50 Years of Career Technical Education Excellence

Nov 27, 2021 | 2021 Articles, Education, Jim Mulligan, Reedley News

by Jim Mulligan

Here in southeastern Fresno County and a sliver of Tulare County, there exists a school with a geographic reach larger than most. This school has no mascot, no marching band, and no football team. It doesn’t have its own cafeteria or bus fleet. Its student body has never elected homecoming royalty. What it does have is over 7,000 students, enrolled in over 340 high school classes, taught by almost 100 teachers whose primary credentialing criteria is years of experience in their respective industries. For fifty years, the Valley Regional Occupational Program (ROP) has provided career technical education opportunities for tens of thousands of high school students in our area.

Valley ROP is one of 50-plus regional occupational programs that exist in our state. Since 1971, Valley ROP has partnered with five local school districts—Kings Canyon, Selma, Kingsburg Joint Union, Parlier, and Sanger; and two more which were added in 2014, Cutler-Orosi and Dinuba—to provide its teachers and coursework to students in partner districts. Its purpose has never been to supplant programs at partner districts, but rather to aggregate resources to provide the best career technical education and the most experienced teachers in the region. Superintendent Fabrizio Lofaro summed up the primary goals of Valley ROP, “We are a school district that specializes in providing students with career-technical education and work experience to hopefully guide them to a profession or degree that they want to pursue after high school. The approach allows us to create programs that pool resources so that multiple districts in the region are not duplicating programs.” A unique aspect of Valley ROP is that teachers are typically beginning a new career in education after completing some years in industry. Lofaro says that, “100% of our teachers come to us after five, ten, 15, 20, or 25 years of experience with tremendous knowledge in their field and passion for sharing their knowledge.”

VROP’s mobile fire lab, which allows fire fighting students to participate in mock fire fighting drills at multiple campuses.

For the last four years, Nicole Gallagher has been helping Parlier High School students become acquainted with all things related to the health field. After studying for a nursing career, working on the administrative side of the health industry, and doing a little teaching at the college level, Gallagher landed a job she wasn’t exactly looking for. At Parlier High she teaches her students about pharmacology, medical terminology, law and ethics in the health industry, and introduces them to the myriad jobs available in the health care field. While she didn’t aspire to be a high school teacher, it seems she has found her calling and passionately shares her knowledge about the health industry and the many potential careers available to her students. Gallagher explained why she has such success in her classes with an age group that is notoriously difficult to motivate and inspire. “Students like that I have very high expectations and strict rules in my classroom.” Another reason that students engage in Gallagher’s courses is that she uses the latest technology and brand-new 3D models that allow students to learn the systems of the body in a manner that is very realistic. She says: “Students are super engaged when they get to create their own models of the body systems—they love being creative.” Gallagher is so loved at Parlier High school that this year she was elected Homecoming Teacher-Queen.

Nicole Gallagher’s Allied Health students at Parlier High School molding layers of the body systems on their 3D skeleton.

Over in Tulare County, at Dinuba High School, another Valley ROP teacher is introducing students to his passion: welding. After several years as a manufacturer of industrial mining equipment, making welding repairs on heavy equipment, and a little structural welding out on job sites, Scott Johnson realized that he had aspirations to do more than work in the shop. After his time in welding fabrication, he enrolled in the Industrial Technology program at Fresno State where he earned his Bachelor’s degree. At the completion of his degree, Johnson’s advisor mentioned that he knew of open teaching positions and encouraged Johnson to apply. Johnson remembers, “I went to a job fair and learned about a welding teacher position open at Dinuba High. The next week I was out meeting the principal in Dinuba and taking a tour of their shop facilities. I got the job; it all just kind of happened.” Johnson teaches courses in basic welding practices and welding fabrication. In addition, the students who take the classes at Dinuba High receive both high school credit and college credit at Reedley College—the courses are part of a program called dual enrollment (more on that later). If they really like it, and are good at it, Johnsons’ students have opportunities to go right into the manufacturing industry after they graduate.

A welding student at Dinuba High School.

Another unique Valley ROP course offering is available to students in the Kings Canyon Unified School District. Students at Kings Canyon and Orange Cove High Schools have the benefit of a veteran police officer as their teacher. She teaches them about the criminal justice system and crime scene investigations (CSI), and tries to keep it as real as possible. Christie Mooradian never thought she would be a high school teacher, but finds that her students are eager to learn the real-life stories of law enforcement. After about 20 years of police work in Reedley, Fresno and Selma, Mooradian retired and jumped at an opportunity to teach high schoolers about her profession. She says, “We talk about real issues like the Derek Chauvin/George Floyd case, we talk about how to interact with police officers—these kids often don’t realize how to properly interact with law enforcement—and we also have a lot of fun.” James, a student in her class this year says, “I always learn something new from her and she makes me smile.”

Teacher Christie Mooradian with her Criminal Justice students at Orange Cove High School.

In addition to Criminal Justice/CSI, welding, and allied health courses, Valley ROP has coursework in, among other things: Flight Science and Aviation Maintenance; Automotive Systems Diagnostics, Repair and Service; Child Development; Emergency Response (firefighting, EMT, Paramedic); Marketing and Entrepreneurship; and, Multimedia (photography, videography, web design, etc.). Many of their courses fall under the dual enrollment category, which means students earn college credits while attending their high school Valley ROP classes—partner colleges include both Fresno City and Reedley College.

Valley ROP allows students to explore real jobs to learn if it is a fit for them. And another advantage emerged during the research and interviews for this article that seems to be the icing on the cake. The teachers are passionate about their subject matter, and they connect with students on a level that lets students know they deeply care. One can’t fake that type of commitment. If one has spent years doing a job and then decides to share that knowledge with young people, it shines brightly in the daily interactions between teacher and student. Valley ROP capitalizes on these soft skills that their teachers bring to the classroom to enrich student experiences.

Be sure to check out more Reedley articles in our Reedley category.

Jim Mulligan is a 6th generation Californian, born and raised in Selma. He has been employed in Reedley on and off for the last twenty years. He married his college sweetheart, a Reedley-ite, Kristi. They now reside in Reedley with their five children. Jim loves to create Bonsai and travel as much as possible, both near and far. He is a member of the KCUSD Board of Trustees and is employed by Reedley College as the Tutorial Coordinator.


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