James Benson is a KTEC success story.
The teen received his high school diploma in 2016 from New Vision Alternative High School in Post Falls, but because he chose to spend half-days at KTEC — the Kootenai Technical Education Campus in Rathdrum — he left high school with much more.
Benson graduated from New Vision with a construction industry-accepted carpentry certification and four college credits. He then went on to North Idaho College and graduated last spring from the college’s carpentry program.
“Since then, I’ve already built three houses,” Benson said. “I’m starting my own business, and I’m a 19-year-old just fresh out of high school and college.”
There are many good education stories coming from KTEC, a technical training high school developed as a joint venture between the Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Lakeland school districts, local business and industry leaders and supported by local taxpayers.
For the 2016-17 school year, 99 percent of high school students completing two-year programs at KTEC were positively placed in industry jobs, the military or, like Benson, they went on to higher education.
“This is a reason to celebrate,” said Ron Nilson, CEO and chairman of the board of Ground Force Manufacturing in Post Falls.
Nilson, also the vice-chair of the KTEC board, was one of several business leaders who worked with legislators and the local school districts to create KTEC, which opened its doors to students in the fall of 2012.
“It’s either a vision, a commitment or a safety net that we provide here,” Nilson said.
Construction of the school — on the Rathdrum Prairie at 6838 W. Lancaster Road — was financed by local tax levies approved by voters in all three school districts.
Every student who attended KTEC last year also graduated from his or her home high school, Nilson said, and nearly every graduate also had a certification and a skill.
“That means the farthest they’re ever going to fall is to the skill they have right now,” Nilson said.
KTEC is available to Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Lakeland school district 11th- and 12th-grade students. Programs offered include: automotive technology, welding, automated manufacturing and design, certified nurse assistant, computer repair and networking, diesel technology, construction trades, and more. Dual credits for college are available in many programs.
Interim director Colby Mattila, in his second year leading the school, said 411 students were enrolled at KTEC for this new school year, and there are waiting lists to get into nearly every program.
He hears from potential employers weekly who are looking for skilled, credentialed workers.
The school recently expanded several programs to provide more opportunities for students and will continue to do so as needed by local businesses, Mattila said. By working closely with industry leaders, KTEC develops programs that meet the needs of the industries in the area, a move that also ensures greater job opportunities for students.
“Our first goal is to place all of our kids in Kootenai County into jobs in Kootenai County,” Nilson said.
But they also encourage businesses to participate in planning at KTEC, Nilson said, so the programs are relevant to the businesses in the area.
“I think, part of our big enrollment coming in, is the labor shortage. People see that there is value in CTE (career and technical education) now,” Mattila said. “Students are getting high-paying jobs right out of high school, and they don’t have to go down that college track, and I think that appeals to some of our students. They just want to go to work.”
Some students attend KTEC because they want a skill that will allow them to earn decent wages while they attend college, he said.
“We get a lot of students who don’t necessarily know what they want to do, but they’ll come in and try a program and they’ll realize, ‘Wow, this is what I want to do,’ and it’s great to see those students’ successes,” Mattila said.
He said students who have graduated often come back to visit and they’re excited about their careers.
“We’ve got a good thing going here, and we just need to keep that momentum, adding programs and meeting the demands of the labor market,” Mattila said.