Monday, July 13, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 19

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 13th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 37 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 37

After years of construction, Santa Maria Joint Union's long-awaited Career Technical Education Center nears completion


The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District’s nameless new high school is nearing completion. It’s 72 percent of the way there, according to the school district, and officials estimate it could be all the way done in February, with students trickling in by the fall of 2020.

The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District expects its new Career Technical Education Center to be complete in February.

For now, officials are calling it a “Career Technical Education Center,” a first-of-its-kind campus for the district that’ll play host to livestock, fruit trees, and 500 students.

This $20 million center is part of a larger plan to usher interested pupils into careers as heavy-machine mechanics or pest specialists in the area’s expansive agriculture industry.

Jack Garvin, a board member for the district since 2004, said the district has gone through a number of advisory panels stacked with professionals in the agriculture industry, offering their insights.

Situated on a 25-acre plot north of the Elks Rodeo Grounds and east of Highway 101, the campus won’t be an official home to any students, but it will host them as they’re bused to the campus daily. The campus is meant to draw from multiple area high school campuses with students attending the new location in two-hour blocks. 

The guts of the building are now in the works: electrical, sewer, drywall, roof work, plumbing, etc.

“It’s very state of the art; it’s very well planned,” Garvin said. “Industry has taken a great deal of interest in what’s going on.”

In addition to classrooms, the school will feature many of the trimmings and equipment featured in a professional work environment. The campus will include a barn, which will be home to 15 steer pens, 32 pig pens, and eight more for goats and sheep. Those animals, Garvin said, will help students learn about farming but also veterinary sciences and the accompanying care-taking that herds can require. There’s even farmland for students to tend and learn to maintain.

The idea behind the center, Garvin said, is to get students hands-on experience before they reach the workforce.

“The important thing is to be offering an approach to students that they’re going to find in the workplace, and who better to get that from than people already in the workplace,” Garvin said.

The district spent years on planning and funding calculations. It began with $2 million in 2016 that the district received through the state’s Career Technical Education (CTE) Incentive Grant. But the district needed more. It was able pull additional money from two bonds, Measure C2004 and Measure H2016, approved by voters at the ballot box. The land itself, owned by the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, was vacant, used for crop farming. The district bought the property for a reported cost of $3.6 million.

Once classes get underway, Garvin said the focus will rest heavily on agriculture. 

But the school’s purpose is to jumpstart students’ education, offering the sort of skills and education that can open doors for whatever’s next. One of those doors is college. That’s why some of the school’s programs also count for college credit at the nearby Allan Hancock College.

Erin Krier, the coordinator and instructor for agriculture at Hancock, said she was part of some of the advisory boards that helped develop the curriculum at the new high school. She called the school’s agriculture focus “critical” to area industry and noted that students need to know a career in agriculture is an option that can pay well.

“Sometimes there’s a perception that agriculture means field labor, and that’s not a very desirable career path,” she said.

The courses that do transfer, she said, must be taught by faculty with Hancock’s minimum qualifications, which include a teacher with a master’s degree in their area of expertise. She estimates that there are a half-dozen classes that transfer, and students sign up for these courses through the Hancock registration system. They’re entry-level courses, she said, programs like economics, mechanics, and animal science, all with an agriculture focus.

The courses that she developed are directly influenced by feedback she’s received from various advisory committees, which are made up of industry professionals.

“We try to have a representative from every sector of the industry,” she said. 

The high school and CTE programs, in general, have enjoyed strong state support as well as cheerleading from Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo). Such programs are considered a direct pipeline to the workforce, allowing entry to students who would struggle to afford a college-directed path to well-paying careers, and a built-in replacement for baby boomers who have left or will leave the workforce.

Krier said the curriculum is geared specifically toward needs forecasted by industry professionals.

“What’s lacking right now are students who are trained in diagnosing and repairing the machinery that is so much more complicated now,” she said. “The other part of the industry that is really lacking are pest-control advisers.”

The career technical education center will change that, she hopes, and offer pathways to jobs in the industry. 

Contact Staff Writer William D’Urso at

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