A real-world-oriented construction trades program at is moving ahead with enthusiastic support from students, educators and the community.
Students in the Construction and Sustainability Academy, or CASA, are welcoming a new teacher, Glenn Schaezlein, on Tuesday, organizers said this week.
Also, administrators for the high school and for the Sonoma County Office of Education, which finances the CASA program's faculty salaries, say the program will expand next year to two classes -- beginning and advanced.
"The students are very excited, very engaged," said Ray Holley, a community volunteer who led the two-year effort to launch the program last fall, and who helps out in the classroom several days a week.
"They are so excited that when I try to do a demonstration, they yank the tools out of my hand," Holley said in an interview Monday. "They want to do it themselves."
Holley said the students, who are housed in the school's former metal shop, are building small structures. In the process, they are gaining skills that area construction executives said in a community survey were essential for entry level employees, Holley said.
"This is the first program in the area of its kind that is focusing so heavily on job skills," Holley added. "They are building garden sheds and small houses -- things that connect them to the real world of the community and the construction business."
Last week, some Healdsburg community leaders said they heard reports that the former CASA teacher, construction contractor Chuck Rackerby, was leaving the program. Rackerby later confirmed in a telephone interview that his last day was Monday, Feb. 14.
Neither Steve Jackson, director of the Career Development and Workforce Department at the Sonoma County Office of Education, nor Kestrel Davis, Healdsburg High School vice principal, said they would comment on the reason for Rackerby's leaving, citing confidentiality of personnel matters.
At the same time, both Jackson and Davis confirmed that the CASA program was strongly supported and that plans were to expand it from one to two classes next year.
"To have a construction program -- especially sustainable construction, which is the focus for CASA -- really is a viable direction for students to get trained in, to be able to move into those jobs," Jackson said last week. "The community support has been fantastic."
Holley said he and others first had the idea for CASA in November 2008, after Healdsburg High administrators, faced with declining vocational education enrollment, decided to close the high school's wood shop and turn it into the school's "Black Box Theater."
A committee was formed to develop a new option for students to learn construction skills, such as in woodworking, electrical and plumbing. In addition, the CASA curriculum incorporates results from the community survey of "15 to 20 area builders, who identified soft skills like work ethic and communication, that were valuable in making a young builder successful in any trade," according to Holley.
As the program has developed, various community organizations and groups -- such as the Healdsburg Kiwanis Club -- have provided support in the form of money, materials and volunteer time.
"The plan's always been to provide skills that the students can use, both in life and in the job world," Holley said.