Harford County Public Schools has a little gem of a high school once known to locals as Votech, but now called Harford Technical High School. As it stands today, the school is both a credit and a reproach to the management of Harford County Public Schools.
Like every other public high school in Harford County, Harford Tech includes a college prep program. But the school is unique in providing its students with the opportunity to explore several technical/vocational fields before choosing one to study in depth. Examples of the nineteen programs offered at Harford Tech include plumbing, Pipe Welding Certification Program, cosmetology, floral design, food service, computer-aided design, health occupations and printing/graphic communications. Many lead to industry certification in their respective fields.
Harford Tech is also the only magnet school in Harford County. Instead of serving students who live within a set attendance area, kids from all over the county apply for admittance as 9th graders – and they apply in droves. The school also boasts the highest graduation rate in the county (98.09%), the second highest attendance rate (95.6%), the lowest drop-out rate (.53%) and ranks near the top of the HSA rankings.
Harford Tech is so popular that hundreds of prospective freshmen are turned away each year; enough kids to fill the available openings two times over. In fact, about 20% of all the rising freshmen in Harford County Public Schools, or 622 students, applied to Harford Tech last spring. But there was only room enough to accept 283. So, for the majority of applicants, 339 of them to be exact, the response from the public school system was “No Vacancy.”
The competition for slots means that applicants are selected based largely on academic achievement. No doubt that explains some of the school’s success. But the heartbreak is that students who have average academic records, the very students who might benefit most from a technical/vocational education, are the least likely to get in.
And what becomes of these kids? They go to their respective home schools and take coursework that is, by definition, their second choice. Or, they could consider one of several magnet programs popping up all over Harford County. The trouble is, with competitive admissions for magnet programs, these underserved students may be no more likely to be admitted into a magnet program than to Harford Tech. And in many ways, Harford Tech and magnet programs are like apples and oranges. Magnet programs like the Science and Math Academy and the International Baccalaureate Programme are primarily academic in nature and don’t offer the variety or types of programs found at Harford Tech. In fact, of the 622 students who applied to Harford Tech last year, only 97 also applied to magnet programs.
So most of the applicants to Harford Tech want Harford Tech only, and Harford Tech simply doesn’t have room for all who apply. That would be bad enough if no new high schools were being built in the county. But that’s hardly been the case.
Harford County is just coming off of a nearly $300 million high school building boom that included Aberdeen, Patterson Mill, Bel Air and Edgewood. But despite the obvious need and public support, nowhere was space allotted to expand the demonstrably successful program at Harford Tech. Was the omission driven by educational philosophy, or snobbery, or just poor decision-making? No matter, students who wanted to learn carpentry could just pound sand.
The good news is that there are still ways these students could be served.
The building boom may be about to end, but Edgewood High is still under construction and is planned to accommodate 1741 students. Yet according to the school system’s own projections, enrollment at Edgewood is expected to hover around one thousand students from now until at least 2016. So there will soon be over 700 seats available in a brand new facility, with no students expected to fill them. Edgewood already has a magnet program. Could it also accommodate a cluster of technical/vocational classes?
At the same time, the old Aberdeen North building can hold about 850 students and it is barely used; it mostly serves administrative functions. And then there is the John Archer School, which is located next door to Harford Tech now. The school program is slated to be moved to Bel Air Middle in a few years, meaning that the existing building would become available.
Whether or not any of these school facilities could be re-purposed to expand technical/vocational education in Harford County should be explored, along with ways to expand the reach of Harford Tech.
One thing is clear, the students who have been banging on the door for a technical/vocational education (and the society who will need their services), have not been served by the status quo. If we want to do better, there are plenty of ways. What has been lacking is the will.
Great article, Cindy. This is an area where our school system is seriously lacking. I had a child who could have benefited greatly from Tech. He was a lackluster student who was definitely not college material. Not once did anyone in elementary or middle school suggest Harford Tech for him. I made him apply. Since his grades weren’t great and he was not motivated, he was one of the hundreds turned down. He stayed in his public high school and at numerous meetings with his guidance counselor/teachers, the first question I was always asked was, “Where is he going to college?” HCPS feel ALL students are college material. He graduated – barely – and is now working dead end jobs. They prepared him for nothing. He is still not interested in college and is looking at the military. I may be showing my age here, but in my day, he would have been put into a non-college prep course (tech training of some sort) with no questions asked!
Dave Yensan says
Come on Cindy, do you really think we will need “plumbing, welding, cosmetology, floral design, food service, computer-aided design, health occupations and printing/graphic communications” in the future world? We are going to need a lot more college graduates who can’t read, write or do math but can repeat lots of useless rhetoric. I see a great need for highly educated people to man our car dealerships, to build our roads, bridges and houses. How can anyone possibly think that investing in a “trade School” makes any sense?
Great article Cindy. Thanks for your diligence.
I think part of the problem is that people apply for Harford Tech who have no interest in Harford Tech. We have a neighbor with aspirations of being a lawyer going to Harford Tech! Come on this kid should have gone to Edgewood in the IB program! I think by offering more options everywhere it will open up some of the slots for the kids who really need it.
What Dave doesn’t realize is that not all high school students are going to be/want to be college material, and to push them into a life of college where they may fail even more is not the way to prepare them for the so-called “real world.” I don’t get this mindset that trade schools are inferior. If high school graduates are not ready for college and would rather work right after graduation and earn a living, more power to them.
HDGReader, come on.
Dave was using sarcasm. Your points are well-taken and valid and I concur. Dave agress. Perhaps when we write on the internet we should make clear our sarcasm.
I thought Dave actually didn’t agree! Oh well, it’s Monday.
Wonderful article, Cindy. Here’s a case in point. My son, a graduate (barely) of BAHS, said shortly after that graduation that he wished he had his last 2 years there to do over again. He would have gone to Tech to be 1 year ahead in his trade training. Well, this young man finished his trade training, going 4 yrs to school at night, while working 40+ hours each week and recently passed his licensure test for journeyman plumber, on the first try. He owns his own home just 5 years after graduation and truely enjoys what he does. I don’t think he could say that if he had tried college and failed.
Yes, he could have benefitted by attending Tech but what I see as an equal dis-service to students is to push kids to attend college who really should not or don’t want to be there. Instead, HCPS should consider each student’s strengths and guide them into alternate career choices in which they could be more successful. Shame on HCPS for pushing college so that their statistics appear better, something we all know to be true.
Good luck to Harford County students if they hope to have a second technical high school in the near future. For those who are not accepted to Tech, consider the trades after high school. You won’t be without a job after you complete it!
Delegate Dan Riley says
As a retired middle school teacher I can attest to the need for a second Harford Tech. Competition has always been tight getting into Harford Tech and it was truly sad seeing the disappointments on the faces of the students turned away. As a teacher and as a delegate I have admired Harford Tech’s program. “It is not your daddy’s Vo-tech”. Please check it out and you will agree it is a fantastic program and we do need another especially in the Route 40 corridor area.
Myself, Delegate James, and Senator Glassman pushed for this concept 10 years ago but received little support from the Board of Education.
Cindy, your article is not only well-done but very timely. Thank you.
Delegate Riley I wish that you and all said persons get together with the Board of Education before they finish Edgewood High School. They are adding capacity and the school is projected to be at 55% capacity in 2 years. Why couldn’t they have more vocational opportunities in the school (at least CADD). I have heard from reliable sources that many of the Harford Technical students are coming from Edgewood anyway. I still don’t understand why that data isn’t available to the public every year about how many students apply and how many students are leaving their home school. It is very important data that is relevant and has been ignored even though the school system knows it.
Mark Wolkow has been on the Board for many years and has never even spoken about trying to get vocational training for Edgewood. At least the new Board member has said publicly that he is concerned about vocational opportunities. It needs to happen now because there isn’t going to be any more high school capacity added for many many years since the enrollment is declining and money is scarce.
When I attended high school in Baltimore County many years ago, there were opportunities to attend vocational school after 10th and 11th grade. Some programs only required 2 years of technical training so there was an application process after 2 years. I strongly believe something like this needs to occur in Harford County if this trend continues because as others have mentioned, there isn’t going to be more high school capacity. Magnets ARE NOT vocational and are still excluding the students that probably are most at risk for dropping out or not being able to complete college. HCPS hosted town meetings years ago and parents overwhelmingly said they wanted more vocational training and not so interested in magnets. HCPS did the opposite.
I know that many people want to keep the school the way it is, but how much training do the kids get in the 1st year? Why isn’t there a program for Medical Assistants or something along that line? They added a twilight program years ago but students were unavailable to take advantage of it because they had to provide transportation and it was right after school. Parents had really good suggestions about vocational programs but no interest in what they had to say.
Also don’t understand why this wasn’t even mentioned during “Comprehensive Secondary School Reform.” How could you talk about reform without even talking about vocational training.
Delegate Dan Riley says
It is true many students turned away from Harford Tech are from the Edgewood area. I know because they were my former students.
Where the surplus army property is located,in Edgewood, we were hoping that could become a site for another Harford Tech. The county decided to turn the property into senior citizen and affordable housing under the auspices of The Shelter Corporation.
I and others will continue to push for another Harford Tech or a combination facility at the new Edgewood High School.
Parent, Taxpayer and Businessman says
I have the same question as Kate does: When Mr. Volrath (who didn’t mind going to a conference of secondary school principals in Las Vegas in 2008 on, our dime, and dishonestly pounding his chest about the smoke and mirrors railroad job he did in getting CSSRP pushed thru) was considering secondary school reform, why did he not even DISCUSS increasing techical/vocational capacity? This is such an obvious need for our students. And the director of secondary education has done us a terrible disservice yet again (and for allowing it, so has the board and superintendent).
I guess something as old-hat and unsexy as vo-tech doesn’t look good on an educator’s resume. And when you are as self-serving as Mr. Volrath, such considerations factor strongly into your decision-making.
But let us not give up hope. Maybe a strong new superintendent, with all the stakeholders’ support, can overcome Volrath and his apologists (see Wolkow and Rich) on the board.
HCPS is of the mind-set that ALL of their students are going to college. (Especiallly in the northern part of the county. Look at the numbers of students at Tech from there.) I think they just keep telling themselves this and so now believe it no matter the evidence to the contrary or the requests of their constituents (parents/taxpayers). They did well with my college bound children, but utterly failed my uninterested, unmotivated child by pushing him through his home high school. Since parental involvement is their mantra, I met with every teacher and/or guidance counselor my child was involved with in his years at school. All were convinced, even with his lackluster grades, and my flat out stating he was uninterested in school – period – that he was going to college!
It was the most frustrating period of my (and maybe his) life.
Bring on the elected school board. Hopefully it will make them accountable to someone.
My wife, who taught with Mr. Riley, has said the same thing, It is worth noting some of the people applying to Harford Tech have no interest in the career of choice. Some have no buisnes going to HS so in fairness not all who get rejected are worthy of felling sorry for. If you have mostly E’s you don’t need to take up a spot in a program.
Is it realistic to expect 13 year old students, early in their eighth grade year to select a career cluster? Should they be expected at that age to know if they are going to be college bound, and perhaps apply to a magnet program, or if they would be better served by applying to Harford Tech as to be better prepared to enter the workforce after high school?
As Kate suggests, might it be better for the student to have 1+ years of high school experience before they are asked to decide their future career pathway? Applying for magnets/technical school as 10th grade students and opening these special programs for only 11th and 12th grade students, could effectively double the number of students who could participate within the current building structures and capacities.
It is true that a lot of Edgewood students do apply to Harford Tech. However, it is not generally the type of student who would benefit most from a technical school. Typically, the “brightest” students of the 8th grade classes, who have every intention in attending college, are the ones who would attend. Typically, they wanted to go to Harford Tech to avoid going to Edgewood High School (or in some cases it was the wish of the parents). It would have been interesting to see how many would have applied to Tech had they been in a different district. Once Aberdeen’s Math and Science came along, some of those students chose that Academy, but an overwhelming amount still apply to Tech. Some will even choose a field simply because they’ve heard it’s not as difficult to get in the program. It will be interesting to see if Edgewood’s IB program manages to keep the best and brightest. It’s a shame that some of the students who perhaps are choosing Tech for the wrong reasons are taking slots away from those who might benefit the most.
Larry one thought. Is it realistic to rule that out early on? If you force kids to decide then and then they chose to go to college it will be awefully hard. At least this way they have choices. BTW do most 9th graders all take the same course work? So essentially they have until 10th grade correct?
Going to Harford Tech doesn’t preclude anyway from going to college. I have children of various academic abilities and it is very difficult for the kids who really struggle academically. High school doesn’t prepare them for college because college really isn’t appropriate for many students. Not one counselor ever talked to my student(s) about options either.
I am hopeful that a new superintendent will bring a fresh perspective and isn’t beholden to anyone who currently works for HCPS. I am still waiting to see how beneficial the block schedule has been for high school students but I know that information won’t be forthcoming either.
Bel Air community is still trying to figure out why a Medical Arts Magnet is going into Bel Air High School when it is projected to be about 50 students undercapacity in 2 years and also what purpose it serves. Why shouldn’t kids at Edgewood, Joppatowne or anywhere else get to take those classes that may be interested in a medical career? My daughter wants to go into nursing and can’t get courses she needs/wants in high school but I guess if she was in the Medical Arts Magnet she would be able to.
I dunno, maybe I’m old fashioned, but I don’t see why high school students have any business picking a “career cluster.” Most people when they’re going to college really don’t have a clue what they want to do as a career and many go in “undecided” or change majors at least once. Hell, I changed majors three times and am now in a career that I love, but has little to do with any of those majors (short of me going into some fairly specialized areas which I don’t intend to do anytime soon.) Sure, there are some 9th or 10th graders who know what they want to do, but most don’t (or will change their minds several times) and I’m sure quite a few will make their decision based on what their friends do or what sounds easiest.
OK DW think of this. What if you had been exposed to the first major in HS and decided then, for free, you didn’t want to do that when you got older. It would have been free and saved you time in college finding yourself.
I don’t think Harford Tech precludes you from college at all. But all students should take the courses so if they want they can go to college. If they don’t want to they go to a trade school whatever. It is best to have options.
The point is that students who might benefit the most from a technical high school (those who don’t do particularly well with basic studies) are not getting into Harford Tech because of poor grades during the admission process in the eighth grade. Doubling the capacity of the program by making it an 11th and 12 grade only school, rather than a 4 year HS, might allow those who truly need the technical programs to benefit by getting into and completing high school with a skill that could take them into the workforce if desired.
Larry good plan too. Spreading out some of the programs and offering them at other schools might help too.
Apparently when you apply to Harford Tech you don’t apply to a “program” but instead the school. Once in you get in, you then decide on the program. Why don’t they incorporate all of the programs into LICW (which the school system said they were getting rid of or changing) if students are interested in learning more about them. If this county is only going to have one technical high school, they really do need to reorganize it into a vocational school instead of a comprehensive high school which it is serving as now.
Also understand that many of students who are college bound walk across the street to HCC to take their college prep classes. How convenient for them but again not exactly what the mission of the school probably is or should be. As others hear have stated, the kids who aren’t doing well in high school or not going to college have no choice but to try and stick it out with no options in 11th or 12 grade.
I agree with katelyn that HCPS is entirely focused on college, especially four year-colleges for all of their students. Some guidance counselors even think Harford Community College is not good enough.
When I was a senior at HDG High in 1993, I had a talk with a guidance counselor who berated me for choosing HCC that fall. She said with my grades, why was I “settling” for HCC. I was blunt and told her that unlike other families who can afford to send their kids to four-year schools away from home, I lived with my grandparents who were on a fixed income and told me outright they were not helping with any college tuition. Either I apply for scholarships and a Pell Grant, or no school at all. I also wasn’t ready to leave and go to school out of state or even College Park. I was 17 and still wanted to stick close to home. The guidance counselor still wasn’t satisfied with my answers. I think HCC is a great school and outside of one nasty professor (who has since left) my college years there were wonderful.
Anyway, HCPS needs to look at other alternatives for struggling students and even non-struggling students who would prefer to attend a trade school or enter the workforce. If the demand is there, why ignore it?
It is my understanding you apply to harford tech for a specific program. Some programs like welding are much easier to get into and others like cosmotology and culinary are more difficult.
In some cases that may have happened. In my case it didn’t since my first two majors where both in fields that I enjoyed in high school and did extremely well in (taking AP and honors classes and scoring high on the AP tests.) The major I eventually settled on I basically fell in to because I wanted to get my degree and get out. Tastes, goals, etc change and I really don’t think most high school freshman and sophomores have any idea what they want to do. I think most students are better served by being exposed to a variety of disciplines over their high schools careers rather than being pushed into one particular area. It would also help if teachers weren’t forced to “teach the test” and could instead actually teach students how to think. My wife, who happens to be a high school teacher in Harford County, agrees completely with me on that.
There should be plenty of vocational opportunities available for those who want them (and/or are most likely not suitable for college.) I think if there were more opportunities (and those opportunities not based solely on GPA’s) some of the problems we’re having in various parts of the county (namely the Rt. 40 corridor, Edgewood, and Aberdeen) would diminish. Get those kids interested in school and learning and let them see that they have a future that doesn’t involve drugs, gangs, and violence and over time it should make those neighborhoods safer. Learning is important whether it’s learning calculus, how to repair or build an engine, or plumbing.
Now, maybe I’m misunderstanding exactly what the “career clusters” are supposed to be, but my understanding is that a student goes into a field (like sciences) and focuses most of his/her classes in that area and takes fewer classes in other disciplines, but is still on a college track (and is not ready for a career upon graduation.) Vocational training on the other hand is preparing the student who may not have the interest or ability to go to college right out of high school with the training necessary to start a career after graduation.
Because the school system has so many required courses in the first two years, a career cluster really doesn’t mean anything but can make it very difficult to schedule especially now with the block schedule where some classes are all year every other day and some 1/2 semester. It is a nightmare in schools where there are less than 1000 students (HVDG, Joppatowne, Patterson Mill). All of the issues with career clusters, block schedule, were part of CSSRP and were supposed to be evaluated by the Board of Education 3 years ago. They continue to sit on vital information and ignore problems associated with it.
My son is going into his 2nd year of college in Engineering. HCPS did an okay job of preparing him in some subject matters not so much in others. Very deficient in science and because of the block schedule the amount of time that was cut out of Calculus 1 and 2, the teacher was unable to teach as much of the textbook as in years past. Same situation in English where the loss of instruction time was close to 50 hours. Too many parents don’t realize what has been lost and I hope new leadership and new perspective will bring focus back on what is important.
Not from Here says
It is interesting that people have the impression that HCPS is very college focused, but yet so many students leave high school only to repeat what they should have learned in high school in remedial classes in colleges (which by the way is not unique to Harford County). I guess even if it does focus on college prepartation, it doesn’t do it very well.
The college clusters do not offer a college prep track and the tracks are for general areas of interest. In one cluster for example, the judge, the lawyer, the baliff, and the court reporter are all in the same career cluster. It’s a beauty of a program.
Kate, Jate to tell you Joppatowne had a block schedule before CSSRP! No problems then with scheduling!
There are a lot of problems with block scheduling and teachers not being able to cover the required material. It’s more of a problem in certain subjects than others (I think math is the one that has the biggest problems, but I could be wrong.) My understanding is that the teachers are having to cover too much material in one sitting and many students are having trouble grasping that much material. With regular length class periods less material is covered each day, but then the student has a chance to go home and do homework and master those skills before moving on to the next shill the next day.
I’m just glad my school district didn’t start the block scheduling garbage until my senior year and they phased it in so juniors and seniors and didn’t have to make the switch (unless they were in a class designed for freshmen or sophomores, of course.) My sister had to go through it and hated it.
Jopppatowne had semester scheduling for the block schedule. If you look at the educational research, it is probably the worst schedule for high school in terms of success on AP tests and SAT. Now the school system has a “hybrid” schedule for year long classes and 1/2 year. If you don’t think it’s a problem CDEV, you obviously don’t have any kids in high school. I do…
I didn’t say it was perfect. But you concluded block scheduling was horrible and more so in small schools. You named 3 of the 4 smallest schools in the county omitting Harford Tech from the list. Of those schools you named one had block scheduleing (all be it a different form before). Yes block scheduling can be bad for some subjects but for others it can be really good such as sciences, labs, and hands on. I taught at a school with an 8 period day (45 minutes each period) some classes like AP courses where offered in 2 credit courses so that the teacher had 90 minutes everyday to cover all the material. AP scores skyrocketed that year although the number of courses at that school that got taken declined.
Not from Here says
It would be great to hear how the block schedule is impacting AP scores around the county. The research shows that scores are lower overall for kids on the block schedule.
As far as math goes… in my daughter’s AP calculus class, students had to go in at 7:15 a.m. one day a week so that they would have five classes each week. At her school, the academic classes meet four times each week (almost the same schedule as John Carroll and similar to Bel Air High School–pre-block schedule). The test scores went up, according to the teacher, after she started the five classes policy.
how do u get an application for harfod tech ?