Loud applause from the public filled meeting room as people spoke Tuesday night in favor of bringing agriculture classes back to Tehachapi High School.
Options for funding were also considered during the special board meeting of the Tehachapi Unified School District.
“I can’t find the people that I need to run my facility. The biggest issues I am having are finding people who actually have the basic skill sets in agriculture,” said David Hutchinson, vice president of operations for Sun Select.
Hutchinson added that while automation is used to help grow food and increase efficiency, qualified employees with training in science, automation and design are greatly needed in the industry.
“This is what I need in the industry and other industry leaders need in agriculture to make sure that we are going to succeed,” Hutchinson said.
Parent Brenda Smith said that if agriculture-based programs like the Future Farmers of America were offered at THS, students would have more options, especially if they are not interested in sports or STEM courses.
Michael Leishman, an agriculture teacher at Highland High School, and some of his students presented on the options for funding, what would be taught and how classes could meet general college requirements.
"Agriculture education goes from agriculture business, to animal science, to plant science, natural resources, leadership education, and there is a plethora of areas students might be interested in," Leishman said.
He added, "Whether that vocational skill comes from here or somewhere else there is a need definitely in the community and that goes right into industry needs."
There are various ways to pay for the classes and a teacher.
The district could apply for grants and agriculture-based funds to help meet career technical education needs, fund the salary of a teacher for up to two years and help schools plan agriculture classes.
Funding options include Perkins Grant Funds, a California Career Technical Education Incentive Grant that can be be used for both high school and middle school instruction, and Agriculture Education Incentive grant funds, Leishman said.
If the district were to hire a teacher for an agriculture position, the teacher could float between both THS and Jacobsen Middle School, be willing to work part time, or wait to fill a full-time position to teach other subjects, like science or business, according to a slide in the presentation.
Regina Green, TUSD chief administrator of instructional services and technology, said in an email to Tehachapi News that options are being considered in the initial planning stage and it will address staffing. No information regarding whether the district has funds to pay a teacher or start new classes at this time was provided.
At the meeting, Green said she was unsure the position could be added at the present time, due to four positions that need to be filled.
Classes offered in agriculture programs include student leadership, community service, career development, hands-on learning and entrepreneurship. Many courses meet college requirements for dual enrollment, according to the presentation.
Board member Joe Wallek asked staff to bring forward a preliminary plan for how to incorporate agriculture classes for future discussion, and Timothy Beard, director of personnel, agreed to help with the plan.
Interim superintendent Paul Kaminski asked what two classes be started first, if agriculture based programs were started at THS. Leishman recommended soil science and agriculture biology be offered at the high school level.