CANTON Each school day, 43 percent of high school juniors and seniors in St. Lawrence Countys public schools leave their home district to take classes at one of the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services career and technical centers.
Some educators say the growing trend illustrates that regional high schools could work in the north country.
Weve already got transportation streams set up, said Thomas A. Burns, St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES district superintendent. In several of our districts, more than half their juniors and seniors are taking classes at our tech centers.
Faced with dwindling financial resources and declining student enrollments, many area school districts have been forced to cut elective classes, programs and teachers over the past several years.
As a result, Mr. Burns said, a growing number of districts are making up the shortfall by sending students to programs offered at one of the three technical centers operated by St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES. The school districts have to pay tuition, but they get reimbursed for a portion of their costs through BOCES aid.
Because districts have been in a tough financial situation, they are cutting elective courses at the high school level, Mr. Burns said. The career and technical education options have become more viable.
This year, 43.19 percent of eligible students in the regions 18 public school districts are enrolled at Seaway Tech, Norwood; Northwest Tech, Ogdensburg, or Southwest Tech, Fowler.
Mr. Burns said he believes the percentage may be the highest in all the states BOCES regions.
The percentage is higher than in neighboring BOCES regions; Jefferson-Lewis BOCES reports about 27 percent of its juniors and seniors at tech centers, and Franklin-Essex BOCES has about 32 percent.
The student figures vary among the districts, ranging from a high of 64 percent at Harrisville Central to a low of 21 percent at Massena Central.
The three St. Lawrence County centers serve a total of 1,006 students this year, compared with 994 students in the 2011-12 school year.
Rachelle E. Romodo, BOCES supervisor of instruction, said the numbers are projected to continue climbing.
For example, the number of students in the allied health program is set to increase from 64 to 81 next year, and the cosmetology program is expected to grow from 99 students to 124.
In recent years, BOCES has expanded its list of programs, which has long included cosmetology, automotive technology and construction trades, to offer classes in allied health and pre-engineering.
Other BOCES programs are culinary arts; criminal justice; early childhood education; building trades; metalworking; heating, ventilation and air conditioning; environmental technology; electronics; graphic communications; computer and business technology, and health careers.
Next year, a pharmacy technician program may be offered in conjunction with Kinney Drugs Inc., Gouverneur.
While most programs are for two years, expanding into one-year programs provides more options for high school seniors who may have more room in their schedules for BOCES classes.
We are in constant communication with our districts. We try to be responsive to what the districts are requesting, Ms. Romodo said.
Faced with a tough job market, more teenagers are receptive to the idea of learning a trade or technical skill that may help them land a job or continue their education.
Some students want to have a job skill so they can earn money while at college to help pay their tuition, Ms. Romodo said.
Using cosmetology as an example, Ms. Romodo said that while some students want a career in that field, others see the income potential that can help them pursue other goals.
They may not be interested in being a cosmetologist for the rest of their life, but they want a solid income while theyre going to college, she said. Our programs provide skills that can provide a stable, good income.
The idea of creating regional high schools in St. Lawrence County was one option mentioned in a 2010 Regional Consolidation, Reorganization and Shared Services Feasibility Study prepared by the Rural Schools Association.
The state does not have legislation in place to authorize regional high schools, but supporters are pushing state officials to create the mechanism.
Concerns have been raised regarding the distances students would have to travel to reach a regional high school. Other people are concerned that individual districts would lose their identity, traditions and sports teams. Depending on the model thats chosen, districts could retain their own elementary schools and middle schools.
Supporters argue that a regional high school would be able to offer more Advanced Placement classes, enhanced music and art programs and a more comprehensive academic program.