PALESTINE — The career and technical education building at Palestine High School used to be a dark, uninviting, out-of-date facility.
Recent renovations turned it into a bright, attractive, state-of-the art structure for career-bound students.
Career and technical education “is a focused area now that we are producing not only physical products but employable people in four years.”
With college tuition increasing and entrance exams and standards harder, it's becoming more difficult for “everyday average or below-average students” to go to college, Tunstall said.
Coupled with that turn, community members voiced during meetings with Palestine ISD administrators a need for students to be prepared to start work after graduating from high school, he said.
An approximately $2 million renovation of the career and technology building was recently completed on the recommendation of Superintendent Jason Marshall.
The roughly 33,000-square-foot structure had become “dilapidated” since it opened in the early to mid-1970s, Tunstall said.
The renovation “gave us the opportunity to cleanse this building,” Tunstall said, observing that some teachers had collected materials and out-dated equipment for decades. “We purged the building of all those old and outdated things that were more in the way than anything else.”
The renovation included reallocating how space is used, new lighting and flooring, replacing dark paneling with bright, white walls, and a general refurbishing that gives the building a “more welcoming” look, Tunstall said.
The outside got as much attention as the inside, he added. A back parking lot is newly paved. New fencing surrounds the building — a combination of chain link fence and wood privacy fence. The exterior was pressure washed, new windows installed and the grounds landscaped.
Among numerous programs it houses are culinary arts, health science, pharmacy tech, cosmetology, audio video technology, criminal justice, technology and engineering, agriculture and welding.
“What we are producing are well-rounded, employable people who we are going to send to the job force,” Tunstall said.
Approximately 715 out of almost 900 students attending Palestine High School participate in the career and technology program this year.
That is “up quite a bit from previous years,” but a lot of the increase is due to an additional period in the school day this year and elimination of early release for seniors, Tunstall said.
Although a couple of introductory agriculture classes are conducted at the junior high level, the career and technology program primarily provides students “four-year pathways,” starting in the ninth grade, that can lead to careers and make them ready to be hired after high school graduation.
“You get an introduction as a freshman,” Tunstall said.
For example, a pupil interested in becoming a chef would start with an introductory class in hospitality and tourism, and then go into the first culinary arts class to study basic food preparation and serving. Culinary Arts Two would be more advanced. A two-hour practicum type class is being set up for the senior year.
Plans call for opening a restaurant style café where students can serve lunch to the school staff and community. The room for the café will sit up to 50 people and can be used for other purposes, such as distance learning and meetings. It has a large screen and technology.
The kitchen also has a demonstration area where guest chefs can prepare meals.
Although educators want students to have a primary concentration, they are not limited to just one pathway, but can take courses in multiple pathways, Tunstall said.
“One of the things I'm most proud of is our new audio video technology (facilities),” Tunstall said. The program has its own TV studio and work stations similar, but better than, work stations that ABC studios in Chicago use, he added.
Students digitize daily school announcements and project them to a movie screen in the cafeteria. Flat-screen TV's are going in across campus where announcements will also scroll daily.
The technology and engineering pathway focuses on robotics and electronics and has a robotics club associated with it.
The health science program prepares students to be certified to work as a nurse's aide. Fourteen students took the certification test last year and 13 passed.
Students in pharmacy technology can become licensed to work in a pharmacy. Likewise, the cosmetology program trains students to become licensed cosmetology operators.
The cosmetology studio represents a true salon setting “as close as we could get,” Tunstall said. “Everything was ordered from a salon supply company; we have everything that a state-of-the-art salon would have,” he said.
Classes are taught in architecture and construction, agriculture, small animal science and equine science.
A new thrust is an area called Wildcat Acres, about a six-acre tract of land where the school district plans to develop a farm tended by agriculture students. “We also want to have a farmers market where we would set up on weekends for the community to buy product,” Tunstall said.
“Beyond that, we want it (the farm) to be an outdoor learning environment. All campuses throughout the district can come over and use that as a natural outdoor learning environment and outdoor learning lab,” he said.