Councilor Michitson Calls For More Vocational Alternatives to Four-Year College in Haverhill

Haverhill City Councilor John A. Michitson. (WHAV News file photograph by Jay Saulnier.)

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With growing interest in alternatives to four-year college and not enough options, Haverhill City Councilor John A. Michitson called Tuesday night for collaboration between educational institutions offering vocational or career training.

“The real goal, there, is to really try to determine the best path for each child, across boundaries. And if we become recognized for that, it will be a draw for industry because it’s their number one problem out there right now,” he said, referring to businesses struggling to find workers.

Council Vice President Timothy J. Jordan noted how difficult it must be for students who end up at Haverhill High School, but wishing they could pursue a trade.

“I just hate to think that the kids are wasting four years,” he said. “They’re in an environment, to Councilor Michitson’s point, [where] they’re not motivated to learn. They don’t want to be doing all these academic classes. They’re not going to be going to college. It’s not the right path for them.”

If they cannot find their way, he added, “they start making bad decisions and it affects the whole community.”

The size of the building prevents more students from attending Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School, according to Superintendent Maureen Lynch. Increasing capacity would cost a lot, she added. The school currently has around 1,200 students. When considering a rebuild plan voted down by residents in January, Lynch said the state department of education told her growing to 1,400 would be quite expensive, not to mention letting in everyone who applies.

As WHAV reported, Whittier Tech and Northern Essex Community College are exploring sharing a campus, a plan which has received Gov. Maura T. Healey’s approval.

Haverhill High Supervisor of Career Technical Education Victoria Kelley said enrollment in her department’s programs has increased from 18 to 326 since 2015, with options going from solely Information Technology to training in healthcare, computer science, biomedical science and engineering. Recent graduates from Haverhill High can take Whittier Tech’s Career Technical Initiative summer program, which offers 200 hours of training, Vocational Coordinator Amanda Crosby told councilors.

Another barrier for Whittier Tech students, according to Lynch, is transportation. Some do not have cars to take themselves to work. Jordan suggested Merrimack Valley Transit be invited to a summit Michitson said he would organize to foster collaboration.

Another of Michitson’s concerns is the growing number of Haverhill students learning English. “They need to have the same choices that everyone else has in the schools,” he said. Crosby said the Whittier Tech summer program incorporated a Spanish translator this year. At Haverhill High, Kelley said there are four bilingual support staff.

Kelley also pointed to a $1 million grant allowing Haverhill High students who took early college courses to get their associate’s degree at Northern Essex Community college for free.

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