Pruden could see redesign

Published 3:46 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2016

By Tracy Agnew

After Isle of Wight County Schools decided last week to cease participation in the Pruden Center, Suffolk’s school superintendent says he intends to keep the center, but perhaps not in its current form.

“Our intent is for it to remain, by all means, but it may be different,” Dr. Deran Whitney said this week. “Our goal is to try to make it a more attractive center. Our focus will be on what students need and what they will need in the future.”

The Pruden Center, located in Suffolk near the border with Isle of Wight County on Pruden Boulevard, offers courses and certifications in vocations ranging from automotive service and building trades to emergency medical technician and veterinary assisting. High-tech careers such as modeling and simulation, geospatial technology and database management can also be launched through courses at the center.

High school students who wish to attend the center attend core classes at their home school for part of the day and then are bused to the Pruden Center. There’s no cost for the courses themselves, but students’ cost for certification exams can range from $15 for welding to $425 for early childhood education, Whitney said.

Isle of Wight made the decision to cease involvement because of declining attendance, officials said last week. The division was paying $950,000 annually for 220 student slots, but only 140 students are enrolled this year. The division believes it can serve students better by bringing the program in-house, spokeswoman Lynn Briggs said last week.

Suffolk currently has 276 students enrolled in the center, Whitney said. It pays roughly $2 million annually toward operation of the center.

Whitney said Isle of Wight’s decision provides an opportunity to recalibrate the program to serve Suffolk better.

“It is exciting for us to be able to redesign the program based uniquely on Suffolk’s needs,” Whitney said.

He said Suffolk Public Schools will look at research data and talk to community business partners to determine what programs will best serve students and their future employers.

How many students are currently enrolled in programs and whether they are being successful in those programs will also be considered, Whitney said.

“We want to make certain it can best prepare them for the workforce or for college,” Whitney said.

He does not anticipate much additional cost to sustain the center as it currently is once it is brought under the umbrella of Suffolk Public Schools, Whitney said, because things like technology support, lawn maintenance and accounting will be performed by the staff and equipment already on hand.