Jason Schetelick, who lives in Beacon, is superintendent of the Dutchess County Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES).
What is BOCES?
They’re a unique institution in New York that serves public school districts. Every county has a BOCES, although some serve more than one county [such as for Putnam and Northern Westchester]. On our campus in Poughkeepsie, we have pre-K through eighth grade disabled students; we have an alternative high school; we have a career technical institute and an adult learning institute. We’re able to get districts in the county better rates and better quality services from vendors, and we also offer training around new standards or innovative teaching. A lot of what we offer would be fiscally impossible for districts to handle on their own.
What has been happening lately?
One of the first people I met here was Peter Jordan, the new president of Dutchess Community College. We’ve developed a partnership to create a continuum for BOCES students to transition to DCC and then to a high-paying industry career. For example, the college is launching a mechatronics/advanced manufacturing center at its Fishkill campus and we’re going to have similar programming and machinery and feed them qualified students. It also has a new program for aviation mechanics, so we plan on creating a pipeline there. We’ve been working with the Dutchess Chamber of Commerce and the county to fill industry needs around manufacturing. We’re also planning a heavy equipment training program and will tie that to the federal program to produce drivers with commercial licenses, because there’s a truck driver shortage around the country.
How has trade education evolved over the years?
Industry drives it. You’re also seeing the high cost of college and universities causing families to think differently. People are rediscovering community colleges, which are hidden gems where kids can get a wonderful education at half the cost of a four-year university. We can predict, using data, what fields are going to need employees and what fields are going to provide students not just with jobs, but with fruitful careers. That’s a big change. Four years of college isn’t your only option — you can go to a community college and into a career or BOCES to community college and into a guaranteed industry job. I think you’re going to see education continue to move in that direction.
How is BOCES funded?
We’re supported by the school districts. We don’t operate like a typical district, such as in Beacon, that sets a budget, people vote on it and the funding depends on property taxes and state grants. We don’t carry over funding each year; we spend everything and start over. We do have industry funding for some programs. For example, local construction companies such as Amity loan and lease us equipment at friendly rates. In mechatronics, we’ve been getting equipment from companies as they upgrade through a partnership with Haas Automation. Many programs we can start at little to no cost.
How did you adapt during the pandemic?
It threw everybody for a loop, because the beauty of career and technical education is that it’s experiential. We sent kits home to students in our carpentry program. We’re working with a company called Z Space to allow students to explore careers virtually. So we had options, but we also had to get creative. We’re trying to make our services more portable, where we’re bringing training to people or schools, especially in districts like Beacon, that are 45 minutes away. Technology has been a godsend with virtual reality and artificial intelligence because it allows us to do so much with students in a portable space.