Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib heard from business and community leaders last week of a need to create more opportunities for students in Clallam County.
Habib is touring rural communities throughout Washington state to learn about opportunities for economic development. On Wednesday, Oct. 4, he toured Clallam County.
“What I heard was a real strong desire to have flexibility in designing pathways for young people, a desire to have more public-private participation and engagement and to create more opportunities for students to experience internships while in school,” Habib said.
Cindy Crumb, Lincoln High School principal and Port Angeles High School career and technical education director, told Habib that many of her students feel college is out of reach, even if they want to attend.
“They don’t see themselves going to college,” she said.
Because of increasing requirements by the state, students who excel in certain topics are held back, she said.
“I have a kid who wants to be an electrician,” she said. “They don’t want to take algebra-trig.”
Many also want to join the workforce immediately, rather then take on the debt needed to go to college, she said.
It was part of a discussion — hosted by the Clallam County Economic Development Corporation at the building that once housed the North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center — about what needs to be done to create vocational opportunities for local kids.
Habib noted “a real interest in supplementing our high school curriculum with essential skills such as financial literacy.”
Habib said he firmly believes that every student should have the option of attending college. He doesn’t believe that “college isn’t for everyone.”
He said it’s typically people who went to college who say that college isn’t for everyone.
“I don’t think any one of us was college bound or not college bound,” he said. “I think every kid ought to have the opportunity.”
Sequim School District Superintendent Gary Neal told Habib in recent years there has been too much focus on “college readiness.”
Laws that require students to be proficient in algebra and trigonometry and to take foreign languages discourage students and prevent them from having an “affinity for learning,” he said.
Neal said increasing the number of required credits for high school students to 24 credits doesn’t make sense.
Colleen McAleer, Washington Business Alliance president and Port of Port Angeles commissioner, said that the solution for training the county’s young people likely will be found locally.
She said that 31 percent of students who enter the ninth grade possess a college credential after 10 years.
McAleer added that workforce education is falling onto the high school’s career and technical education programs.
“What we’ve found is there are a lot of barriers for schools, especially rural schools, to be successful in this,” she said.
She said that businesses are overwhelmed with requests from public entities who should be working together instead of in separate silos.
“Everyone is trying to get your attention,” she said. “It’s too much of a demand and not enough coordination. It’s not a good system.”
Steve Burke, William Shore Memorial Pool executive director and Port of Port Angeles commissioner, said that he employs about 40 high school-age youth at the pool and that few understand personal finances.
He said Washington schools should be required to teach students skills such as managing their personal budgets.
Michael Cobb, who is running against McAleer for a seat on the Port of Port Angeles commission, said the discussion should have been more focused.
“For a normal business person, I would like to have some focus,” he said. “Give me some focus and let’s make it relevant for what I’m trying to do.”
Habib toured Peninsula College’s Allied Health and Early Childhood Education building — and heard about its work preparing nurses for Olympic Medical Center and other local facilities — met privately with college President Luke Robins and visited Angeles Millwork and Lumber Company. He was scheduled to speak to the Port Angeles Lions on Wednesday evening.
Habib said he plans to return to Port Angeles and other rural communities frequently to continue the discussion.
“We want to be very regular visitors here,” he said. “We hope that people will come from Clallam County — and all over the Olympic Peninsula — to visit Olympia, but we also know the onus is on me to come out here as much as I can.”
Jesse Major is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.