Temple High School

Mike Morath, left, joins Bobby Ott on a tour Wednesday of the Temple High School CTE building.

There is no doubt the Career and Technical Education Center at Temple High School is state of the art.

It certainly impressed Texas’ top education official.

“That is amazing,” Mike Morath, the Texas Education Agency commissioner, said of the $30 million, 120,000-square-foot facility.

The oversized windows let in plenty of natural light. Blue fixtures and pieces of metal line the interior of the two-story building, which opened last fall.

The CTE Center stands in stark contrast to the 65-year-old metal and brick structure where the program was once housed. That old, dimly lit building is being torn down. The sound of the metal structure being crushed and the constant beeping of heavy machinery permeated through the air.

A customer parking lot will replace the former CTE building. Students will get hands-on experience by cutting Temple residents’ hair or grooming their pets.

Bobby Ott, superintendent of the Temple Independent School District, is proud of his district being on the cutting edge of career and technical training in the state.

“You’re in Wildcat country,” Ott told Morath.

‘The practical stuff’

Career and technical classes are a cornerstone of Temple High School. About 88 percent of the 2,250 students enrolled at the high school take CTE classes. Subjects include cosmetology, culinary arts, law, dispatch communications and construction.

“What you see is what we did as part of the design; every program has a lecture room and a skills lab,” Ott said. “So you’ve got a place where you can talk about theory and so forth, and a place to actually do the practical stuff.”

The old CTE building just was not cutting it anymore, Ott said to Morath. It wasn’t up to industry standards.

“So what happens is colleges — when you are trying to set up … agreements — they balk because if you don’t have things at an industry-level standard, they back off,” he said. “We had pretty good agreements before, but those have actually ratcheted up.”

Temple ISD has received its share of attention for the CTE Center. School districts from across the state have toured it, Ott said.

“It’s grown so much in the last couple of years,” said Dan Posey, the Temple school board president. “The district has put work into it. The partners are here — they’re part of the community.”

Community involvement

Two prime examples of community partners influencing the CTE program are Baylor Scott & White and Temple College. Both entities are involved with Temple ISD’s medical classes.

On the second floor of the CTE Center, there is a pair of classrooms that share a skills lab. One room is for students studying to be certified nursing assistants — a program commonly found in high schools — and the other is for students wanting to be certified medical assistants.

The medical assistant program, Ott told Morath, was one that became a part of the CTE curriculum because Baylor Scott & White said it was a need here.

In the shared skills lab for the nursing and medical assistant programs, there are beds with mannequins. There are even private exam rooms.

Baylor Scott & White holds mock exams with actors — who are called standardized patients — for students to learn how to deal with patients. Morath jokingly compared the mock exams to an episode of the 1990s sitcom “Seinfeld” in which a main character works as a standardized patient.

“We have them come through here and rotate,” Ott said of the standardized patients Baylor Scott & White brings into the CTE Center. “Our students do mock exams on them in these two rooms here.”

House Bill 3 effect

Morath asked if it was a safe assumption that Temple students are graduating with certifications within these specialized fields.

“We have done a great job in increasing the certifications, the number of certifications and the amount of students out of our certifications,” Ott responded. “We’ve grown that number year after year — especially after this opened.”

Although the district is seeing an uptick in students earning certifications, Ott pointed out there are challenges.

“Where we struggled a little bit — quite honestly — is the financing of the costs of the exams,” he said to Morath as they walked down a hall. “So what happened this past year is the Temple Chamber and the (Temple) Economic Development Corp. got together and they asked us to do a gap analysis on the amount of money we need. They both have gone in and … fully funded the difference in cost for the next two years for some of those gaps.”

Certifications can cost hundreds of dollars. With an overwhelming majority of students participating in the CTE program, exam costs add up.

Morath pointed out that funding is on its way.

“Just to make sure it’s on your radar: House Bill 3 funds one exam per student,” the education commissioner said, referring to the legislation that reforms public school finance. “It’s a reimbursement. You get one industry-based credential reimbursed, and you get either the ACT, SAT or the (Texas Success Initiative Assessment) for all students before graduation.”

Ott was surprised to hear this.

“There are all kinds of little nuggets in House Bill 3 that people have not fully absorbed,” Morath said.

Making education relevant

Morath, in a speech at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, used Temple ISD as an example of a school district finding a way to make its curriculum relevant to students.

Temple ISD, he said, has connected a student’s high school education to what will come next in their life.

“It’s a lot of career preparation. It’s a lot of good old-fashioned vocational education,” the commissioner told a few hundred people at the Central Texas Education Summit on Wednesday.

Often people tell Morath they want all Texas students to pursue college and get the highest education they can receive.

“I am with you — but there is not a conflict between vocational preparation and good education,” he said. “Because — unless they were born into a trust fund — those kids are, in fact, going to have to work.”

Through its career and technical education program, Temple ISD, the commissioner said, has essentially ridded itself of one of the questions most asked by students.

“I guarantee you somebody in the greater Temple area is going to raise their hand and say, ‘Teacher, when am I ever going to use this?’” Morath told the education summit audience. “I just had a tour of Temple High School, there’s not going to be many kids who do that in Temple.”