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U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tours Oakland High’s career education programs

November 30, 2017

By JAMES EVANS
Rutherford County Schools

By all accounts, Jeri Radford has already had an impressive career, and she’s still a college student at Middle Tennessee State University.

She graduated from Oakland High School two years ago after completing the mechatronics program, which allowed her to earn a Siemens Level I certification before graduating. She then entered the mechatronics program at MTSU where she earned a National Science Foundation scholarship for being one of the top 10 students, has completed an internship with Nissan and an aviation manufacturer in Kansas, and has gone to Germany twice to complete additional training. 

For the upcoming summer break, she has received five offers for internships from manufacturers throughout the country but has settled on one with Bell Helicopter in the Dallas-Fort Worth region of Texas. 

“Being where I am now, I would not be here without the program at Oakland High School,” Radford said. 

Radford shared her story on Nov. 29 with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who visited Oakland to learn more about the school’s mechatronics and other career and technical education programs. DeVos traveled to Middle Tennessee for an education summit in Nashville and selected Oakland High School as the only public school to tour in the area. 

After the tour and in a room full of local reporters, DeVos said she was impressed with the mechatronics program — which was created through joint efforts between Rutherford County Schools, Oakland High School, the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, higher education institutions and industry partners — for the opportunities it provides students. 

“I think it’s a great partnership between the community and the school and the business needs in this region,” DeVos said. 

The mechatronics program has been in place for three years now — and through an on-site laboratory and classroom at the school — provides for students to learn the ins and outs of the manufacturing process used by many companies in the area and beyond. 

Students can earn their Siemens certification while at Oakland and have opportunities to work through internships with local manufacturers including Schwan Cosmetics, Bridgestone and Nissan. After high school, they can then enter mechatronics programs at MTSU or Motlow State Community College in Smyrna, while also potentially working for one of the local manufacturers. 

The program was created after manufacturers reported a lack of qualified workers in the area to fill many open, skilled positions. These types of positions typically are high paying and good career options. 

The school district and the school then worked with the Chamber of Commerce, the manufacturers and the higher education institutions to develop a workforce development pipeline beginning with high school students. 

The program has become a runaway success and has been cited as a model for other school districts. In fact, the school has given multiple tours to education officials from around the country, including a group from Hawaii who visited Tennessee last year. 

Secretary DeVos also toured the health sciences and automotive repair programs at the school and spent more than an hour meeting and talking with various students and teachers in the programs. 

“It’s really an honor to be at Oakland High School and to be able to witness firsthand how Oakland is reaching students’ needs and aptitudes,” DeVos said. 

The tour was led by Oakland Principal Bill Spurlock and Director of Schools Don Odom, who were excited to show the secretary an example of a successful and exemplary public education program. Secretary DeVos is a vocal proponent of charter schools and voucher programs — which divert public education dollars to private schools. 

“I think today the group traveling with her saw a better way,” Director Odom said. “I told her it can be replicated.”

 

PHOTOS / JAMES EVANS

Oakland seniors Einar Strandberg, Matthew Putzig and Sara Carmichael teach U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos how to operate a robotic arm during her tour of the school  on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. 

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Oakland students Kaleb Garrett, left, and Coyte Bess talk to Secretary DeVos about the school's automotive repair program. 

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Oakland principal Bill Spurlock, left, and Director of Schools Don Odom, center, led Secretary DeVos on a tour of the career and technical education programs at the school. 

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Oakland seniors Amal Kanakrieh, right, and Emma Clunie, center, talk about the clinical nursing program with Secretary DeVos. 

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Director of Schools Don Odom, right, and School Board member Aaron Holladay, discuss public education and the Career and Technical Education programs available at Oakland and other Rutherford County Schools. "It can be replicated," Director Odom said. 

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Secretary DeVos poses with officials with Rutherford County Schools and the Tennessee Delegation. 

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Secretary DeVos poses with members of the local manufacturing community, and officials with Oakland High School and Rutherford County Schools. 

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Secretary DeVos talks with Oakland clinic nursing students Tanay Patel, right, and Jalela Bahar, center. 

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Secretary DeVos poses for a photo with Oakland mechatronics graduate Jeri Radford, who is now an accomplished student at Middle Tennessee State University. 

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Secretary DeVos poses for a photo with Oakland mechatronics students. 

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Secretary DeVos participated in a roundtable discussion with officials from Rutherford County Schools, Oakland High School, the Chamber of Commerce, local higher education institutions and representatives from local manufacturers. 

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Oakland Principal Bill Spurlock kicks off the panel discussion with Secretary Devos about the school's mechatronics program. 

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Oakland mechatronics teacher Lenny Ciletti poses for a photo with Secretary Devos. 

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Mechatronics teacher Lenny Ciletti discusses the 3D printing lab with Secretary Devos. 

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Secretary DeVos discusses the mechatronics program with teacher Lenny Ciletti and seniors Einar Strandberg, Matthew Putzig and Sara Carmichael.

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Secretary DeVos discusses robotic machinery with Oakland students Dhruv Patel, center, and Louis Mindar. 

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Secretary DeVos talks about the program at Oakland High School with Director of Schools Don Odom. 

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Oakland automotive teacher Philip Vining discusses the program with Secretary DeVos. 

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Secretary DeVos talks with nursing students Cason Buehler, right, and Tamaiya Fore.