Hernando Sun Writer
The first standalone vocational school in Hernando County promises to be a dream come true for many students and families in this area--as well as for the dedicated Hernando educated professional who has made the project her passion.
The Florida Senate and House of Representatives passed a Hernando Career Certificate and Dual Enrollment Expansion bill Monday (LFIR 2383/HB 3921) to fund a vocational school for the Hernando County School District; allotting the amount of $6 million for the planning of a standalone school building at Central High School, dedicated solely to the study of technical and vocational education.
The school is the brainchild of Sophia Watson, the Hernando County Supervisor of Adult and Technical Education who has been developing the concept since 2013.
"This is the beginning of a new school. I am so excited to see the long-awaited expansion of our vocational education program," said Watson. "I'm excited for our students, for our families and schools, for our local workforce."
Watson takes pride in Hernando's Suncoast Technical Education Center (SunTech) adult and vocational education program, a part-time program of coursework conducted at various high schools throughout the area. Still and all, she saw room for something more.
"We needed a standalone, good-sized building, to facilitate daytime, Monday through Friday classes and a full-time class schedule," said Watson.
Sen. Wilton Simpson sponsored a bill last year to fund the school project.
"Hernando's Suncoast Technical Education Center, Florida's newest technical school, was created and achieved accreditation without a stand-alone building," states the Hernando Schools Vocational Program 2019 local funding initiative request (http://www.flsenate.gov/PublishedContent/Session/FiscalYear/FY2019-20/LocalFundingInitiativeRequests/FY2019-20_S1654.PDF).
“Last year, the school district had 1,224 students who earned an industry certification, further demonstrating strong support for Career and Technical training within our community. The Hernando School District has a proven track record of success in Career and Technical Education and we believe there is broad support and community advocates for a vocational school that will serve both high school and adult students interested in learning a trade."
While last year's bill was vetoed, this year's measure was voted to pass pending signing by Gov. Ron DeSantis; establishing what Watson calls the 'footprint' for a dream realized.
"And it isn't just my dream," said Watson. "Our legislators, the school board, the entire community supported us."
Timothy L. Beard, Ph.D., president of Pasco-Hernando State College, agrees.
"It's important to support education in this community, and to give students as many options as we can," he said. "This is a plus for education. The more technical education programs we have, the more career pathways we can offer Hernando students."
Beard notes that 800 dual enrollment students are currently in attendance at PHSC. Dual enrollment pupils representing universities throughout the area are also students of SunTech, the program set for expansion by way of this bill.
Patricia Crowley, CEO of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, sees the bill as a positive step forward for the Hernando community.
"The Greater Hernando County of Chamber Board of Directors supported the Hernando County School District’s funding request from the state for a Vocational School," she said. "The education and training of our workforce is key to the future of Hernando County’s Economic Development. We look forward to Governor DeSantis approving the bill."
SunTech studies everything from heating, ventilation and air conditioning, cosmetology, building, and legal technology to auto mechanics, cybersecurity to massage therapy, early childhood learning to weld to law enforcement and fire science.
At the new school, students will study these subjects on a full-time schedule, hopefully also tackling new subjects like aeronautics.
"Our textbooks and curriculum will be assembled with the aid of our county's industry leaders," said Watson. "We'll be able to buy equipment, and welcome guest speakers from our focus industries."
The next step in the process, said Watson, will be the development of planning committees and building plans for the school, along with a refined determination of subject and curriculum matters. And while no set timeframe has been established for the completion of the school project, the foundation has been set for the fulfillment of a dream.
"By keeping technical education students in the community," she said, "We put the students and the community on the right track."