Southwest CTE Academy to move ahead with board establishment, awaits federal grant funding
A sit-down with Director Aaron Anderson of the Southwest Career and Technical Education Academy, who updates on the school campus thus far.
During a recent visit to the Southwest Career and Technical Education Academy (SCTEA), Director Aaron Anderson provided an update on how officials are wait for additional funding to further launch this project. Currently, officials are working on establishing the entity and organizing a board of directors with its first official monthly meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 3.
SCTEA officials have submitted a grant proposal in hopes to secure $10 million from the North Dakota Career and Technical Education Coronavirus Grant. However, the grant has been delayed due to some federal guidance. Anderson said they most likely won’t hear back on that grant until after the special legislative session in November.
“We’re excited to hear those grant results and get some start-up money to help transform this space. We’ve had some generous support from our communities, and then we hope to start expanding our reach from a private-donor aspect,” Anderson said.
Six schools have officially signed on to be a part of the SCTEA, and include Dickinson High School, Trinity Catholic Schools as well as public schools of South Heart, Belfield, Killdeer and New England. Anderson said he hopes that more schools in the southwest region will want to be included as this project moves forward.
The governance board will consist of six members and is structured so that each board member is from one of the academy’s participating schools. Dickinson Public Schools will have two board members, because the school will have more than 600 students enrolled in the programs. In addition, there will be one board member from each public school — which includes Belfield, South Heart, Killdeer and New England. Due to century code, Trinity Catholic Schools would not have a voting board member because they are a private education system, Anderson said, adding that they would serve as support in discussions.
With the SCTEA, program offerings will be “very intentional” to help meet the needs of not only students, but the business sector in southwest North Dakota, Anderson said, adding that they are currently conducting an additional needs assessment to survey students and the business community. To date, approximately 700 students and 60 businesses have completed the survey. Those survey results will be discussed on Nov. 3 and Nov. 17 in a roundtable session with 12 to 15 individual business leaders present at each session. Over the coming months, there will be a total of four sessions that will give the SCTEA Board of Directors a better understanding of what programs they want to prioritize that will meet the needs of local employers.
"That’s one of the challenges of this project is taking a great space — industrial space — and making it meet the needs educationally. It’s no turnkey by any means."
- Aaron Anderson, Southwest Career and Technical Education Academy director
Prior to coming to Dickinson in July , Anderson served 12 years as the state supervisor for agriculture education with the North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education in Bismarck. In that previous role, Anderson led the overall instruction, funding and implementation of agricultural programs at the high school, college and adult levels across the state. Working with all of the CTE centers in North Dakota and experiencing not only the good but challenges that those centers dealt with prepped Anderson for his current role, he said.
“My hope here is to bring all the good things that are happening around the state, around the region, around the country and put it into one. There aren’t many people in the state that… (had) the opportunity to work with all those CTE programs around the state, and so I’m excited to bring those experiences to the Southwest Area CTE Academy and bring it to life,” he said. “But we’re unique in the sense that we have an advantage over a lot of the other centers in the state because we have a very willing post-secondary partner at Dickinson State. They want to be at the table; they want to see this happen. We have a robust business and industry group here in southwest North Dakota that’s very diversified and wants to be involved in providing students experiences, exposure and training to make them successful in their future careers whether it’s manufacturing, agriculture, health careers, hospitality… as well as the energy sector. "
In his first months as the SCTEA director, Anderson said he’s learned that the support for this project is growing as there is a desperate need for this type of facility in the southwestern region of the state. From a legal and funding standpoint, it’s important to envision how this project will expand in years to come, he said, explaining that officials are looking at making this a long-term sustainable facility so it doesn’t impose a huge financial burden on students and school districts.
“There’s going to be a significant investment in career technical education in southwest North Dakota and we want that to be a quality investment that will produce a strong workforce and keep our kids here in southwest North Dakota,” he noted. “We continue to have great conversations with Dickinson State University in their dual mission and establishing career technical education programs. The center out here is going to house both high school programs, college CTE programs and (the) hope to expand to adult-ed and training offerings for all of southwest North Dakota. The long-term goal is that this center won’t just meet the needs of our high school students and college students, but it’ll meet the needs of all individuals looking for training and certification for future careers. But it doesn’t happen overnight... I think it’s very doable. It’s exciting. But it’s taking some big planning to make sure that happens.”
Since March of 2020, DPS, DSU, Trinity Catholic Schools and the Roughrider Area Career and Technical Center have teamed up to create a task force of 22 members to jumpstart this project. In October of 2020, DPS voted to approve the $6 million purchase of the former Halliburton campus , which includes seven structures where five of the buildings will be tentatively remodeled for educational purposes. The preliminary estimate for renovations to convert the complex’s buildings from industrial use to educational is approximately $8 million.
Once the board of directors is created, officials will begin to look at what programming they want to offer with the goal of having nine to 10 programs operating in the next 18 months to two years. However, it is also critical to brainstorm with a futuristic mindset, Anderson said. For example, though traditionally automotive technology programs have focused on gas combustion engines, the automotive industry is transitioning to electric vehicles.
“We want to keep the programming at this academy very fluid, because we know there’s always changing employment needs and technology is always changing. And so, we want to design spaces (and) offer programming that has flexibility so we can change if there’s all of a sudden a big demand within the industry, we need to move to that,” Anderson said.
Looking ahead, Anderson noted that they will send out a request for proposal with architects and construction firms, allowing the project to move forward in designing and constructing the space from industrial to education. From there, the next steps would be creating a facility plan and phasing in construction in the spring, summer and fall of 2022. Anderson said that they’d like to have online programming up early as next fall.
“In the meantime, while we develop this facility, one goal and one thing we’re looking at is doing mobile learning labs. Those learning labs — through support sponsorship — are going to allow us to take the technology to students at their schools,” he said, adding a prime example would be incorporating mobile meat labs into various agricultural classes within those six schools that have partnered with the academy.
By August of 2023, the SCTEA is tentatively scheduled for total facility completion. Several DHS CTE educators will transition to the academy, Anderson said. As programs are fine-combed through, the SCTEA will be required to hire additional staffing, which may include looking at current CTE staffing at those partner schools.
As the SCTEA director, Anderson works closely with community members, prioritizes future programming, identifies spaces within the former Halliburton campus that will work and those that need to be redesigned. He assists current DHS CTE programs and working to secure partnerships for this project as well as “keeping an eye on this facility, making sure it doesn’t rot away” before construction takes place.
“That’s one of the challenges of this project is taking a great space — industrial space — and making it meet the needs educationally,” Anderson said. “It’s no turnkey by any means. None of the facility is turnkey. And so, we want to be very intentional in making sure our design construction meets the educational needs of our students here in southwest North Dakota.”