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Thursday, May 12, 2022

Efforts to Transform Rich East campus to new Career Center Continue

name oand logo of school
(SCTEC website)

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- While the Rich East doors may have closed, the campus may give birth to a new, state-of-the-art career and technical center serving the south suburbs.

The possibility of a new vocational and career center, the Southland Career & Technical Education Center, (SCTEC) is being promoted by a group of local educational institutions that includes Bloom Township District 206, Crete-Monee District 201-U, Homewood-Flossmoor District 223, Rich Township District 227, Thornton Fractional District 215, Southland College Prep District 162, Prairie State College, and Speed SEJA District 802.

The proposed center would be located on the campus of the former Rich East High School in Park Forest and would focus on six occupational areas of study: Aviation, Construction Trades, Information Technology, Manufacturing Trades, Public Safety, and Urban Agriculture.

Since District 227 voted to close Rich East High School in October 2019, the fate of what will become of the building and campus has been unclear. The building has been dark since the pandemic forced a premature closing of the building in the Spring of 2020.

entrance to high school with banner above the doors
The former Rich East High School is the proposed SCTEC site (Photo John Hudzik)

According to Rich Township Superintendent Johnnie Thomas, the cost for the new Center would be approximately $100M, regardless of whether the existing building was refurbished or totally rebuilt. To provide a state-of-the-art facility, the current preference is to build a new facility from the ground up at the Rich East site.

The Center would offer juniors and seniors an alternative to the normal high school curriculum and allow students to focus on both technical skills using tools and diagnostic equipment, as well as soft skills such as teamworking, critical thinking, and technical communication. The school would also offer students the core subject areas that they would receive at their local high schools.

Continuing education programs for graduates of the Center, as well as adults interested in learning or expanding their skills, would be available through evening programs held at the school.

Data provided on the SCTEC website note that students who pursue Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes have higher GPAs and graduation rates than non-CTE course takers. In addition, the site states that students who complete CTE courses in high school have higher median incomes than those who did not.

A project of this scope will require time and significant sources of funding. The projected time frame from the point at which funding is approved to open the doors to students is estimated at three to five years.

The involved school districts and institutions, referred to as the Collective, hope to secure funding through a variety of sources including state and federal grants, the business community, and support from the local educational institutions.

At the state level, efforts to make the Center a reality are being led by Representative Debbie Meyers-Martin of the 38th District, which currently serves Matteson as well as parts of Park Forest, Richton Park, Tinley Park, Country Club Hills, and other surrounding suburbs.

headshot photo of representatative
Debbie Meyers-Martin, State Representative, 38th District (Photo SCTEC)

Representative Meyers-Martin explained that securing state funding for the new facility is a two-step process. The first is to have the Center established as a legal entity in the state. To that end, she has introduced an amendment to House Bill 1170, which outlines the requirements that the Collective must meet before state funding can be issued.

For example, the bill states that the educational center must develop a curriculum “based on the Illinois Learning Standards and work-site training, which must provide students with learning experiences for entry-level employment in the local job market and lifelong learning skills for higher education.”

Meyers-Martin is optimistic that this foundational bill will be passed this legislative session. Once approved, the next step is to secure the underlying funding needed to begin the actual construction. She is hopeful that the funding bills would be taken up during the 2022-2023 legislative cycle.

Percy Scott, President of Global Marketing 360, serves as the Communications and Marketing Agent for District 227 and has been heavily involved in the promotion of the Center’s benefits to the community. Through his team’s efforts, a comprehensive website outlining the goals and structure of the new facility is now available at https://southlandctec.com/

The site includes a list of project supporters including U.S. Representative Robin Kelly, Rich Township Supervisor Calvin Jordan, Park Forest Mayor Jonathon Vanderbilt, as well as mayors and other public officials from surrounding communities.

Scott notes that all the named districts are fully committed to the creation of the Center, including Rich Township District 227. In addition to the local districts, Scott stated that Loyola University has also expressed interest in a partnership arrangement.

The Collective has contacted businesses and union groups to explain the project and solicit their support. Scott said that the response has been very favorable as companies are struggling to find employees who are technically trained or who have an interest in a technical career path. Scott explained that the goal of the SCTEC is not just to train the students on the basics of occupational positions, but to prepare them to become managers and leaders in the business and perhaps business owners.

The six areas of study were selected based on an analysis of projected Labor Market Information (LMI) that identifies the demand for future jobs. According to Scott, the Center will continually evaluate LMI data and modify its course offerings accordingly.

Instructors for the SCTEC technical classes will comprise professionals who work in that field, as well as licensed educators who will handle the core educational requirements. The goal is for businesses and unions that will benefit from the SCTEC to offer instructional assistance throughout the year.

The ongoing administration of the SCTEC would be the responsibility of a board comprising representatives from the districts supporting the Collective.

The closest vocational high school in the area is the Kankakee Area Career Center in Bourbonnais, which offers similar programs to high school students in that regional area. According to the SCTEC website, there has not been a technical career center in the south suburbs for 32 years, since the Sauk Area Career Center in Robbins closed.

As an example of the curriculum offered at the Center, the Construction Trades program will include courses for prospective carpenters, welders, plumbers, and electricians. Coursework will include:

  • Construction mathematics
  • Construction documents
  • Estimating
  • Project Management
  • Rough carpentry
  • Plumbing systems
  • Electrical systems
  • Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems

Potential job opportunities for students in this curriculum include

  • Construction manager
  • Carpenter
  • Plumber
  • Electrician
  • HVAC Technician

While the Center is still a few years off, with some substantial hurdles to clear, the prospect of a vocational/technical school in the south suburbs that can train a thousand students a year across forty different career opportunities is exciting. The repurposing the Rich East site to a productive, leading-edge educational center only adds to the anticipation.

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