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Design work is underway at the former Toys R Us building on Lancaster Drive in Salem, soon to become Oregon’s newest career and technical education center.
The Willamette Career Academy will establish regional partnerships and provide hands-on education needed for jobs in local workforces, similar to Salem-Keizer’s Career Technical Education Center, known as CTEC.
Cosmetology, diesel mechanics and health services are among offerings expected in the initial year — opening fall 2021 — with programs such as construction and information technology to be added in 2022.
In the first year, the school will serve nearly 300 students from 11 districts across Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties, and grow to about 600 students in year two.
The future home of the Willamette Career Academy, which was previously a Toys R Us, is pictured at 1200 Lancaster Dr NE in Salem. (Photo: BRIAN HAYES / STATESMAN JOURNAL)
The idea and initial funding for the center resulted from a private-public partnership between Mountain West Investment Corporation, a Salem real estate development company, and the Willamette Education Service District, or WESD.
Mountain West also supports and helped create Salem-Keizer Public Schools’ CTEC.
As reported last year, the total capital project budget for CTEC was $17 million, with Mountain West contributing $9 million, and $8 million given from the public sector, foundations, individuals and businesses.
“Smaller rural districts often can’t provide the options of programs we are planning to offer,” Michael Clark with WESD said about the new academy. “Providing students across the region more access to in-demand career learning is a huge motivation for this project.”
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Academy leaders are working with participating school districts to determine how students will apply and be selected. Districts will be individually responsible for providing transportation, as well as ongoing funding to support the programs and staff.
Deciding how involved CTEC will be is also in progress, though officials said its success has shaped the academy’s creation.
Investing in career technical education
Career technical education has been showcased in recent years as one of the best ways to increase graduation rates and success after K-12 education.
CTEC, for example, boasts a 98% graduation rate and nears a 100% placement rate after students graduate — ranging from jobs, trade schools, apprenticeships, college or military service.
The success of comparable programs across Oregon has led to increased state funding for career technical education and drop-out prevention initiatives, seen largely through 2016’s Measure 98, now known as the High School Success fund.
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Salem’s new academy will allow local business partners the opportunity to serve as members of an advisory board, become donors or appear as guest lecturers and instructors.
Educators hope COVID-19 closures are a thing of the past by the time the school opens next fall, but generally speaking, they said WESD and partner districts will do “whatever possible to adjust (to) the current situation.”
Initial district partners include:
- Cascade School District
- Gervais School District
- Falls City School District
- Jefferson School District
- Mt. Angel School District
- Newberg School District
- North Marion School District
- North Santiam School District
- Silver Falls School District
- St. Paul School District
- Woodburn School District
To learn more about the Willamette Career Academy, visit www.WESD.org.
Natalie Pate is the education reporter for the Statesman Journal. She can be reached at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, Twitter @Nataliempate or Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.
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