Controversial U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited Oakland High School on Wednesday to learn more about its career and technical education programs, local media reported.
Devos observed students in health professional, automotive technology and mechatronics programs, according to The Murfreesboro Post.
"It's just a great example, I think, of a school that is meeting the needs of individual students," DeVos told The Tennessean.
All students in Rutherford County Schools must participate in the CTE program.
DeVos also spoke to Oakland Principal Bill Spurlock about the school's use of federal grants to fund the CTE programs before reporters asked her about her continued support for school vouchers.
“I think empowering parents to make the right decision for their children is important, no matter what state and no matter what community,” she told reporters according to Chalkbeat. “We have far too many students today that are stuck in schools that are not working for them and parents that don’t have the opportunity to make a different decision.”
DeVos was in Middle Tennessee to address the Foundation for Excellence in Education 2017 National Summit on Education Reform.
The education secretary has been a lightning rod for those who are disgruntled with the Trump administration. Opponents see her as a prime example of a Republican donor given an appointment for which she is unqualified. Protesters were seen at her keynote speech on Thursday in Nashville.
Here's what Rutherford County Schools said about her visit:
By all accounts, Jeri Radford has already had an impressive career, and she’s still a college student at Middle Tennessee State University.
She graduated from Oakland High School two years ago after completing the mechatronics program, which allowed her to earn a Siemens Level I certification before graduating. She then entered the mechatronics program at MTSU where she earned a National Science Foundation scholarship for being one of the top 10 students, has completed an internship with Nissan and an aviation manufacturer in Kansas, and has gone to Germany twice to complete additional training.
For the upcoming summer break, she has received five offers for internships from manufacturers throughout the country but has settled on one with Bell Helicopter in the Dallas-Fort Worth region of Texas.
“Being where I am now, I would not be here without the program at Oakland High School,” Radford said.
Radford shared her story on Nov. 29 with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who visited Oakland to learn more about the school’s mechatronics and other career and technical education programs. DeVos traveled to Middle Tennessee for an education summit in Nashville and selected Oakland High School as the only public school to tour in the area.
After the tour and in a room full of local reporters, DeVos said she was impressed with the mechatronics program — which was created through joint efforts between Rutherford County Schools, Oakland High School, the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, higher education institutions and industry partners — for the opportunities it provides students.
“I think it’s a great partnership between the community and the school and the business needs in this region,” DeVos said.
The mechatronics program has been in place for three years now — and through an on-site laboratory and classroom at the school — provides for students to learn the ins and outs of the manufacturing process used by many companies in the area and beyond.
Students can earn their Siemens certification while at Oakland and have opportunities to work through internships with local manufacturers including Schwan Cosmetics, Bridgestone and Nissan. After high school, they can then enter mechatronics programs at MTSU or Motlow State Community College in Smyrna, while also potentially working for one of the local manufacturers.
The program was created after manufacturers reported a lack of qualified workers in the area to fill many open, skilled positions. These types of positions typically are high paying and good career options.
The school district and the school then worked with the Chamber of Commerce, the manufacturers and the higher education institutions to develop a workforce development pipeline beginning with high school students.
The program has become a runaway success and has been cited as a model for other school districts. In fact, the school has given multiple tours to education officials from around the country, including a group from Hawaii who visited Tennessee last year.
Secretary DeVos also toured the health sciences and automotive repair programs at the school and spent more than an hour meeting and talking with various students and teachers in the programs.
“It’s really an honor to be at Oakland High School and to be able to witness firsthand how Oakland is reaching students’ needs and aptitudes,” DeVos said.
The tour was led by Oakland Principal Bill Spurlock and Director of Schools Don Odom, who were excited to show the secretary an example of a successful and exemplary public education program. Secretary DeVos is a vocal proponent of charter schools and voucher programs — which divert public education dollars to private schools.
“I think today the group traveling with her saw a better way,” Director Odom said. “I told her it can be replicated.”