Students meet with administrators over loss of classes
After meeting with school officials, Douglas High School students are convinced their concerns about the loss of occupational education classes have fallen on deaf ears.
DHS junior Katie Fricano said each of the about 18 students present had a chance to speak Wednesday, but said Assistant Superintendent Roy Casey and School-to-Careers specialist Tricia Wentz gave them little comfort, except to say the three canceled auto classes and two construction classes may be replaced next semester.
School district Communications Coordinator Maggie Allen said the meeting was closed to the press because it occurred during school hours.
“Basically, each of us spoke for a minute or two and then we asked some questions, but we pretty much got no answers. They just changed the subject and it was really circular,” Katie said. “They said they could afford it, but said they couldn’t pay for Mr. Archdekin, but then said they could – it didn’t make any sense.”
James Archdekin taught two construction tech classes for the school district and three auto classes – two auto tech and an auto body class – through a Western Nevada Community College grant.
When that grant was changed this year, the classes were cancelled soon after school started and students were shuffled into other occupational education and elective classes. Some students were put in internships.
When Archdekin found out the three WNCC classes would not be offered, he decided he couldn’t afford to continue teaching only two classes a day.
Personnel director John Soderman said contracted part-time employees are paid $20.50 an hour.
Katie said, although Archdekin didn’t have a teaching certificate, students felt he was a wonderful instructor. Students circulated petitions in an effort to get him reinstated.
“We know he doesn’t have credentials, but he has more valuable skills. He’s irreplaceable. It’s a serious misallocation of valuable education resources,” she said.
Katie took Archdekin’s auto tech class last year and said it was invaluable experience, even though she plans on becoming a lawyer and not an auto mechanic.
“It taught me independence – how to deal with emotional and work-related stress – because there is no way you can miss three or four days of class because they gave more work than we normally have. You really have to work, they make you work,” Katie said.
Katie said after the meeting ended, many students were angry.
“After it was over, there was just hostility from the students, because we weren’t getting questions answered and some people just walked out even through (Roy) Casey was still talking,” Katie said.
Casey said although some students, including Katie, did leave the meeting at that time, many students stayed and talked with him and Wentz for another hour. Casey said he also set up a second date in which he met with two reporters from the school newspaper, Tiger Beat.
“We gave each kid an opportunity to speak. There was some misinformation that was cleared up. In fact, Tricia and I stayed until 3:15, after the bell rang and I think they just wanted to talk to us and we answered their questions,” Casey said.
He said Wentz promised to help students who felt they were not learning as much at their internships as they would have in class.
“I think a couple of those kids are more upset over the loss of Mr. Archdekin, so we talked a little about that relationship,” Casey said. “I’d like to put it to rest and move on. I told the student reporters that I would continue to discuss occupational education programs with them because it is a high priority.”
Although she did not get the response she had hoped for, Katie said she doesn’t have any plans to pursue the issue, she said.
“I think they’ve heard what we have to say. If we can’t get through to them now, nothing will do much good. They just keep saying, ‘We’re looking into it,’ and we’re not getting any answers,” she said.
English teacher Michael Schneider teaches many of Archdekin’s students and said they are feeling betrayed by the school district.
“The issue is, we’ve got kids who feel misplaced, they feel ignored, and that concerns me because those are my kids, they’re not the AP kids. They need auto body, they need construction,” Schneider said. “I don’t want to speak for them, but in my opinion, they’re feeling a little abandoned, a little turned against, if you will. Some kids have taken it pretty hard, at the loss of classes, as well as the loss of James.”
He said his students felt slighted because the school didn’t replace the classes right away.
“The key is, and I think people are underestimating this, the truth isn’t all that important, it’s the perception of the truth, even if the district had no other choice, but to the kids, their perception of the truth was they are not important. Some of the kids said they would not come to school anymore. They felt like there is nothing here for them except internships and their classes are not good enough to be offered at school,” Schneider said.
After he pointed out to them that skipping school or dropping out would only hurt them, Schneider said he doesn’t think any students have stopped coming to school.
Schneider said some teachers also feel that the district could have done more to pay for the classes to continue.
“I think the feeling is, the school didn’t have any choice, but the district could do something and didn’t do anything. I’ve heard so many people say, ‘There’s tens of thousands of dollars for security cameras, but we can’t pay for a occupational education teacher?'” he said.
Schneider said his opinion is, this is the beginning of the end of occupational education at DHS. He said the occupational education teachers were told last year, if they want to ensure their classes continue, they have to illustrate how it matches up with the competencies, and that’s a frightening concept.
“If that’s the way they view it, everything we do has to match up and that’s going to stop a lot of creative educators from doing what we do,” Schneider said. “I’m not attacking anyone, but there are some red flags that need to be addressed, and the only people who will make a difference are the public. I think the teachers can’t make a difference. If the public has a problem with what they’re seeing, they need to do something.”