Widefield, Peyton districts partner to create skilled-trades school

Tim Kistler, superintendent of Peyton School District, and Scott Campbell, superintendent of Widefield School District 3, are pictured in the building that will house a National Training Center for Woods Manufacturing and Construction on Wednesday, September 7, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

Two superintendents from the Pikes Peak region put their heads together and came up with what they say is an unusual union in public education.

"This isn't the kind of relationship school districts typically have," said Scott Campbell, superintendent of Widefield School District 3.

His district will work jointly with Peyton School District 23-JT to build a national training center for skilled trades, starting with woodworking and expanding to metals, construction, automotive and possibly others.

"We want every kid to go to college, but some can and some can't," Campbell said. "It's our job to provide them with the tools and skills they need."

High school students from any district will be able to attend for free as part of their public education, but the campus also will be open to military veterans and anyone wanting a new career.

"Some kids are just better with their hands, and that's what they want to do," Peyton 23-JT Superintendent Tim Kistler said. "We'll be giving students the hands-on skills they need to go into good-paying jobs."

Peyton is a small eastern El Paso County district with about 600 students this school year; Widefield is a medium-sized southern district with about 9,300 students.

The two formed a separate legal entity over the summer, the Peyton/Widefield Vocational Education Partnership, which is governed by their school boards.

Widefield D-3 cinched a deal Aug. 18 to buy a vacant potato-chip manufacturing plant south of the Colorado Springs Airport, in the old Foreign Trade Zone area.

D-3 footed the $1.1 million bill for the 46,600-square-foot building. But Peyton 23-JT will become an equal partner in creating a vocational-technical campus, which the superintendents say will be the first of its kind in the nation.

"We'll work with businesses and change our curriculum to match industry needs," Kistler said.

"Rather than us as educators telling businesses here's your kids, we're listening to businesses that are saying 'here's our needs,' " Campbell said.

The facility will be called the Peyton-Widefield Vocational Education Campus that houses the national training center. It's scheduled to open Aug. 17 after remodeling.

Stiles Machinery, headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich., has committed $500,000 to $1 million worth of equipment for woodworking students to use, Kistler said. Other tool companies and manufacturers also are being asked to support the project.

Stiles made the agreement based on requirements that the campus be located within 15 minutes of an airport and in close proximity to hotels and restaurants, Kistler said.

The building west of Schriever Air Force Base seemed to be a perfect fit, Campbell said.

"We've already sent them the design for the building, and they're measuring for equipment placement," Kistler said.

The campus could accommodate upward of 1,000 students, Kistler said, but will open next fall with several hundred who want to study the woodworking trade.

Peyton 23-JT started offering woodworking manufacturing classes last fall in part of an old school in its district east of Colorado Springs. Enrollment grew from 40 students last year to 100 this school year, 35 of whom are from Widefield D-3.

But it's a 50-mile trek from schools in Widefield to the school in Peyton, Campbell said. Buses are being equipped with Wi-Fi so students can do schoolwork during the trip, he said.

That won't be an issue next year; woodworking students from Widefield will attend the new campus. Peyton 23-JT will keep its existing woodworking center, as well. About 77,000 companies across the nation offer jobs that require use of Stiles machines, Kistler said.

"We're training them not just in theory but in practicality for what a job in this field looks like," Campbell said. "It's an incredible opportunity."

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