EAST HELENA — Wednesday in East Helena, leaders held a roundtable to talk about the progress that’s been made in expanding career and technical education opportunities, and what could come next.
Gov. Greg Gianforte met with state managers, educators and business leaders at East Helena High School. Gianforte has identified promoting CTE and encouraging students to consider the skilled trades as priorities. He said Wednesday that a record 77,000 students across the state are now in CTE programs.
“For too long, Montana hasn’t really lived up to its full potential, and it’s through these innovative programs and partnerships that we can do a better job,” Gianforte said.
During the roundtable, leaders said they hoped to broaden the pool of students in CTE classes, as the skills kids can learn there can serve them well whether they pursue the trades or go for a four-year degree. They said it’s important to get students interested in these fields early, and they encouraged businesses to reach out proactively to schools to make connections.
EHHS Principal Brian Kessler said their CTE department has been one of the most successful at the school, and he estimated 40% to 45% of students are enrolled in a CTE course at any given time. He said programs like welding, computer-aided drafting and culinary have all become extremely popular with students.
“We could have a whole new welding shop and still fill all of that,” he said.
As part of the state’s recent approval of charter school proposals from school districts, East Helena got support to scale up its 227 Academy program, an alternative school that offers more individualized learning plans for “students of promise and students at risk.” Kessler said career and technical classes particularly appeal to those students, and they’ll be an important part of the 227 Academy going forward.
“From the get-go, having a quality CTE program has been a key aspect of building this high school and creating a quality high school here,” he said. “A lot of people in this community – the backbone of this community – are people who worked in the smelter, who benefited from CTE-type positions, and so recognizing the importance those have on our community, and that kids can be very successful in that as well, has been very key.”