Governor Bill Lee visits South-Doyle to discuss vocational programs

By Amy Box Fellhoelter

On his first trip as governor to Knox County, Governor Bill Lee discussed expanding access to vocational, technical, and agricultural Career Technical Education (CTE) programs for high school students throughout the state at a roundtable discussion held at South-Doyle High School last Friday. As part of the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) Initiative, Gov. Lee wants to increase state funded dual-enrollment credits by two for students enrolled in vocational, technical, agricultural courses, and launch new CTE programs in 25 school districts.

Prior to meeting with Mayor Glenn Jacobs, Superintendent Bob Thomas, South-Doyle Principal Tim Berry, Knoxville Chamber of Commerce Exec. V.P. Rhonda Rice, Knox County School CTE Director Dr. Keith Wilson, and other industry leaders at the roundtable, the governor toured three CTE classrooms. He congratulated South-Doyle High for its vocational career programs after talking with students in the collision repair, welding, healthcare, and business and marketing classes.

“We need to be reminded that we are here for the children, for the future of these kids. That’s why we are engaged in this,” Gov. Lee said with passion.

Other topics discussed during the 20-minute talk were: the lack of future workers to fill the shoes of retiring employees in the manufacturing and vocational industries; closing the gap between classrooms and the workplace by creating partnerships between companies and schools; decreasing the stigma and creating pride in students who choose pursuing a vocational trade instead of a college degree; the difficulty of attracting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), CTE, and computer science teachers into the classroom from the work force; and introducing professions in the trades through career counseling for middle school students.

Chamber Representative Rhonda Rice explained one Chamber program called “Educators in the Workplace.” It is designed to take educators from the classrooms and immerse them into private-sector businesses to identify what types of jobs and skill sets make those businesses successful. The educators then compile that information to write lesson plans incorporating certain work-related skill sets for their students to be more prepared for vocations in turn closing the gap between classrooms and industry. “Manufacturing is still the largest sector in the economy,” said Rice.

“One of the things I think is most important—is government is not the answer, even just the education system is not the answer to really moving and developing a workforce and changing our education system to be aligned with the future,” Lee told the roundtable. “The private sector has to be engaged in a meaningful way.

“We have to have companies and non-profits that are willing to engage with us and willing to invest their time, and their resources, and their equipment, and their contributions to curriculum because if private industry is going to be the beneficiary of work force development, they ought to be a part of it.”

“A lot of what we look at in terms of alignment comes back into some of the work we do with certifications … industry certifications are becoming an important part of programming,” pointed out Dr. Wilson. He went on to speak on expanding dual-enrollment classes, and aligning school courses in relation to the coursework needed for the certification and licensure of the electrical, construction, building, and plumbing trades.

“We need to be sure we have companies, industries, and community leaders at the table as we talk about how we are going to build these programs going forward. We together can create an environment where more kids in Tennessee succeed. Education is more than a test score – it is about preparing a child for success in life,” concluded Gov. Lee.

This visit came just two days after Lee announced the Future Workforce Initiative which aims to place Tennessee in the top 25 states for job creation in technology by 2022. One area of this proposal will create 100 new STEM middle school programs, and triple the amount of STEM-designated public schools. For more details about this and Lee’s GIVE initiative, visit

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