The Ashland County-West Holmes Career Center.

ASHLAND — The Ashland County-West Holmes Career Center has 516 students enrolled this year — its biggest class ever, according to principal Rick Brindley. 

“Parents are starting to see that kids don’t need to go to college to get a good-paying job,” Brindley said. 

When Brindley started at the career center in 2018, there were about 315 students enrolled. He came out of retirement to take the position and fell in love with the job. 

“I love this place,” Brindley said. “I love watching the kids, I love seeing the smiles on their faces and the pride and joy they have in their hearts when they’re learning that trade and able to show me that trade.” 

Now, he’s in the last year of his second, three-year contract. He said he plans on sticking around a while longer if he’s allowed. 

He attributed the growth in enrollment at the career center to the efforts of faculty and staff. 

According to Brindley, the school has focused on marketing and reaching out to students about the programs it offers. It reaches all the way down to sixth grade for recruiting, Brindley said. He added that associate schools’ buy-in to the career center has been crucial. 

“Another big thing is we’re getting away from that stigma that, ‘That’s where only the bad kids go,’” Brindley said. “When I was growing up, that’s how it was, but we’re getting good kids and all types of quality kids coming to the career center.”

Only about 25 spots remain open across the center’s programs this year. Brindley said some programs are “over-prescribed,” meaning more students are enrolled in those programs than there’s typically room for. Many are also at their maximum enrollments.

Bond progress

The high enrollment is not all that’s new around Ashland County-West Holmes Career Center. At its Thursday night meeting, the board of education voted unanimously to approve schematic design stage submissions for the career center’s renovation project. 

That project is funded by a 1.1 mill permanent improvement levy approved by voters in Ashland and Holmes Counties in Nov. 2021.   

Over the summer, a parking lot was added in the front of the building. Brindley said a drive was also finished to connect the career center to the county building across the street where the adult education program is located.

He said the major renovations to the career center are scheduled to start in June 2024, with a goal for completion by 2026. 

At the board meeting, they said the next steps will be moving forward with design and development. On Aug. 30 and 31, staff members will have a chance to make final tweaks on their rooms before moving forward with the process to start bids on the project. 

The center wanted to add five additional programs with the money from the levy too. But, with high construction costs for the renovations, Brindley said the career center has only been able to add two.

Program updates

When the renovations are complete in 2026, the career center will make changes to its health tech program. 

According to Brindley, the district is looking at a pathway for students to get at least half its work done to become licensed professional nurses. Those students will also get certification in phlebotomy, and they’re looking at a medical assistant track, too.

In adult education, the school hopes to add a track for LPNs to become registered nurses. 

“I think that’s going to be a big thing in our community,” Brindley said. “That, and getting more and more kids here.

“That’s the whole goal, is to get kids here and get them in trade.”

Last year, the career center added an HVAC, or Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning, program. It had 10 students enrolled, and Brindley said that number increased to 13 this year. It’s the first year the HVAC program will have both a junior and senior class.

What’s coming up?

Students had orientation at the career center on Thursday night, and will begin classes on Aug. 21. 

The board of education will have its next meeting in the board conference room at the career center on Sept. 21 at 6 p.m.

The Education section is brought to you by Ashland Family YMCA.

This independent, local reporting provided by our Report for America Corps members is brought to you in part by the generous support of the Ashland County Community Foundation.

Ashland Source's Report for America corps member. She covers education and workforce development, among other things, for Ashland Source. Thomas comes to Ashland Source from Montana, where she graduated...