As I prepare this article, the national unemployment rate has reached 8.5 percent (higher in many states); the stock market has fluctuated in a 7,000-point range; and I actually feel good about paying $2.39 a gallon for diesel. Because of this uncertainty, there are few extra resources available, causing many states to make cuts to educational funding. Have agricultural education programs positioned themselves to survive?
If your local politician were to visit your school and ask you to show him how your use of financial resources has improved your program, would he be impressed with how you have invested the money? When you spend your Carl D. Perkins funds, are they used as intended for program improvement? Have you built relationships with your administration, school board and community so that they appreciate the value of your agricultural education program? Does your community take ownership of your program? If resources are short, will your program be the first to see cuts?
I often hear from agriculture teachers when they are having difficulties with an administrator. They share with me how their program is being cut or changed by the administration and how they won’t listen to how it will negatively impact the agricultural education program. After they vent for a while about how unappreciative the administration is, I always ask them the same question, “What does your advisory committee say?” Often, the answer is, “I have not talked to them yet.” An administrator in a local school district may not be inclined to value concerns expressed by a single teacher. But I will let you all in on a secret. When an administrator is contacted by influential members of the community, he will listen.
The National Quality Program Standards were created as a project of the National Council for Agricultural Education. Let’s take a look at Standard 7 which states, “A system of needs assessment and evaluation provides information necessary for continual program development and improvement.” I realize that many states have had program standards for many years. It is one thing to have identified program standards. It is quite another to have a program that exemplifies those standards. If your agricultural education program meets the National Quality Program Standards at an exemplary level, then your administration knows that they had better support your program or find a new job.
Based on Standard 7, items that a quality advisory committee will be involved in include the following:
- A formal annual program evaluation
- The program uses an advisory committee, authorized by the local board of education
- The agriculture program’s advisory committee is reflective of the agricultural populations and local community
- The advisory committee meets regularly and maintains minutes of each meeting
- Advisory committee assists with all aspects of program operations
I assume that you are familiar with the components of your state’s plan for career and technical education. It likely includes a statement that references the need for an industry-based program advisory committee for each CTE program assisted with Perkins IV funds. The make-up of that committee is critical to program success.
Far too many agricultural education advisory committees were created to meet a minimum requirement of a district, state or federal program. Over the years I have participated in many workshops designed to help teachers make better use of advisory committees. Often, when I ask a teacher about the make-up of the committee, I will hear that they have a spouse and an old friend or former classmate on the committee. These people may be willing to come to a few meetings, but will their involvement on the committee have a positive impact on the program?
Will your friends conduct a formal annual program evaluation and provide recommended action for program improvement? Will this group of friends be reflective of the community? Most importantly, are they people of influence in the community? We must always remember that the local school board sets policy for your school district. If you have an advisory committee that meets the criteria outlined in the NQPS, then they should have some influence. Ask this question to determine the level of influence of your committee: Can members of your committee pick up the phone and have a conversation with members of the local school board? After all, it is the local school board who sets policy. The administration is hired to carry it out.
It has been my experience that, regardless of the quality of the program, there is always room for improvement. To be certain that you are making decisions that are in the best interest of the program and the students it serves, you need objective advice from a group of people who collectively are the pulse of the community and are people of influence. If the loudest voice heard when a program is under fire is the teacher, then we must wonder if the program is based on the needs and desires of the community or the preference of the teacher.
We often think that if we work hard, that will be enough. What communities want are agricultural education programs that provide opportunities for students. For some it may be classroom instruction. For others it may be leadership development or a supervised agriculture experience. An effective agricultural education advisory committee will help develop a program that will integrate all three.
Most of you have heard of John C. Maxwell. His definition of leadership is, “Leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less.” I tend to agree. Where does the influence for your program come from?