When the news broke that Philip Cleveland had resigned earlier this year from his job as deputy superintendent in charge of career tech education for the Alabama State Department of Education, it raised two immediate questions. (1) What will happen to Cleveland’s mission of preparing the state secondary education system to rapidly expand career technical programs throughout the state to better meet industry needs? and (2) What will happen to Cleveland himself? Where will the former Blount County educator and former interim state superintendent of education go, what will he do, and will he experience a soft landing?
The short answer to both questions appears to be yes. The Blount Countian spoke to Cleveland yesterday, and he answered both questions.
TBC: What has happened since state superintendent of education Michael Sentance proposed the reorganization deemphasizing career tech education by moving it three or four levels down in the department of education organizational hierarchy?
Cleveland: “The state school board insisted that career tech eduction maintain its level of importance. (Ed. The reorganization deemphasizing it was rescinded.) Under the previous superintendent, I could sit at the table where important decisions were being made, and make a decision, or I could make a decision on my own, because I knew how (former state superintendent) Tommy Bice thought about things. Under current leadership, it was a matter of leadership style. I didn’t have the autonomy to turn on a dime and respond to changing industry needs. That’s critical to keep career tech attuned to industry training needs, which can change rapidly.
“The state school board has appointed an interim person to handle career tech education, and will hire a permanent, qualified person at the deputy superintendent level to handle it. I don’t think they will allow career technical education to become anything other than something as good or better than what it’s been going forward.”
Cleveland said that about 150 programs have been added to the career tech courses available at the secondary education level in Alabama, many related to healthcare, manufacturing, and construction. He said the career-ready emphasis needs to be continued into the elementary level of education to complement the traditional college-ready emphasis already in place.
As an example of the career tech objective for students, Cleveland cited his son’s experience. Through dual enrollment, he has taken about 50 credit hours of college classes through Wallace State, including technical classes while in high school. The result is that he will enter Auburn University as the equivalent of a junior in building sciences. That level of preparation is shared by a number of his contemporaries, Cleveland said.
TBC: What are your personal plans as to continuing employment, new horizons, and so on?
Cleveland: “I’m am on loan to Marshall County Schools for the remainder of my resignation period, until July. I’ll be helping them to implement and support their career technical programs, and helping the superintendent with anything else he needs. Following that, I’ll apply for a job there working with the secondary curriculum and career technical education. As you know, I’m a huge proponent of career technical education. It has to be and stay a main focus of secondary education.”
TBC: Any thoughts about your experience on the state job, especially relative to your experience in the Blount County System?
Cleveland: “I have thoroughly enjoyed working at the state level. It’s given me a chance to see the big picture of education in the state. I also see how important it is to make sure the programs and policies at the state level be designed and implemented with input all along the way from those at the local level who have to carry them out. Programs are often more complicated to implement at the local level than planners realize, and it’s important to have that input from those who have to make them work.
“It’s also made me realize how blessed our students in Blount County are to have what they have here. I’ve seen that there are places that have more than we do here, but I’ve seen that there are a lot more places that have less. All the work Blount County has done with Wallace State is in the right direction. I couldn’t be happier with the quality of education being provided our kids in Blount County, particularly in light of the efficiency with which our systems provide it,” Cleveland said.