Amid a national debate about the necessity of a four-year college degree, the only Harford County magnet school offering career and technical education continues to have hundreds more applicants than available seats.
Harford Technical High School, located in Bel Air, admits students countywide on a competitive basis within each career and technical program offered. Selection criteria include academic record, good citizenship and technical interest in the 19 state-approved programs available. Among those programs are food preparation and management; construction trades; automotive and commercial welding programs at a welding school; computer-aided design; floral design, and licensed cosmetology. While at Harford Tech or shortly thereafter, students can earn certification or licensure in their respective fields, leading to employment.
According to data provided to The Dagger by Harford County Public Schools, 272 students were selected from a pool of 681 applicants and enrolled as Harford Tech freshman for the 2011 – 12 school year. Of the remaining applicants, 206 students were waitlisted; 116 were “not invited” based on the application criteria; 85 declined to enroll and 2 declined to be put on the waiting list. The number of applications to Harford Tech increased nearly 10% from 2009 to 2011, while the capacity has remained unchanged.
Applicants to Harford Tech come from all nine HCPS middle schools, from the alternative education program and from private schools. More than half of the HCPS applicants for the 2011-12 school year came from Aberdeen, Edgewood and Magnolia middle schools. Students from those three schools also made up more than half of those put on the waiting list and two-thirds of those who were “not invited”.
Asked about the large number of students overall who are turned away each year, Frank Mezzanotte, coordinator of magnet programs for HCPS, said that not all candidates are “viable” based on the application criteria, mostly due to low grades or poor attendance.
Enrollment capacity at Harford Tech is limited by a variety of factors. The Maryland State Department of Education imposes limits that Mezzanotte said are especially felt in fields with the highest demand. Using the Nursing Assistant Program as an example, he said the state limits enrollment to 8 students per instructor.
Teachers are also in short supply in some areas. In the trades and industry, Mezzanotte said the state requires teachers to have at least five years of experience in their field. Once hired, they are required to take teacher certification courses. Mezzanotte explained the supply problem in an email, “In the real world, typically, people in the trades and industry areas are hesitant to take jobs in education, where they will take significant pay reductions from what they make in private industry.”
Physical facilities also restrict the number of students admitted to Harford Tech. For example, Mezzanotte said, Computer-Aided Design & Drafting has 20 computer work stations; Computer & Networking Technology has 20 computer work stations; Printing & Graphic Communications has only 18 computer work stations and Licensed Cosmetology has facilities for only 18 students. He said other limits involve safety, in programs such as Automotive Diagnostics & Systems Repair.
In addition to career and technical programs, Harford Tech must have classroom space for all students to take the academic courses required for graduation.
Where does this leave the hundreds of Harford County students who are turned away from the programs at Harford Tech each year?
While other limitations remain, the lack of physical space might have been resolved with the construction in recent years of several new county high schools: Aberdeen, Patterson Mill, Bel Air, and Edgewood; although none were designed by HCPS with the specialized classrooms needed for many of the programs at Harford Tech.
Nonetheless, the building boom expanded capacity at many schools and combined with redistricting, left some schools with a lot more space than students. Leading the pack are Edgewood and Fallston.
Enrollment at the newly rebuilt Edgewood High School was 532 students under capacity as of September 30, 2011; enrollment at Fallston was 439 students under capacity. Enrollment at both schools is projected to remain well under capacity through 2019.
Space for an expanded Harford Tech might be available in the future, on property adjacent to the school that is currently the site of the John Archer School for special education. John Archer is slated for relocation to a facility to be built on the campus shared by Bel Air Middle and Homestead/Wakefield Elementary schools, but the move is controversial and construction is on hold until funding becomes available.
Other options include having students spilt their high school years between their home schools and Harford Tech, thereby increasing the capacity of Harford Tech programs. School Board Member Bob Frisch, who represents Edgewood and Joppa, has suggested exploring the idea, which Mezzanotte said was similar to the way Harford Tech started out, but he said that student interest was low until the school offered a comprehensive four-year program.
When asked what HCPS offers to students who don’t get in to Harford Tech but who prefer career and technical education over the mainly academic programs offered at their home schools, Mezzanotte provided the following response:
“Regardless of the school a student attends, each student is required to be in a career pathway sequence of courses. HCPS is working to incorporate signature programs into more of the high schools in an effort to offer them to more students (Maryland Teachers’ Academy, Academy of Finance, Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, Biomedial Sciences, Project Lead the Way/Pre-Engineering). In various high schools within the County, the Work-Based Learning Program (formerly the Cooperative Work Experience Program) exists to afford students the opportunity for job placement and experience while they are in high school. There is also a push to encourage students to enroll in higher level courses (AP, advanced math & science, etc.) throughout the County.”
Below is a recap of the application and enrollment data for the Harford Technical High School Class of 2015:
Cindy continues to bring to public attention issues that HCPS would rather ignore or keep from disclosure. There is no reason that some of the computer dominated programs at Harford Tech cannot be moved to Edgewood and Fallston. These schools have the classroom space to absorb these programs without negatively affecting capacity. There appear to be some on the BOE who understand that the current situation is not the most efficient use of school facilities, resources, or provides the best opportunity for non college bound students to get the most out their high schools years in HCPS.
HT Parent says
While I agree with many of your thoughts, please do not feel that the students at Harford Tech are not college bound. Many of these students look to four year degrees in their fields of study; especially in the engineering and computer tracks.
This is where some of the problem lies. HT is no longer a vocational/technical school as most of the slots are taken by college-bound students. Leaving no room for the B/C student who is motivated to learn a trade, not college bound.
My wife has noted that she has had several kids who articulate that they wish to be a lawyer and yet get into Harford Tech for cosmotology. This is a waste of a spot since there is no sub section of law dealing with hair. They should vett their applicants better to get rid of this group!
While no one wants to talk about it there is also the issue of students applying to HTHS just to get away from their local HS – happens more than people think.
That is exactly my point. Most students in the hard academic computer based programs should be able to get the necessary course work either at their local high school or those programs should be at a different facility. HTHS should be occupied predominately by not college bound students.
The John Archer students deserve an adequate facility. Relocating the school in compliance with state guidelines would be the only way I see Harford County getting the share of money for the project from the state. It DEEPLY saddens me that very affluent areas of the county are exerting political pressure with “me first” or “build it now” campaigns.
Here is a satiation that could benefit kids who are undeniably working the hardest just to get to school each day while allowing the space for Harford Tech to expand and serve those who wish to attend.
“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi
Billy Jack says
Why is the John Archer move that is proposed so controversial?
Not making a judgment call here but some see it as a matter of proportion. A very great expense to serve very few students. There is also some question as to whether the JA building would be suitable for HTHS programs – costly renovations. That facility would be better used as an ES but there is no need for more ES capacity at this time or in the foreseeable future. Redistricting solved that issue.
Not your Daddy's VoTec says
I think this is a testament that shows great PR and management within HCPS that they turned a vocational school into a competitive magnet school. Students are now striving to keep their grades and attendance up so they meet the application requirements of this school.
I wish the article showed how many students applied to each individual program.
Again, this is where the problem is. It shouldn’t be a competitive magnet program. It should be a vocational/technical school, as it’s name implies. The current competitiveness of the admissions process that has turned it into a “magnet” program is doing a HUGE disservice to the HCPS students that have a need for vocational/technical training and are not college-bound.
Its name no longer implies that it is a Vocational/Technical school, and it has not for many years. They dropped the “Vo” and are now simply Harford Technical High School.
Dropping “vocational” from school names is a practice carried out in most school jurisdictions for PR purposes. If you want more academics in your program students should go to one of the other magnet programs scattered throughout the rest of the county. The reality is most of the programs at HTHS are vocational in substance.
For many in the education Ivory Tower the term vocational is synonymous with dumb. To them the only real measure of a school system’s success is how many students enter college – not whether they graduate with a degree or can find jobs and make a decent living afterward. This is partly why you see so many useless college degree programs that serve no useful purpose in the real world.
Self Employed says
…or if their chosen career ever stands a chance of paying off the student loans.
The good news is that some of the entrepreneurs that come out of HTHS will employ those trying to pay off their college debt 😀
Not your Daddy's VoTec says
I think space issues will always cause disconcertion, no matter what the program offered. If Harford Tech offered mainly mechanics and cosmetology then people would complain that not enough specific computer and technical programs are being offered to those students that want to further their education. It’s a never ending conundrum.
@abingdon teacher – how can possibly say that educational competition is a part of the ‘problem’? Competition is the main driver behind virtually every advancement in human history. besides, there are plenty of post-high school vocational and trade schools in a variety of fields, most common being automotive, food service, and cosmetology. it is hard for me to get my head around your apparent belief that such a large number of non-college-bound HS graduates is a good thing. the fact remains that one is far more likely to succeed in life with a college degree than without one.
I think the best solutions to this ‘problem’ would be as some suggested, to move/expand some of the programs to other schools that have the space for them. however, finding qualified instructors willing to take that pay cut would still be very difficult.
have a great day –
I don’t think competition is the problem. I just don’t think HT should be a “competitive magnet program”. It should be a vocational/technical high school, offering specialized programs for students whose interests lay within acquiring a skilled trade, and not in going to college.
Students at HT that complete their trade programs graduate with most of the professional certifications that you alluded to in your post as “post-high school” vocational training. They graduate ready for work in their chosen profession and can be VERY succcesful without a college degree.
By no means do I think that the number of high school grads not going to college should be high, but we should be realistic and provide the best possible education and training options for those students wishing to enter a trade, instead of immediately going to college.
HT needs to return to a traditional vo-tech setting and philosophy. Just because a the new schools have “seats available” does not by any means make the a great option for moving some of HT’s programs. That school is designed to offer a top-notch vo-tech education. We need to keep it that way.
I’m not sure what you’re advocating. Are you suggesting that students who excel in these programs should somehow not be competitive for post secondary education? I can’t imagine designing a program in say Computer Networking that would be a dead end and not provide a gateway for successful students to gain admission to a Computer Science program at a college or university.
I’m speaking more to the traditional vo-tech fields (constructions trades, automotive, etc.)
Abingdonteacher – With cars being computerized and houses becoming more high-tech and energy efficient, vo-tech is no longer traditional.
Cars may have more computers, but the diagnostic tools are built for mechanics with a 10th grade education and the ability to follow a flow chart. They aren’t reverse engineering parts (or making the circuit boards), they swap it for an identical part bought off the internet and charge $80/hr. The only difference is a new computer module is $750 vs $2.95 for a spark plug.
Abingdonteacher – Are you suggesting that Harford Tech do away with the computer and engineering programs offered there so more non-college bound students could attend?
Others suggested it, I merely agreed it was a possible solution. For example, why not take the computer and engineering intensive programs from HT and create a magnet at Fallston or CMW, 2 schools currently without a county-wide magnet program. That would allow for more spots to open up at HT and even room for some it’s programs to grow.
Don’t get me wrong, I think HT is an awesome place and I’m proud HCPS has a school like it. I’m just thinking out loud and wondering how we can have a bigger impact on a population of students that sometimes gets ignored.
The problem with the type of competition that goes on in gaining access to HTHS is that the criteria eliminate the students in most need of this type of education.
Harford Tech reguires what all students should strive for: good citizenship, good attendance and satisfactory and better grades. A student that doesn’t meet these requirements is going to have a tough time in all schools and probably on the job. THOSE WHO DO NOT GET ACCEPTED IN GRADE 9 CAN APPY AGAIN IN GRADE 10 when they have shown improvement. Most do not. Harford Tech was one of the first schools to have true partnerships with business and industry. The business community serves on their advisory committees to help create curriculum and equipment needs. They will tell you clearly that a worker who misses work, refuses to comply with policies, and doesn’t take additional training past high school is of no use to them.
Who are the NON HCPS kids? Are they coming from other counties? If so why is that allowed?
SMA Parent says
Non-HCPS students are private school or homeschool students. There are many such schools in our county.
Ok thanks. I thought they were coming from other counties to go to HTHS. Didnt think about the private schools
lets take some of the money from the teachers unions to pay for the expansion.
Observation – how would you classify ” students in most need of this type of education.”? that comment came across a little prejudiced to me. were you indeed implying that students from traditionally lower income areas of Harford County are less likely to apply and attend college? I certainly hope not.
I’ve read through the comments a few times. Something is just not registering.
What is really the problem here?
1) The admissions procedure?
2) Building capacity?
4) Philosophy of the school?
Each is pin-pointed to suggested that HT has some sort of problem that needs fixing. Why not look at it differently? Why not create viable plans to make other HCPS secondary programs more competitive to keep students from applying to HT? In other words, if HT is attracting more students than it has spots avaliable and otehrwise working – leave it alone. If other schools are not preparing their students for the world they are entering – that suggests to me those schools need fixing – not Harford Tech.
But, what do I know?
Local guy you are absolutely correct. It is the other schools that need fixing, or the perception that they need fixing. Looks who’s applying–students destined for Edgewood. Regardless of whether they want to study a trade or not, they apply. I know many who attend there who just wanted to get out without trying for the impossibility of a boundary exception. Of course the irony here is that the IB program at Edgewood is one of the most sought after spots in the county.
Kharn, you stated “Huh? –
Cars may have more computers, but the diagnostic tools are built for mechanics with a 10th grade education and the ability to follow a flow chart. They aren’t reverse engineering parts (or making the circuit boards), they swap it for an identical part bought off the internet and charge $80/hr. The only difference is a new computer module is $750 vs $2.95 for a spark plug.”
as an auto technician I take great offense to every word in that statement. You obviously have NO IDEA what you are talking about.
My neighbor’s son attends Harford Tech and is in one of the ‘traditional vo-tech’ areas that everyone is insisting Tech revert back to. He is one of 6 students in the class. The ‘problem’ with Tech is…kids don’t want to be in those traditional areas as much as they want to be in the others. The wait lists are full for only some areas. Look at the traditional areas and most don’t have enough kids in them. My neighbor said it’s that way in construction too. So it’s not a matter of what Tech is doing wrong, it’s about them doing right in the ‘technical’ areas.
HTHS Mom says
I have a student at HTHS. My issue with the school is the inability to provide enough sections of the classes. For example, one year my student had to choose between taking the 2nd year of foreign language (required for 4 year college admission)or Honors English. Would have been nice to be able to take both. Overall, we have been very happy with the school.
HTHS Mother says
I have a child who is a Junior at HTHS. Compared to many of the high schools in Harford County, the facilities at HTHS are in extremely bad condition. Some high schools enjoy new facilities, flat screen TVs, computer labs, new books, nice classrooms, and great lunch rooms; well, HTHS has nothing nice, except a football field. These students attend school in one of the oldest and worst facilities in the county school system. In the 9th grade, my child’s history book was so old that it was falling apart and had Bill Clinton still mentioned at President. The problem with HTHS is the county and its failure to improve the school, enhance the programs, and upgrade facilities. Last year, the students at this school went nearly two weeks without water in the building, they couldn’t even flush the toilets. Is about time that the focus is placed on Harford Technical High School.
HTHS Mother says
Bill Clinton mentioned *as* President
county mom says
Harford County has many options for computer and technical training, there is a program (or was) at Edgewood for drafting and design and formally and excellent “shop” program. Joppatowne has an amazing computer certification program and honestly if my child was looking that is where I would send them! What Abingdon Teacher is not saying but I think they mean is that Vo tech was set up to be a program for students not college bound, students who were struggling in high school for whatever reason and were perhaps good at “other” things like working with their hands in construction, electronics, mechanics, cosmotology etc. Those students who didnt want to spend another four years in school, couldnt afford college or just didnt have what it takes to get into college but over the years they have moved away from that to a difficult to get into program for “elite” students who then transition to college instead of the work world. This is unfair to those students who need the technical training to get a job that just cant compete academically with others. Not saying they all cant compete; (I know a lot of folks that went there that just wanted to be finished with school) just saying this was what this school was meant for initially and if so designed could probably have the capacity to serve those students! Let the academically advanced students go to the magnet schools and let vo tech be technical!
Tech Teacher says
It sounds like you are saying that if a student is intelligent, wants to go to college, has a good work ethic, has consistent attendance, and is not a behavioral problem then they should not be permitted to attend Harford Tech. How exactly should students be accepted to attend Harford Tech? Is there a maximum GPA students should be permitted to have? Should it be a requirement that students not be permitted to apply for college? Come on. The problem is not Tech being competitive. The problem is that there are limited resources. Don’t you want the best applicants to be provided the opportunity to use those limited resources? Ideally another Technical High School should be built. But with the citizens of this county unwilling to pay for salary step increases for county employees for the last three years, I don’t see that anywhere in the near future.
JIM JAM TIM TAM says
Money came from somewhere to build Patterson Mill and revamp Bel Air.
There were many people (myself included) who asked then Jim Harkins to make Patterson Mill a Vocational school to no avail. It was all about BUILD BUILD BUILD. There were also many people in Edgewood who asked for vocational school or programs at Edgewood HIgh (not IB) but HCPS and BOE just went ahead and did what they wanted to do. Now Edgewood has a lot of empty seats. Maybe if they would have had some really good programs there (like the Medical Magnet they put in Bel Air!) more students would stay or come there. Just remember it’s not about the kids…