Bay Steel owner and president Bryon Tait said that 100 of Casco Bay Steel’s 142 employees are welders but he’s always looking for more. “We could hire 20 today,” he said.

But Tait said the welders must have math skills – such as knowledge of geometry, basic math and how to read a blueprint – to be successful. Those are the kinds of applied math skills that PATHS teaches in its welding technology programs.

King and the others at the discussion talked about how to “change the culture” to make people realize that CTE is not a lesser form or education – and that it can lead to even higher paying jobs than many college graduates are able to get.

King said that society has spent so much time in recent years urging students to go college, “that we’ve sort of denigrated making things.”

Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana said that CTE education at PATHS is “not an either/or” situation. Students attend PATHS for only part of their school day and earn academic credits at their home schools. They end up graduating with a high school diploma as well as certifications and marketable skills that benefit them in both college and career paths.

Botana said that the Portland Public Schools is working closely with the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce to get the chamber more involved in PATHS. “Collaborating with high schools, businesses and the CTEs – that will change the culture,” Botana said.

King said he would look into how federal workforce policy impacts CTEs like PATHS and the possibility of getting more federal funding to that area of education.