Vocational Education Teacher

Building Stronger Program Advisory Committees in Massachusetts Vocational Schools

In Massachusetts, schools must establish Program Advisory Committees for each of their state-approved vocational programs. These committees are required by state regulation. In some schools, they are known as Craft Advisory Committees or Advisory Councils. In the regulation (603 CMR 4.03), they are called Program Advisory Committees so that’s how I’ll refer to them.

As set out in the regulations, it’s the job of the committee “… to advise, assist and support school personnel in order to improve planning, operation and evaluation in its program area. Such advice shall be based on adequate and timely information as to workforce and job development demands or job market trends, technological developments, training alternatives and other factors affecting the quality of the program.”

There are basically three great reasons to care about these advisory committees. First, they are required by the state. Second, your school will be cited during its next Coordinated Program Review if these committees don’t exist or don’t meet state requirements. Third, these committees can actually improve the quality of your vocational programs.

In other words, whether you’re a Superintendent-Director worried about simply complying with state regulations or you’re somebody who really wants to improve vocational programming, you should care about the composition and quality of your Program Advisory Committees.

No matter what your motivation, here are a few tips to help you build stronger committees:

1. Assess What You’ve Got. Someone at your school should be keeping track of who is on the committees and what group they represent. If not, ask someone to develop a list. Your Vocational Director is a likely choice, but that may differ from school to school. Look at the list. The regulations require these committees to have certain members. Among other things, they must include representatives from Business and Industry, Organized Labor, Postsecondary Institutions, Parents/Guardians, Students, and Registered Apprenticeship Programs (if the vocational program area has apprentice programs). These are mandatory. If you are missing representation from one or more of these categories, it sticks out like a sore thumb and must be corrected. It puts you out of legal compliance. In addition, the regulations state that “every effort shall be made to ensure that membership on the Advisory Committee includes females, racial and linguistic minorities, persons with disabilities and individuals in occupations nontraditional for their gender…”

2. Make This a Priority at Your School. Tell your Administrative Team, your faculty, and your Program Advisory Committees that you want strong committees and ask them to help you achieve that. Ask them to help identify people who might fill any “gaps” in the membership lists. In my experience, Program Advisory Committees are one of the not-so-secret weapons in the vocational education arsenal. Having outsiders, especially outsiders from the private sector, give us regular advice keeps our administrators, our teachers, and our programs fresh. They keep us current. They keep us on our toes.

3. Fill the Gaps. Identify any “gaps” on your committees and start the process to fill them. (The process itself will likely differ from school to school.) Pay special attention to the five or six “mandatory” categories. Those are the ones that really count.

4. Don’t Cheat. Make sure to follow the rules — and use common sense. The regulations state clearly that members of the school committee, school officials and school employees cannot serve on these committees. Don’t include them. That means teachers, teaching assistants, administrative assistants, administrators, school committee members, or others employed by the school cannot serve. Teachers and staff can attend these meetings. They can provide information to the committee members. They can answer questions. But they cannot serve on these committees. They cannot make motions or vote. The point of having program advisory committees is to get a good cross-section of outside input. Having faculty and staff running the meetings – or even dominating the meetings – defeats the whole purpose. If they have been serving, remove them. Finally, college students cannot be listed as representing Postsecondary Education. Representatives of higher education must actually be employed by the institution.

5. Develop a Plan. If you’re still having trouble filling all of the “gaps” in the membership matrix, it’s time for you to assign another job to a trusted staff member: Develop a formal written Outreach Plan describing what the school hopes to do to recruit a broader membership to its Program Advisory Committees.

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