Jessica Lipa, director of Anoka-Hennepin School District's
career and technical education
Should Minnesota act now to
reverse the decline of high school career/technical education?
A Civic Caucus
Interview February 27, 2015
Tom Abeles, Dave Broden
(vice chair), Pat Davies, Paul Gilje (executive director), Randy
Johnson, Sallie Kemper (associate director), Jessica Lipa, Dan
Loritz (chair), Dana Schroeder (associate director).
According to the
Anoka-Hennepin School District's Jessica Lipa, Minnesota school
districts must provide rigorous, relevant, hands-on career and
technical education (CTE) to fulfill the needs of the state's
workforce and address the skills gap in the state. She notes that
manufacturing and technical careers are very prevalent in Anoka
County and that the area is very supportive of technical education.
In contrast with the many school districts
that have reduced or eliminated CTE courses in their high schools,
Anoka-Hennepin has expanded its CTE offerings through its Secondary
Technical Education Program (STEP). STEP is a partnership of the
school district, Anoka County and the Minnesota State Colleges and
Universities (MnSCU) system. STEP, which opened in 2002, is located
in a high school for 11th and 12th graders
built right onto Anoka Technical College. It offers advanced
educational opportunities in career and technical education. Lipa
says STEP works closely with business and industry to project out
where the careers will be 10 years from now and to determine what
kinds of courses and training the program should offer.
She says that a major problem for the
program is getting potential STEP instructors, who all come from
industry, licensed as teachers in Minnesota. She notes that after
the University of Minnesota closes down its CTE teacher preparation
program this spring, there will be no college in the state that
prepares CTE teachers for licensing certification. She points out
that the Minnesota Department of Education or the Legislature could
change the licensing requirements.
Jessica Lipa is director of
Career and Technical Education (CTE), Secondary Technical Education
Program (STEP) and StepAhead Online High School, all in the
Anoka-Hennepin School District. She became STEP director and CTE
director in 2010 and started the StepAhead Online High School in
From 2000 to 2006, Lipa worked in the
Anoka-Hennepin School District as a Family and Consumer Sciences
teacher at Crossroads Alternative High School, where she worked
primarily with at-risk teenaged parents. In 2006, she taught at STEP
for one year and then became Career Placement Specialist for three
She serves on the Anoka County Workforce
Council, is president-elect of the Minnesota Association for Career
& Technical Administrators, and is secondary fiscal agent for the
Oak Land Perkins Consortium. She continues to serve on many local
community and service groups. In 2000, she earned a master's degree
in education and a teaching license in Family and Consumer Sciences
from the University of Minnesota. She obtained her Administrative
Licensure from St. Mary's University.
The Civic Caucus has released
two recent statements on human capital: one in September 2014
laying out the human capital challenges facing the state today and
in coming years and a follow-up paper in
offering recommendations for maintaining a high quality workforce in
Minnesota. The Caucus interviewed Jessica Lipa to learn about career
and technical education at the high school level in the
Anoka-Hennepin School District.
School districts must
be dedicated to providing relevant education for what the real world
needs. Jessica Lipa, director of Career and Technical Education
(CTE) for the Anoka-Hennepin School district, said her primary goal
is to assure that Anoka-Hennepin and other school districts in
Minnesota are providing rigorous and relevant CTE programs to
fulfill the needs of the workforce and address the skills gap in the
state. "My guiding principle is that it's always about what the
workforce needs, not about what we want to teach," she said. "That's
a tough concept for educators to grasp. Our passions are not
necessarily what we need in the real world."
Manufacturing and technical careers are
very prevalent in Anoka County. Anoka Technical College and
Anoka Ramsey Community College are in the Anoka-Hennepin area and
are the district's primary partners in CTE, Lipa said. Around 16 or
17 years ago, she noted, the Minnesota State Colleges and
Universities (MnSCU) system chancellor had decided to close Anoka
Technical College because of low enrollment. But, she
said, "the Anoka area believes very firmly in technical education.
The people in our community are very, very proud of their college.
They fought to keep it open and they won. It was truly a partnership
of the Legislature, the community, Anoka-Hennepin School District
and MnSCU that saved the technical college."
Anoka-Hennepin's Secondary Technical
Education Program (STEP) opened in 2002 as a joint partnership of
the school district, MnSCU and Anoka County. STEP is located in
a high school built right onto Anoka Technical College. Lipa said
STEP has the support of the local legislative delegation, business
and industry partners, students and parents in the community.
"We provide a transition between high
school and college, feed enrollment into the technical college and
provide what our local workforce needs," she said. The STEP program
is for 11th and 12th graders, who then have
concurrent enrollment in a high school and in the technical college.
It provides an advanced educational opportunity in career and
technical education for 800 students each trimester. "We're a small
tugboat, but our district believes small tugboats move big ships,"
STEP's goal is to provide rigorous,
relevant, hands-on education to meet the needs of the 21st
century workforce. All of STEP's courses, Lipa said, must be a
partnership with Anoka Technical College or some other technical or
community colleges around the state. The courses must lead to a
degree or credential. STEP also offers industry-based certificates.
STEP offers courses in the following
areas: automotive; welding; manufacturing;
Lead The Way
engineering; fashion and cosmetology; music and media; art
technology; and medical careers including nursing assistant, EMT,
First Responder, pharmacy technician, and medical anatomy and
terminology. In a number of these areas, students can earn
One hundred of STEP's 800 students attend
the program full-time, while the rest are part-time. They come from
five district high schools, three alternative high schools, and
transition programs in the school district, as well as from high
schools in neighboring school districts. Anoka-Hennepin School
District provides transportation for the students to and from the
home high schools in the morning, the middle of the day and at the
end of the day.
Any negative attitudes about students
participating in STEP come from a misunderstanding of the value and
opportunities offered by technical education and careers. Lipa
said STEP staff members tell kids about the opportunities they'll
have and the possibility that they'll make more money than kids who
go to four-year colleges. "For example," she said, "our welding
program is packed right now, because kids are starting to learn that
they can make some pretty good money in that field." STEP also works
to get parents and high school teachers and counselors to understand
that the program offers very high-skilled career opportunities.
About 60 percent of STEP students go on to
Anoka Technical College for further education in the area in which
they took classes at STEP. Lipa said 75 percent of the welding
students, 50 percent of the manufacturing students and 40 to 50
percent of the automotive students go directly to Anoka Technical
College immediately after high school. "They already share a space,
they know the facility, and they work with the college faculty, so
it just makes a great fit for them when choosing a postsecondary
institution," she said.
STEP treats students like adults in a
college atmosphere. "It's a much different environment than a
traditional high school," Lipa said. "Because the college and STEP
are attached, the kids really think they're in college. They
automatically behave like they're in college."
In discussing STEP's relationship with
alternative schools in the district, she said the program has had
some success with kids who are not engaged in their home high school
and who might try STEP, rather than be sent to an alternative
school. "We're not for everybody, but we're for a lot of kids," she
said. "In many cases, we keep kids more engaged. Some students
finally find that perfect 'fit' they didn't necessarily have in a
Others students are engaged no matter what they do. Our focus is the
kids in the middle who didn't think they could go to college, but
find out they can. What makes us unique is that kids come from five
high schools into this environment that's real-world, that's taught
by business and industry professionals who have real experiences
outside of what the students know."
STEP's unique partnership with Anoka
Technical College has helped enroll some STEP students who might not
otherwise qualify for concurrent high school and college enrollment.
Generally, Minnesota students seeking such concurrent enrollment
must meet PSEO standards: they must be in the top half (for juniors)
or top third (for seniors) of their home high school class. But,
Lipa said, if a prospective student does not meet those
requirements, Anoka Technical College might ask for an instructor's
recommendation or ask the student to participate in an interview,
which could result in the requirements being waived. As a result,
all STEP students are qualifying for concurrent enrollment and
getting dual credit at the college. "These are kids who never would
have gotten it because of a test score," she said. "The college is
pioneering this in the state."
STEP is responsible for delivering all of
the course content for its students. Because of this and because
STEP students are concurrently enrolled in the school district and
the technical college, Lipa said, the money allotted to the school
district for each student stays with the district. That's different
from Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO), where the school
district loses per-student funding to the postsecondary institution
where the student is taking classes.
STEP works with business and industry to
project where the careers will be 10 years from now. Lipa sits
on the Anoka Workforce Council, whose latest projections go out to
2022. She said all of the CTE programs in the district high schools
and at STEP are required to meet twice a year with a business and
industry advisory board. "We take it very seriously," she said. "We
tell them what we're teaching and ask the board what we should be
doing in the future. We use that data to project how to develop our
programs. In education, teachers often get comfortable with what
they're teaching year after year. Because of the culture of our
building and the nature of what we do, our teachers have never
gotten comfortable with that idea. They know that every year they
must change their curriculum to meet the needs of the workforce."
STEP teachers are employed by the school
district, but must meet the qualifications of the technical college.
Lipa noted, though, that STEP teachers do not teach in the
college. STEP does use some of the technical college's classrooms
and equipment in its classes. She said it can be difficult to
attract instructors from industry in certain fields, such as welding
and nursing, because teaching salaries are lower than those industry
There will soon be no college in the state
that prepares career and technical education teachers for licensing
certification. The University of Minnesota has the last program
in the state that is certifying CTE Teachers and is closing the
program at the end of the school year. Lipa said CTE teachers can
only get licensed using variances or limited licenses from the state
Department of Education. Also, teachers who are licensed in another
state are not automatically licensed in Minnesota.
She said STEP needs teachers for medical
careers, manufacturing, construction and transportation, yet the
potential instructors can't get teaching licenses. She pointed out
that the Minnesota Department of Education or the Legislature could
change the licensing requirements.
School districts across the state face
barriers to offering or expanding CTE. "Schools across the state
are dealing with requirements in math and English taking precedence
over electives," Lipa said. "That leaves little chance for students
to take CTE classes." And small schools struggle to find enough
students to employ a full-time teacher. "It's really hard to hire
someone for one or two sections of welding," she said. Funding for
CTE is also an issue, she maintains, as is availability of
industry-standardized equipment and technology.
Lipa believes a higher-level funding
stream is needed to spread CTE to the rest of the state. She
explained that school districts can authorize a local career and
technical levy. The funds raised through that levy may be used only
for approved career and technical education programs and only for
those special expenses that would not be considered part of the
general education program of the district. Those districts with a
state-approved CTE program and a local levy for CTE are eligible for
state Career & Technical Revenue funds, which amount to 35 percent
of approved CTE expenditures. This funding can be used to support
salaries, industry equipment, or other innovations in CTE programs.
For example, Lipa noted that
Anoka-Hennepin spends $3.5 million to $4 million on CTE each year.
The district receives $1.5 million back in state Career & Technical
Revenue funds, which it uses for further support of CTE. CTE
programs also get
federal Perkins grants
(money for career and technical education at the high school and
postsecondary level) but the grants are small, she said.
If we want high school students to choose
relevant career paths that will exist by the time they graduate,
offering CTE to 11th and 12th graders should
be one of our highest priorities. "The world has changed
dramatically," Lipa said. "Today you can't just get a four-year
degree in anything and assume you'll get a great-paying job."
Fifty-seven percent of our careers in the
future will need technical skills. "The best-trained person will
have technical skills and maybe go on to get a four-year college
degree," she said. "You need a combination of both if you want to
Anoka-Hennepin now has school counselors
in all six of its middle schools. Lipa said sixth graders are
now starting career awareness and career exploration. STEP goes into
the middle schools and puts on hands-on career activities. It also
offers career camps.
Lipa noted that the Legislature passed a
personal learning plan requirement last year. She said sixth grade
is not too early to start kids thinking about careers. By the time
they get to ninth grade, they have to start taking classes that
interest them. And by 11th grade, kids are ready for
college credit. "They want the depth," she said.
School districts can use consortia and
career academies to get to a critical mass of students for offering
CTE. "Not everybody will be able to do everything Anoka-Hennepin
does," Lipa said. There are consortia models in the state for
Perkins grants, she pointed out. One district's career academy could
specialize in two or three areas, while another district in the
consortium could specialize in two or three different areas.
Students could go back and forth between districts or schools, if
"You have to get creative," she said. CTE
teachers are able to give physics or chemistry credit, so students
could do dual credit in certain areas. Lipa believes smaller career
academies would be the best way for smaller districts to offer CTE.
"You can't be afraid to let go of the old and really embrace some of
the new," she said.
STEP looks beyond just the Anoka area's
workforce needs. Lipa said she also tracks statewide workforce
needs. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic
Development (DEED) will be meeting with STEP's teachers about
statewide, metro and national needs.
Anoka-Hennepin has six counselors who are
career placement specialists. One of those counselors is at
STEP. They do career tours and set up internships and mentorships.
"They're aware & involved," Lipa said.
Strong leadership has led to Anoka-Hennepin's
focus on CTE. Lipa said the leadership comes from a combination
of local legislators and community members who love technical
education and believe in their community, strong superintendents and
strong CTE directors. "We have a long history of support from our
district leadership," she said. "All these leaders have made sure
that we've been innovators in career education."
STEP is constantly educating parents, just
as much as it's educating students. Lipa said she meets with
parents all the time and shows them the job opportunities kids can
prepare for at STEP. "And we have a superintendent who is very
supportive of CTE and understands its critical importance for our
community and our state," she said. "It also helps us talk to
parents when business and industry say publicly, 'This is what we
The demographic of kids in the STEP
program mirrors that of the school district as a whole. "Our
student population at STEP is as diverse as our district
population," Lipa said. "I'd love to have more diversity, especially
Three examples of other school districts
running good CTE programs include Rochester, St. Paul and Northeast
Metro Intermediate School District (ISD) 916. Lipa said
Rochester is getting a program called
modeled on Anoka-Hennepin's STEP program; Northeast Metro ISD
runs a great program with Century College in White Bear Lake; and
St. Paul ISD 625
is running a good program with St. Paul College.
There should be more collaboration between
MnSCU and the state Department of Education. "If, at the high
school level, we're not preparing students for real careers we're
not doing kids any good," Lipa said. "If postsecondary institutions
and our school districts can't figure out ways to collaborate for
our kids, we won't get anywhere."
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (chair),
Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman