If you’d like to experience something truly impressive and good, reserve some time Thursday evening to attend the open house at Texas City Independent School District’s new Industrial Trades Center.
If you’re thinking this would be a trip to a typical high school shop class merely done big, think again. This facility is well beyond anything any of us is likely to have seen before.
The center is important for what it provides for students and the larger community, but it’s almost as important for what it represents in education.
What it represents is a renaissance, a return to legitimacy, for the whole concept of vocational education.
Public schools have been criticized in recent years for having let serious vocational education programs fade away. The criticism has been mostly misplaced — public school officials tend to follow priorities set by others, as we’ve seen in the rise of standardized testing.
But it’s a fact that college preparatory education came to dominate the agenda at most public schools, leaving vocational education neglected.
There was nothing nefarious or elitist in that. Educators didn’t want young people who were slow starters, or who came from families without a history of and experience in sending kids to college, shoved off into dead-end classes to learn the skills required for disappearing professions.
That had been the case in the past, and they wanted each to be exposed to the possibility of pursuing higher education.
It has been clear for the past 10 or so years that the pendulum was swinging back, as school leaders began to react to community demand for relevant workforce training.
From what we’ve seen of it, Texas City ISD’s center is a model for how to deliver serious, relevant workforce education.
For years, the school district, working with industrial partners, has been planning for the building and soliciting donations from industry to buy up-to-date equipment.
The district purchased the former First Baptist Church site on Ninth Avenue North in 2015 for $2.95 million. The land purchase and construction costs totaled about $14 million, according to the district.
Community partners have already pledged more than $750,000 toward startup costs and equipment. An additional $170,000 a year has been pledged from local partners for maintenance and operations.
The equipment costs, which are estimated at more than $1 million, were paid for by the district and industrial partner donations.
The center’s opening is a major achievement for district officials and their partners in the community. It’s something that everyone in Texas City should be proud of and should drop by to have a look at.
• Michael A. Smith