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Fayette County Career & Technical Institute celebrating 50th anniversary

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Celeste Van Kirk | Trib Total Media
Dr. Edward Jeffreys, executive director of Fayette County Career & Technical Institute, stands next to the Wall of Fame.

In the 50 years since the Fayette County Career & Technical Institute on Georges Fairchance Road, south of Uniontown, opened, the education provided at the facility to students from Albert Gallatin, Brownsville, Laurel Highlands and Uniontown Area has radically changed.

Edward Jeffreys, executive director, said the curriculum is driven by the needs of employers. The influx of new companies, especially in fields such as the Marcellus shale industry, has opened job opportunities.

Jeffreys said the shortage of skilled workers in fields such as pipe fitting and welding has many of his students working before they graduate.

“Of 122 seniors, 69 are working in co-op programs,” Jeffreys said.

The number of students electing to attend the school, at 1,100, has reached higher levels since 1997, even though participating districts pulled back from offering programs at the school to ninth graders.

Education provided by the school is based on skills needed by industry. Certifications are offered in 16 programs: NCCER (electrical, building construction, welding, masonry and HVAC), NIMS (machine program), CAN (certified nursing assistant), State Cosmetology, AWS (welding), Print ED (graphic arts), A+ IC3 MOS Cisco (computer technology), PAPL (AG), Servsafe (culinary arts) and I-car (auto body).

Jeffreys said he found companies are not seeking the students with the highest grades.

“They are not as interested in skills as they are in the student’s work ethic,” he said. “My students have a great work ethic.”

The employers want people who show up every day for work on time, are not on drugs and who have a driver’s license.

“People who, after they get their paycheck on Friday, show up for work on Monday,” he said.

The school offers students a chance to enter the work force early, allowing them to find good paying jobs without having to go to college. Some may quickly earn $40,000 per year.

Students can also earn up to three college credits at a time through Westmoreland County Community College for work done at the school in certain areas.

The programs at the school have been supported through grants from mostly private sources. Jeffreys said money from those grants now totals more than $1 million since he came to the facility. However, he said many of the grants have dried up or been reduced.

Jeffreys, now 72, came to the school after working for 26 years for US Airways and as assistant to the superintendent of the Turkeyfoot Valley Area School District. He also worked in a number of positions in area private schools. His previous jobs helped prepare him for the task of training people for the needs of employers.

School security is now a big issue at CTI. Jeff Myers, head of security, has teamed with Jeffreys to develop safety systems. Visitors now cannot enter the building without being screened.

People enter an area that is surrounded with a type of glass that, while not bulletproof, will deflect shots fired from outside.

Once in the office, the staff enters their information into a computer system that checks their backgrounds for people who may be a problem.

Myers, with a background with the federal government in Homeland Security, has instituted ALICE (alert, lockdown, isolate, counter and evacuate). The school’s staff has been trained to respond if a situation, such as the problems at Columbine High School in Colorado, develops.

Myers has been licensed to carry a firearm in the school so that he can react if a problem develops.

Jeffreys also has access to a database of students who have had discipline problems so that he, Myers and the faculty can react properly to problems.

The students are exposed to programs that build enthusiasm for learning.

The S.A.D.D. (Students Against Destructive Decisions) team was chapter of the year for 2013.

The battle bots team finished second in the Southwestern Pennsylvania finals and in third place in the North American National Robotics Competition.

Students raise pheasants and fish for release back into the wild.

The cost per student has actually fallen from $6,300 to $5,800, even with all of the new program changes. And the costs of the programs the school offers are well below those in competing local private institutions.

CTI has agreements with Laurel Business Institute, Pennsylvania Institute of Health and Technology, Fayette County CTI-LPN, Westmoreland County Community College and Penn Commercial.

A summer camp is offered each year to elementary and middle school students.

Classes for adults are offered in a number of areas in the evenings.

The school has been accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

Expansion plans are being developed. Jeffreys said K2 Engineering in Uniontown is working on plans for a new 20,000-square-foot structure that will house the automotive, automotive mechanics and mechanized diesel mechanics shops.

Once the estimated costs are known, the plans will be submitted to the board for approval. Jeffreys said construction would not begin before June 2015.

Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected] or 724-626-3538.

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