Creating ‘career pipeline’ with Southwest CTE Academy

Since March of 2020, DPS, Dickinson State University, Trinity Catholic Schools, the Roughrider Area Career and Technical Center have teamed up to create a task force of 22 members to jumpstart the project. The task force has held 19 meetings and numerous subcommittee meetings that developed tentative programs of study, established a governance board in March and are now finalizing a business plan.

In November 2020, DPS purchased the former Halliburton campus for $6 million, which includes seven buildings — five of which will be remodeled for educational purposes. The preliminary estimate for renovations to convert the complex’s buildings from industrial use to educational is approximately $8 million.

On Wednesday, DSU President Stephen Easton, SCTE Task Force Chairman Vince Reep, DPS CTE Director Marcus Lewton and DPS Assistant Superintendent Keith Harris along with DPS Community Relations Coordinator Sarah Trustem visited the Halliburton campus and addressed how this project is going to move the city forward.

CTE Director Marcus Lewton (right) of Dickinson Public Schools speaks with Assistant Superintendent Keith Harris and Community Relations Coordinator Sarah Trustem Wednesday, April 14, at the Halliburton campus in Dickinson, regarding their efforts to transform the buildings into the Southwest CTE Academy. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

CTE Director Marcus Lewton (right) of Dickinson Public Schools speaks with Assistant Superintendent Keith Harris and Community Relations Coordinator Sarah Trustem Wednesday, April 14, at the Halliburton campus in Dickinson, regarding their efforts to transform the buildings into the Southwest CTE Academy. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

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“It’s important to note on this that one of the pillars or foundational pieces of what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to provide opportunities for kids or for people. It’s not an extension of any school district or university… but this is an organization that is there to support and help provide opportunity for all kids whether you’re a DSU student, a Trinity high school student, a Dickinson Public Schools student, a South Heart student,” Harris said. “It is to provide opportunity, and because of that entity, it’s able to support programs that provide opportunities for all students. And so, this is really an entity that not just a school district can get behind but public from all around southwest North Dakota and everybody can get behind it. Because if it’s done right and we get our job done, it’ll benefit everyone.”

Meeting demands of local labor force

Lewton noted that one of the task force’s main principles is to “train and retain” students in southwestern North Dakota. For example, if a high school senior learns the trades of a welder at the SCTE Academy, that student will be prepped for a possible internship with a manufacturer in the area, such as Steffes.

This project is critical in developing and expanding workforce opportunities in North Dakota. Another reason for the establishment of the SCTE Academy is due to the overcrowding areas at DPS with its CTE areas, Lewton said.

But before the SCTE Academy can take off, it’s important to have a “conduit” of those on the task force and governance board working together, he remarked.

“I think the biggest opportunity is the pathway it provides for different organizations — whether that’s Dickinson Public (Schools), Trinity, DSU, Stark County, Billings County, Dunn County, whoever — to work together and to provide training opportunities for today’s youth. The Southwest, as a region, isn’t a very populous area… So for us to provide opportunities for our kids and to meet the demands of the local labor force, we have to work together,” Lewton said.

The mission of the SCTE is “to facilitate career readiness in southwestern North Dakota through premier Career and Technical Education in response to state and regional business, industry and labor needs,” according to a written statement.

In order for the SCTE Academy to be a success, Harris noted that three things must be completed. One, the SCTE Academy has to provide opportunity for all students in surrounding areas. Two, that opportunity has to be legitimate, Harris noted.

“We can’t build opportunity for the world that we’ve already lived in; we need to build opportunity that is going to create a springboard for their future, and it has to be valid,” Harris said, explaining, “So we need to be looking out the windshield sort to speak, rather than looking in the rearview mirror. We can’t talk about what we’ve always done. We need to talk about what we need for the future.”

Finally, that opportunity needs to benefit the community’s businesses.

Developing a program

Proposed course programs range from agricultural education, automotive tech, business, construction tech, diesel tech, drafting, family and consumer science, health sciences, information tech, recreation engines to welding. Students will also be able to access and expand their education and training opportunities through DSU’s laddered Dual Mission program.

Depending on the form of education and the degree that follows, Easton said that some courses may include remote access. For example, if a student is taking a welding course from Hettinger, it will be difficult to travel to Dickinson five times a week for six weeks in a row. Though the CTE Academy was brainstormed through a “hands-on element,” Easton noted that some courses may require a once a week attendance for students who live outside of the school district.

An inside look at the former Halliburton campus provides a "blank canvas" for the proposed Southwest CTE Academy in Dickinson. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

An inside look at the former Halliburton campus provides a “blank canvas” for the proposed Southwest CTE Academy in Dickinson. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

Harris noted, “The idea there is opportunity, again, for kids, and we want to provide a seamless opportunity for kids from introduction to completion; from introduction to certification; from introduction to graduation. And what makes this pretty cool is it gives us the opportunity to partner with the university. So we don’t have blinders on; we don’t have the edge of the cliff at 12th grade anymore. We could really have a discussion that takes a kid from introduction all the way through when they’re done, they’re ready to enter the job field and start filling some holes that our community needs.

“(This will) start creating a career pipeline right here where we want the workers. We want our kids to have the opportunity not only to get that, but to stay here where they want to be and we want them to be.”

With students traveling to the SCTE Academy from various parts of southwest North Dakota, plans to incorporate transportation are being studied.

“Within our preliminary business plan budget, we have busing transportation dollar amounts that have been marked. We just haven’t finished the plan for this route… to go from the high school to here, or even kids getting driven to Dickinson State,” Reep said.

Awaiting nonprofit approval, funding

In order for the SCTE Academy to establish itself as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, proposed documents must be approved by the State of North Dakota. For example, on behalf of DSU, those documents are currently being looked at by the North Dakota University System to give final approval. Then those documents will be sent to the Secretary of State and await to receive nonprofit status. Finally, those documents must be approved by the federal government.

Easton noted that the 501(c)(3) is a status under the Internal Revenue Code, which means an entity is exempt from taxation because of a charitable and acceptable charitable purpose.

“So inherent in a 501(c)(3) organization is that we are working on setting up a separate entity. The academy will be at the center of the CTE efforts. So, it will not be a purely Dickinson Public Schools, a purely Dickinson State, a purely other area schools or purely Dickinson/Trinity Schools; it will be a separate entity,” Easton said. “So it’s a corporation, which is a separate entity. And then, we are working for it to be a 501(c)(3) organization because the purpose of the organization is education.”

The funding goal for this project is projected at $30 million and will ensure sustainability and full fund the SCTE Academy through 2027, which includes:

  • $15 million from the State of North Dakota

  • $6 million from DPS for the Halliburton campus purchase

  • $5 million Southwest North Dakota political subdivisions

  • $4 million Southwest North Dakota business and industry support

The governing board will be the fiscal agent that will control any funding that becomes available for this project. The seven-member board includes: Easton, Harris, Dr. Debora Dragseth of DSU, Brent Seaks of DPS School Board, Marya Skaare of Trinity, Kevin Nelson of Roughrider Area Career & Tech Center and Chris Johnson from Stark Development Corporation/TMI.

“As we are working our way through the governance documents, we have a seat for a representative of local industry. Dickinson is different (from) other cities in size. (It has) a very diversified economy — agriculture is one big one, both crop and ranching agriculture. (We have) five or six really significant manufacturing entities, and oil and gas. And then I would add tourism,” Easton said. “ That’s a really diversified economy. We’re fortunate to have that. But that provides a lot of potential opportunities for students to not only successfully train but then be employed. This path is toward training to employment.”

The business plan has been completed, and legislative funding will be authorized by the end of April. Before the task force can move forward with the SCTE Academy, the next steps will be firing a full-time CTE director by June; then he or she will develop a program and course load.

Following the hiring, architects and engineers will construct a design plan to renovate the buildings. The scheduled completion for the SCTE Academy is set for August 2022.

“Opportunities for kids are great, but especially in this part of southwest North Dakota. In the last two decades, we’ve seen energy peak and ebb. Dickinson was saved in that we have lots of manufacturing, whereas other schools and school districts really suffered because they weren’t diversified. And so that’s a huge impetus for us to listen to those industries and for them to tell the academy what they need. And then we help provide that,” Reep added.