VISD board discusses firefighter training program

Carolina Astrain By Carolina Astrain

Jan. 16, 2014 at 11 p.m.
Updated Jan. 16, 2014 at 7:17 p.m.

Meghan Castillo, 15, a freshman at Victoria East High School, wears Victoria Fire Department equipment. She hopes to one day become a firefighter.

Meghan Castillo, 15, a freshman at Victoria East High School, wears Victoria Fire Department equipment. She hopes to one day become a firefighter.

Meghan Castillo trembled in fear as she watched firefighters resuscitate a classmate choking on a marshmallow.

The 5-year-old memory left Meghan with a burning desire to become a firefighter herself after witnessing their work firsthand.

"It was terrifying," Meghan, 15, said. "A firefighter who was there got me to calm down."

The Victoria East High School student said she's looking forward to the addition of new firefighter courses in the district that will begin in the 2014-15 school year.

New dual-credit course offerings and the addition of firefighter training to the district's Career and Technical Education campus were discussed at a regular, monthly Victoria school district board meeting Thursday evening.

New dual credit and certifications have been forged by a partnership between the district and Victoria College to mirror area industry needs, said Sherri Hathaway, VISD associate director of secondary curriculum, instruction and accountability.

Providing students with career paths leading them to sufficient, "liveable" wages was a critical part of the course additions, Hathaway said.

With the new two-year firefighting program, students participating would be able to complete their emergency medical technician training at Victoria College and start working as firefighters after high school graduation.

A starting firefighter with the Victoria Fire Department earns between $38,000 to $39,000 a year, said Victoria Fire Chief Taner Drake.

"It's a neat deal," Drake said. "It'll be interesting to see the first couple of graduates come through."

Drake said he hopes the program would feed his department with employees who want to stay in Victoria long term.

"We don't want to continue being a training ground for departments in other cities," Drake said. "We want people who want to work here in their own backyard."

Superintendent Robert Jaklich said VISD faces a similar challenge with teacher retention.

Victoria's teacher turnover rate for 2013 was the highest it has been in the past 10 years at 19.5 percent, according to the district's 2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report presented at Thursday's board meeting.

The state's average turnover rate for 2013 was 15.3 percent.

"The state's average is high, too," Jaklich said. "This is what happens when there is a change with the state's accountability system."

Jaklich said he's also noticed that teachers with one to seven years of experience have gravitated toward the area's growing oil industry or moved on to bigger cities.

"We're in a similar situation as the fire department," Jaklich said. "That's what got the firefighter conversation started."

Jaklich said the school district is working on redesigning a similar program aimed at training educators who want to remain in the area long term, Jaklich said.

After graduating from high school and possibly joining the U.S. Navy, Meghan said she plans to work in Victoria as a firefighter.

"I plan on signing up," Meghan said. "If you can dream it, you can achieve it."



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