TORRANCE — A new superintendent will take the helm of the Southern California Regional Occupational Center--the public job-training facility for 6,000 high school and adult students in 33 South Bay cities--during a period when vocational education has been forced into the background by increased emphasis on academics in the state's public school system.
Elizabeth Nash, who will replace Supt. Jeremiah Bresnahan at SCROC on Sept. 1, said the swing of the pendulum toward more academics has chopped about 10% from the number of juniors and seniors attending the institution.
"No one questions the importance of academics in today's technological world," said Nash, the facility's first woman and first black superintendent since its founding in 1968. "But unfortunately the shift in emphasis tends to shortchange youngsters whose future success depends on acquiring entry-level job skills at a critical time in their lives."
Academic Credits Needed
She said the pinch comes when students who want vocational training find that they must remain at their home campuses to earn additional graduation credits in basic subjects like math, science and foreign languages.
The increased graduation requirements are mandated under SB 813, the school reform law enacted by the Legislature in 1983 to reverse a decade-long decline in student academic performance.
Nash said the school has managed to maintain its enrollment level--and thus its state financial support based on average daily attendance--by aggressively recruiting adult students to fill vacant high school slots.
"Every student, whether college bound or headed toward the job market, has important educational needs," said Nash, an instructor and administrator at SCROC for 13 years. "I feel very strongly that we must restore a balance between academic and vocational needs, so that no child is deprived of his or her opportunity for success."
Platform for Advocacy
Nash, who has been heavily involved in community and educational groups for many years, said she intends to use her new job as a platform for advocating more public and legislative support for vocational training.
"I also intend to work very hard to raise SCROC's visibility in the communities we serve, so that more students of every age will be aware of what we offer," she said. "We also want to strengthen our ties with business and industry, which provide the jobs for our graduates."
Richard Bertain, superintendent of the El Segundo Unified School District, is among other South Bay educators who blame "SB 813 reformers" for undercutting job training.
But he noted that hard times for vocational educational began years earlier with the 1978 Jarvis-Gann tax-cutting initiative, which deprived school districts of their traditional local revenue sources and made them largely dependent on state financial aid.
Kids 'Paid the Price'
"When it came to hard budget choices, vocational programs sometimes got the worst of it," he said. "Through it all, the kids who need the programs have paid the price."
Bertain said part of the short-term solution may be to devise new ways of delivering vocational training. One method, already begun by SCROC, is to conduct vocational courses on high school campuses so students do not have to travel to the facility in south Torrance, he said.
The normal schedule for vocational students is to take four hours of academics at their home schools, followed by a bus trip to SCROC and three hours of hands-on instruction in the practical aspects of various jobs.
SCROC, the first vocational center of its kind in California and the model for many others established in the past 20 years throughout the nation, is a joint enterprise by six South Bay school districts--Inglewood, Centinela Valley, El Segundo, South Bay Union, Torrance and Palos Verdes.
The concept of a public vocational center is credited to the late J. H. Hull, a Torrance school district superintendent in the 1960s, who concluded that individual districts could not afford the equipment and expertise needed to train students in many job areas.
Higher Training Level
Hull's idea has been increasingly validated by new technologies that use more sophisticated--and costly--equipment and require a higher level of training for those who operate the machines, according to Rosemary Claire, director of special programs in the Palos Verdes Peninsula school district.
"The theories of the physics and math classes are becoming the realities of the workplace," she said. "We need more, not less, vocational training to prepare people to work in these factories of the future with their robots and lasers and computers."
Nash, a native of Alabama, originally planned a career as a bank administrator. After several years of teaching banking part time at SCROC, she decided that her real calling was education.
She studied for her doctorate in educational management while working her way up the career ladder at SCROC. Her appointment as superintendent was approved last week by SCROC's governing board, which is made up of one trustee from each of the six participating school districts.
Nash and her husband, Elvis, live in Harbor City. Their son, Elvis Jr., 22, attends UCLA.