Nine years after Napa High School shuttered its automotive technology program, Vintage High School’s auto shop program will also come to an end.
“It’s truly unfortunate,” said Vintage High School Principal Sarah J. O’Connor.
However, “Based on declining enrollment, we have to make cuts.”
The program was the last of its kind in the district.
It was a joint decision between the Napa Valley Unified School District (NVUSD) and the Napa County Office of Education (NCOE), said O’Connor.
According to Dr. Barbara Nemko, NCOE superintendent of schools, the NCOE runs Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs on contract with NVUSD. “We pay the teachers, but bill NVUSD for the cost,” she said.
“We’re always sorry when we have to cut a class, but declining enrollment and reduced budgets make it necessary,” said Nemko. “And there are other remaining, excellent CTE options at Vintage.”
Even with the elimination of auto tech, Vintage High School offers more CTE pathways and more electives than any other high school in Napa County, said O’Connor.
“The other CTE pathways are very strong and carry as many as 150 students in each program,” the principal noted. “Because I have such robust elective offerings, the cuts are going to come from electives more than they are going to come from core classes.”
O’Connor acknowledged that the decision is devastating for the students affected.
To make up for the loss, “Our goal is to connect those students with community college options and other choices in the community to ensure they are ready for whatever their next career step is.”
Auto shop teacher Tom Dougherty said the news of the end of the program “was a total surprise.”
“It’s sad,” said the teacher.
“I had a lot of students who even though they weren’t going into the auto industry benefited greatly from the class in physics, engineering, manufacturing, design,” he said.
Teams of kids from the class also participated in the Youth Entrepreneurship Program at Napa Valley College, he said. Student groups competed four times and won two first place and two second place awards.
According to the teacher, as many as 80 kids a year would take the Level 1: Automotive Technology class. The NVUSD and NCOE said the number was closer to 65.
“I did have a fairly high placement rate in the automotive industry,” said Dougherty. Of the approximately 20 students who completed the Level 2: Advanced Automotive Technology class, he said about half went into that industry.
In addition, “I have a number that go on to college and get a two-year automotive degree.”
“I’ll miss the students,” he said. “They are wonderful kids. There’s a lot of them I won’t see again.”
The cancellation is also a loss to the community, said Dougherty.
“There are a lot of kids who are going to go on and do this for a profession,” he said. “They’re going to be way behind the curve,” without the training provided by the program.
According to the teacher, auto techs can earn more than $80,000 a year.
“A number of my past students are doing very well. And when it comes right down to it, somebody’s got to fix your car.”
Demetri Milos, 17, was one of Dougherty’s students.
“It’s really sad,” that the program will end, said Milos.
He specifically transferred from New Tech to Vintage High School for the automotive program “where you could learn real skills that could be useful,” said Milos.
For Milos, now a student at Napa Valley College, the class taught him both practical skills of how to build and maintain cars, but also that “If you have the knowledge and tools and some ability to read, you can build anything. That was a really beautiful lesson to have learned.”
It’s a mistake to end the program, he said.
“They are taking away a lot of potential jobs from students that could succeed in that field of work.”
Ben Franklin, 20, is another former auto tech program student. He’s now studying engineering at Cal Maritime in Vallejo.
“I’m pretty disappointed,” to hear it’s been cut, said Franklin. “That program was one of the most beneficial and influential things that could have happened to me in high school.
Most kids have a car, and for him, “I was able to learn everything about it.”
He credits the program with leading him towards a career in engineering. Thanks to those classes, he came into his college classes with more experience in mechanics than many of his classmates, said Franklin.
The student said he wishes that the school and county office would reconsider the decision.
“I think it’s a shame to cancel it entirely. It’s more of a necessity than they perceive it to be.”
Luis Mendoza is a senior who took the advance class at Vintage.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard they were going to shut it down,” he said.
“I think it really sucks,” Mendoza said. “It did help a lot of students and me. I got the chance to get an internship from that class,” he said. He’s now an intern working for the county on fleet vehicles.
“I got to open my eyes to the real world through that class,” said Mendoza. It’s a good class because it introduces students to a possible career in a growing industry, he said.
The closing of Napa High’s auto shop in 2011 brought strong opposition from students, parents, alumni and residents.
Some 1,500 signatures were collected on petitions decrying the end of the class.
At the time, the NCOE said it eliminated the auto shop program as it shifted its funding priorities to courses that are geared more toward 21st-century occupational skills, as reported in a 2011 Napa Register story.
Students at Napa High were invited to take the same class at Vintage instead. Now that option has been eliminated.
These weren’t the only NCOE-funded classes to be cut in the district. Classes including business, construction and culinary were cut at American Canyon High School as well.
You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or email@example.com
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.