Education and Educational Services

School districts’ partnership creates training center

From left: Dean Mattson, Scott Campbell and Tim Kistler in front of the vocational training center.
From left: Dean Mattson, Scott Campbell and Tim Kistler in front of the vocational training center.

It was one year ago this month that Peyton School District Superintendent Tim Kistler hosted an open house to show off his brand new, state-of-the-art woodworking shop.

He invited educators and manufacturers from around the Pikes Peak region to see how public education and industry could work together to stimulate the economy, provide kids with professional skills and offer a solution to a growing backlog of unfilled manufacturing jobs.

At the time, Kistler spoke about replicating Peyton’s model on a larger scale and in a more accessible way.

Sometimes dreams come true.

Next Wednesday will mark the second open house for his expanded programs. Kistler, Peyton woodshop program founder Dean Mattson and Widefield School District Superintendent Scott Campbell will unveil a new facility and plans for a national vocational training center in Colorado Springs.

‘BLOWN AWAY’

After attending last year’s open house and seeing firsthand the program put together by Mattson and Kistler, Campbell said he wanted in.

“I was blown away by what they had in that facility and the abilities of Dean,” Campbell said. “After the open house I couldn’t have run any faster to these guys. I wanted to get involved and do something.”

Widefield and Peyton have entered into a partnership to expand vocational training in Southern Colorado through the Peyton/Widefield Vocational Education Campus, which will be located in a 46,000-square-foot former potato-chip factory located south of the Colorado Springs Airport on Foreign Trade Zone Boulevard.

Widefield School District purchased the building for $1.1 million and, through the agreement, Peyton’s school district will pay it back until both have a 50 percent stake in the property. There is no timeline regarding payments, Campbell said, and total buildout costs are currently unknown.

Mattson, who developed a similar program in Oregon and oversaw the program in Peyton, will create the curriculum in Colorado Springs in conjunction with industry professionals.

Widefield has a long history providing students with vocational skills, Campbell said, but reduced funding has meant fewer opportunities.

“We had a popular home construction program, but when the economy weakened, it went away,” Campbell said. “I’m looking for opportunities to revitalize those programs for our kids.”

BEGINNINGS

When Kistler and Mattson opened the woodshop in Peyton last year, 40 students from the area participated. The shop includes more than $800,000 in loaned equipment from some of the industry’s biggest names. Starting the second semester, Widefield began sending students to Peyton.

Today, 180 students from 10 schools throughout six districts are bused to Peyton every day.

“Over 1,000 people have come through those doors since the open house, and from all over the world — business leaders, Apple, major industries — because it’s unprecedented,” Mattson said.

The program needed to be expanded, Kistler said.

“Our thought was we could create something big, but if it was just for Peyton students, what good would that do? The long-range goal was to open a national training center, not just for Colorado Springs, but throughout the United States. There are so many abandoned buildings that can be taken over and repurposed for programs like this,” he said.

The opportunity goes both ways. Widefield has an excellent engineering program that Peyton couldn’t afford, Kistler said. But now his students will have access to those resources.

“By having this building here, we can bring students not only to the woods program, but to the engineering program,” he said.

It all comes back to finances, Kistler added, as Peyton has lost $4 million in state funding during the past six years due to the negative factor, a remnant of Amendment 23 passed in 2000.

“We have to do stuff like this to give our kids as many possibilities to move in the direction they need to go,” he said.

And jobs are waiting, Mattson explained.

“The thing that is driving all this is employers will be losing 58 percent of their job force in the next five to eight years,” Mattson said. “There are 100,000 of these unfilled jobs in the United States and they start at $75,000 a year.”

The training will be expanded, and may one day include automotive maintenance and repair as well as home construction, a program similar to the one Widefield had to give up years ago. Participants could also diversify to include veterans seeking certifications once they are out of the military.

Plus, the partnering process alone can be a lesson for students, Mattson said.

“Combining districts has brought a business flavor to this whole thing,” he said. “This is what businesses do and not necessarily what education has always done.”

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