Head of Career and Technical Education ready to retire

Jim Noeldner, retiring director of Career and Technical Education for the school district, explains how a 3-D printer cuts complex objects out of solid blocks of plastic Thursday during an engineering class at North Kitsap High School. - Brian J. Olson/Staff photo
Jim Noeldner, retiring director of Career and Technical Education for the school district, explains how a 3-D printer cuts complex objects out of solid blocks of plastic Thursday during an engineering class at North Kitsap High School.
— image credit: Brian J. Olson/Staff photo

POULSBO — Jim Noeldner has a bevy of “wise sayings” he uses to highlight the importance of the school district’s Career and Technical Education program.

One of his favorites is, “eventually every successful person goes to work.” That’s why for the past 13 years Noeldner, director of the career and technical program, has prepared students for life after high school, whether that means college or immediate entry into the workforce.

“In career and technical education these days, we have to prepare kids for all of their post-high school options,” he said.

Just like every successful person goes to work, most of them eventually retire. On June 18, Noeldner will wrap up his career with the school district.

Noeldner began his education career two decades ago, as a teacher in alternative schools. Several of the students he met were unmotivated, uninterested in school, had low expectations for themselves or had few to no plans after high school. Noeldner targeted those students by making class time relevant to them. He recalls one boy who wanted to work in construction and did not think he needed to learn math. Noeldner gave him a book about math that applied to the construction trade. Suddenly the student took an interest in the subject.

“You start them with what will make them a willing learner,” Noeldner said. “Every teacher wants a classroom full of willing learners.”

Noeldner has applied that philosophy to his job as head of the career and technical program. He believes students learn best through what he calls “hands-on, applied, contextual learning.” Each of the career and technical courses uses hands-on, experimental methods to teach students skills they can use as real world experience beyond the classroom.

The school district is piloting a project management class at North Kitsap High this year that Noeldner said will be brought into high schools across the state next year. The curriculum, which is co-taught by business professionals, gives students experience they can use at university or in the business world.

“It’s hard work, but I think the kids understand that it’s important,” said Doris Ahrens, who teaches the class.

Noeldner also points out that 92 percent of the career and technical program’s classes offer college credit to students who apply for it or earn a grade above a certain level.

Noeldner commends his employees — the teachers — for applying the hands-on methods and producing willing learners.

“I followed the philosophy in this job that you hire the best people you can, and you support them,” he said. “If we’ve done anything in career and technical education in the last decade, it’s because of the teachers.”

The post-secondary preparation Noeldner’s program gives students includes not only the knowledge and skills they need to find a job or get into college, but guidance. Noeldner has spent most of his career in education helping the students who don’t have a plan for what to do after graduation.

“They’re the underrepresented kids,” Noeldner said. “It’s so easy to get distracted by supporting all the kids who know what they want to do, that we forget about the kids who don’t have a plan, or whose parents didn’t go to college, or who don’t have a computer or the Internet.”

Noeldner would still like to see more guidance and counseling for students and parents, better computer training in schools and better communication between local high schools, colleges and employers. He plans to stay involved with education through a program he set up called See Yourself in College and Careers, which offers guidance for students.

The new director of career and technical education for the school district will be Patrick Olsen. Olsen currently works for the South Kitsap School District as the athletic medicine coordinator and head certified athletic trainer. He recently received his Career and Technical Administration accreditation from Central Washington University. He holds a master's degree in physical education from Ohio University and a bachelor of science degree from Washington State University.

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