Career and technical schools thrive despite cutbacks

Lisa Blanchard, a teacher at Andrade Polytechnic High School, provides instruction to her class on Feb. 28. Blanchard is one of many teachers who has thrived despite budget cutbacks from the state.

The stigma that comes with schools formerly known as vocational and that they are known for being a last resort for kids couldn’t be further from the truth because of schools like Andrada Polytechnic High School in Vail, Arizona, and teachers like Lisa Blanchard.

Andrada Polytechnic High School isn’t a standard public high school. The school is a career and technical educational high school, the first step in shedding the vocational moniker. It is an institution that focuses on preparing kids for the future in a concentrated environment. It is a place for any kid that knows what professional area they’d like to focus on after high school.

Over 98,000 kids were enrolled in CTE schools last year in Arizona in programs that offer nursing, law and public safety, mental and social health, network technology and pharmacy support services. Some 2600 of those reside within Cochise County as of 2014, which aided in funding almost $2.7M.

“A lot of people think that kids come here because they’re the kids that aren’t college bound,” Blanchard said. “…The kids that I have sitting in that classroom are kids that are passionate about a degree.”

Blanchard says that most of the kids in her class are focused on getting a degree in sports medicine and that a lot of them want to be physical therapists. To become a full fledged physical therapist one would have to get a doctorate, so these programs are in place to allow students to gain real world experience and even employment while they pursuit that goal. Blanchard emphasizes that kids who take advantage of all the certifications and opportunities that Andrada can provide will be ahead of most students who don’t have the same opportunities at more mainstream high schools.


Below is a video of Lisa Blanchard as she speaks about her approach at Andrade Polytechnic High School and what drives her to succeed as she moves towards her own personal goals.

There are 225 vocational public high schools in the state of Arizona residing in 14 joint technical education districts according to . Many of these schools are centered around preparing kids for the workforce without a bachelor’s degree. At Andrada, the goal is not only to prepare students for work but also to allow them to get a jump start on college. Kids can prep for college by earning credits in a variety of dual-enrollment courses taught by teachers on the campus.

All this comes despite the state cutting funding by 7.5 percent to these schools. CTE schools have provided higher graduation rates than non-CTE schools. In 2015, 96 percent of kids from CTE programs graduated which is in contrast to the 75 percent rate statewide in public schools according to

“Out of my class of 16 last year, 15 are in college now and the other one is working as a personal trainer at L.A. Fitness,” Blanchard said. “If anything we have the same if not more college admission than a normal high school.”

A student takes some notes during a class by Lisa Blanchard on Mar. 22, 2017 at Andrada Polytechnic High School.

A former strength and conditioning coach, Blanchard has found a niche at Andrada Polytechnic High School as she prepares students for a career in healthcare, anatomy and specifically Sports Medicine. Her focus has helped several students gain athletic certifications and led to some of her students becoming personal trainers straight out of high school.

Blanchard was selected as one of this years Circle K Teacher of the Year Award nominees and a Circle K Teacher Award recipient, highlighting her dedication to students and her preparation in getting them to success in both life and in a profession. She credits the schools environment and specific focus as the main factor for CTE success.

“A lot of our kids get into places where they can gain experience and that puts them ahead of most other kids,” Blanchard said. “It looks better for them long term and gives them a slight leg up when applying for college.”

Blanchard joined Andrada after a stint at Rio Rico High School and is currently in her fifth year at Andrada, eighth overall in education. She aspires to become an administrator in the near future and with the results she has produced at Andrada any school would be fortunate to have her.

Saul Bookman is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at

For high resolution photos click here.

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