Noble Local Schools focus on creating career pathway opportunities for rural students

This small Ohio school district demonstrates how teaming up with the community to highlight careers can help rural students succeed.

April 25, 2018 |

RSC's Ohio hub is built on collaborative partnerships between schools, communities, and institutions of higher education. Key initiatives within the Ohio hub include rural teacher-leader development and recruitment through early college high school pathways, secondary and post-secondary institution career pathways collaborations, connecting community through strategic planning, and the development of philanthropic support for rural, first-generation students.

This guest post, submitted by Noble Local Schools Superintendent Dan Leffingwell, is a great example of how creating post-secondary career pathways for students in rural places can have a big impact in just a short amount of time!

Noble Local Schools is a small, Appalachian, rural district located in Noble County, Ohio. The district is 289 square miles and does not have a single traffic light. The district has a current enrollment of less than 900 students. With these geographical challenges, and small student enrollment, the district recently worked to improve “workforce readiness” and “access”, utilizing a “shared services” approach to create the position of Career Pathways Specialist to develop partnerships, coordinate job shadowing, internship, and workforce development opportunities for students.

Choosing a career pathway is a key strategy for improving post-secondary and workforce readiness. Realizing this I, and other area Superintendents, wanted to create a position to help support counselors and students in identifying career opportunities, and “pathways” that exist within our community. The “Career Pathways Specialist” position was created in partnership with the Ohio Valley Educational Service Center with goal in year one to connect with as many people as possible and to help implement/coordinate the area youth in our community with work-based learning opportunities, through real-world, career relevant experiences.

Our Career Pathway Specialist, Sandy Doudna, worked to develop relationships and partnerships with businesses, community organizations, and local school districts. She wanted students to be able to benefit from the community resources that are right here within our surrounding counties and provide parents with community awareness of career opportunities for their children. These opportunities included internships, numerous job-shadowing opportunities, tours of local businesses, and college visits to see specialized programs, and full time job positions for area youth. Providing high-quality education, training, and support services that are aligned with the skill needs of industries, so that we can prepare these students for post-secondary programs and the labor market is critical to our students' future success. When asked to describe her role after one year Sandy states the following: “I am one of the links for the Noble Local School District in providing guidance and interest based choices that will help students explore and identify which career path they may wish to take. I find purpose working with, and helping connect manufactures and other local labor needs of this community to this district, and its students. I realize that if we all work together and have a student centered goal, we can achieve commitment that comes from career maturity and direction.

The creation of this position has led to great “return on investment” for the Noble Local School District, as well as other districts within our region. Not only has this program yielded great financial “ROI” for districts (approximately $5,000 per district), but has also produced numerous opportunities for students that never before existed. Some of the accomplishments, just 18 months into the program are as follows:

  • Over 181 students have participated in individual job shadowing.
  • Over 350 students have completed various tours of local manufacturing facilities, advanced training programs, and potential sites for future employment.
  • 39 students in our region have been offered employment. In 2015 there was not even a single application received at local manufacturing facilities from a graduating senior!
  • Since beginning this program over 110 local business partnerships have been developed. In October 2015 we had none!

Dan Leffingwell is the Superintendent of Noble Local Schools, located in Sarahsville. During his time in this role, he has created an atmosphere of continuous improvement within the district while increasing opportunities for students through a “shared services” approach. Noble Local Schools served as the lead district in conjunction with Muskingum Valley Educational Service Center to obtain Straight A grant funds to support a transportation efficiency project and also partnered with Battelle for Kids on another Straight A project to create and share CCP courses. During his nearly 30-year career in education, Dan has served as a teacher, coach, principal and superintendent, providing an experienced perspective on district operations. Dan is an active member of CORAS (Coalition of Rural and Appalachian Schools), Ohio Appalachian Collaborative, OSRC (Ohio Small Rural Collaborative), SOAR collaborative, and also serves as board member on the Ohio High School Athletic Association Board of Control, and the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference. Dan graduated from Marietta College with a BA in English (1988) and earned his MA in Educational Leadership from Ohio University in 2000.

Sandy Doudna is the Career Pathways Specialist for the Ohio Valley Educational Service Center. The Ohio Valley ESC is an Educational Service Agency that serves 12 school districts and 2 Career Centers within four counties in southeastern Ohio – Guernsey, Monroe, Noble and Washington Counties. The Ohio Valley ESC has office locations in Cambridge and Marietta, OH. It covers 2,200 square miles and serves 20,500+ students. The Ohio Valley ESC provides more than 50 types of services to its member districts, with a majority of these services being focused in preschool services, school improvement and special education.

Doudna is a 1988 graduate of Shenandoah HS and a 2008 graduate of Ohio University where she obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Services. She has been employed by the ESC office since October 2015, when the Career Pathways program was first implemented.

Doudna added: "This program helps to support the Ohio Valley ESC’s high priority on building the workforce and economy in southeast Ohio through partnership with business and industry, and preparing students for college and career. I help to provide career development services to students, teachers, administrators and staff of partner school districts served by OVESC. I also help connect business and industry partners and education to decrease the percentage of students who are not workforce or career ready by setting up job shadowing/tours for students so that they can explore and identify which career path they may wish to take. To date, I have over 105 local businesses, and numerous manufacturers and colleges/career centers who take part in letting students in our community have work-based learning opportunities, through real-world, career relevant experiences."

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