Since the beginning of the school year, the Mountain View Los Altos (MVLA) administration and the school administration have been discussing whether or not the Automotive Technology (Auto Shop) class will return next year. The debate centers around the rising costs, loss of state funding and low enrollment in the Auto Shop classes.
Students in the program emphasize that the class is another type of science class, with students learning and practicing technology and critical thinking in a more hands-on setting. According to junior Aaron Mehan, this is something that outsiders to the program don’t always understand.
“[Outsiders are] asking about engineering and mechanical and science, which is right in front of them,” Mehan said. “They basically think we’re putting nuts and bolts together, but we’re actually engineering things to do and work with [automobiles].”
There are many advocates for Auto Shop. Principal Wynne Satterwhite has supported vocational classes since she came to the school.
“Classes like Auto Shop, culinary, computer programming classes…are different ways of learning, and I think that not all students learn out of books,” Satterwhite said. “A lot of students learn with their hands, so I like the idea of vocational courses. I think they’re really powerful.”
Assistant Principal Suzanne Woolfolk agrees that the program provides lifelong skills for students that they would otherwise not have the opportunity to explore.
“You can’t really learn those skills anywhere else,” Woolfolk said. “Kids rarely are going to take a class in college even if it’s offered, so if they don’t learn [these skills] in their auto shop in high school, I don’t know how else they are going to know how to take care of themselves and their cars.”
However, MVLA administrators cite waning enrollment numbers and budget cuts as reasons that the program is no longer as practical as before.
“Back in 2010, there were four sections of Auto Shop at Los Altos, with a total of 64 students enrolled,” Associate Superintendent Brigitte Sarraf said. “A year later, Los Altos offered three sections with only 46 students enrolled. Last year, the number of sections [was] reduced to two sections which served a total of 41 students. The continual decline in demand is what caused the reduction in the number of sections.”
According to Sarraf, cuts in state funding, which amounts to around over $500,000 lost in general funding, is causing the district to reconsider offering vocational courses like Auto Shop. In addition to Auto shop, the administration is looking at the feasibility of other vocational programs that are currently offered at the school.
“There could well be other programs [that might be cut],” Sarraf said. “The changes [in course offerings] will be based on student demand for courses that offer the best preparation for employment in the 21st century.”
She believes that upgrading the Auto Shop to a modern standard would be very expensive, costing anywhere between $800,000 and $1 million. Sarraf was also concerned with the relevance of Auto Shop in the context of modern technology and applicability to the current job market.
“It really is an issue of trying to figure out which CTE programs are the most helpful to students,” Sarraf said. “To sustain a program that does not prepare students for jobs in the industry is not a viable option. To outfit the Auto Shop with state-of-the-art equipment that is consistent with industry standards would be prohibitively expensive.”
Satterwhite’s main concern with sustaining Auto Shop is keeping up with the auto industry’s rapidly changing technology.
“The thing that I see with Auto Shop is we can teach how do wheels turn and why does a crank shaft work and what is a kingpin and all those types of terms, but quite frankly, cars today don’t have kingpins and drive trains are a thing of the past and what’s the difference between front wheel drive and rear wheel drive,” Satterwhite said. “Now we have all wheel drive, and at some point even those are going to go away.”
Discussion between the school and the MVLA administration about continuing vocational courses at the school began in mid-October and will extend until December, when a final decision will be made about which courses will be offered next year. The school will work with district administrators to gather data about each course and the demand for them based on student course requests. They will then propose a recommended course list for next school year to the school board, which will make the final decision.
As of The Talon’s press deadline, Sarraf has not received any public feedback about the decision to offer Auto Shop next year. She states that the decision will depend on a number of factors.
“Like all classes, the decision to offer Auto Shop will be made based on student demand and what is affordable,” Sarraf said. “The MVLA school board is the ultimate determiner of our curriculum. The board, however, will take a close look at staff recommendations that are based on changes in enrollment patterns and the cost associated with maintaining a program.”