Jacques: Training center a building block for Detroit
At the revamped Randolph Career and Technical Center, students will get the skills they need to build a better future, as the Detroit school system seeks to rebuild its battered reputation.
The center on Detroit’s west side will open next Tuesday after an extensive $10 million renovation — the culmination of a years-long collaboration between the Detroit Public Schools Community District, Mayor Mike Duggan, business leaders, unions and other stakeholders. Randolph will focus on preparing students for jobs in the construction trades.
It’s exactly what the city needs to put Detroiters to work in the jobs being created by downtown’s revival.
The center is a wide open door to the middle class for Detroit students who prefer not to go to college, and for adults looking for skills to make them employable.
Its opening reverses more than two decades of neglect of vocational/technical education — formerly known as “shop.” The school district has a half dozen such training centers that have lost equipment, teachers and students and are, in most cases, useless.
The idea is to get Detroiters quickly ready for the jobs being created by the big projects downtown.
David Meador, vice chairman and chief administrative officer of DTE Energy, has backed the project from the beginning, and he never gave up on it, even when the Detroit district faced insolvency.
“We kept working on this diligently,” says Meador, who along with Cindy Pasky, CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions, chairs the city’s Workforce Development Board.
A press conference Monday at Randolph showed off the building’s facelift, and the community’s vision for the school.
The renovations include new flooring, lighting, paint and other classroom upgrades; new computers, furniture and safety equipment were also installed. The updated equipment will allow the school to offer a wide array of courses. Randolph is a high school, serving students in grades 10-12. Students accepted into the program will spend half their day at Randolph.
“In the construction area in particular, there are thousands and thousands of jobs that are open now and will be open with the work that’s already on the drawing board,” Mayor Mike Duggan said at the event. “These are good-paying jobs that will be here for the rest of your career.”
Duggan acknowledged the challenges faced by construction contractors, who must hire at least 51 percent Detroiters for Detroit projects—or face steep fines. As reported by The Detroit News last week, contractors working on Little Caesars Arena have been fined nearly $3 million as of March for not meeting this target.
In the city right now, there simply aren’t enough workers with the skills needed to step into these openings, and that’s why Duggan has committed to investing in Randolph to help fill that gap. And the mayor says that those fines will be directed to job training projects.
“I remember Randolph when it was great, but it fell on hard times,” Duggan said. “The community came together.”
The school, which used to house 700 students, had fallen into disrepair as the district faced enrollment losses and other financial setbacks. As of last year, about 90 students spent time at the school.
This fall, that number is expected to jump to 300 students during the day. And by year three, project organizers would like to see 900 high schoolers enrolled.
While youth training is a primary goal, Randolph will also serve as the training ground for adults. Adult evening programs are set to begin in October. Randolph focuses on construction trades, including carpentry, masonry, electrical and plumbing.
“Interest is high with students and adults,” Pasky says. “We’re not training and praying. We are training for jobs that exist.”
And Randolph is seen as just the first step to offering students and adults access to training in other in-demand careers, such as automotive and culinary arts. With Randolph as a model, future career-tech center makeovers in Detroit have a successful blueprint.
“It’s a model we believe could be replicated in other schools,” says Pasky.
Former interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather deserves a lot of credit as well for making Randolph a reality. She eagerly worked with Meador, when other administrators had deflected his proposal. Now, as a deputy superintendent, she’ll oversee career tech education, and she’s committed to Randolph’s success.
Business leaders and community leaders say they’ll stick with Randolph as it gets up and running. That’s essential, and so is a commitment from DPSCD superintendent Nikolai Vitti to keep the program and others like it in the forefront for students.
“We are giving our students multiple pathways to reach their potential,” Vitti said at the event. “There are very few mayors or business communities that have come to rally together to actually implement reform rather than just talk about it. This is an example of what is to come within our district.”