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West Valley Occupational Center Celebrating 40th Anniversary

By MICHAEL LeROY SPAUL “Build it and they will come,” to paraphrase a once popular saying. Back in the spring of 1965, the thinking of the Los Angeles Board of Education was much the same. At the time, there was no job training facility dedicated to adults in the rapidly growing San Fernando Valley. Consequently, in May of 1965, acting on the recommendation of the superintendent of schools, the L.A. Board of Education directed that a full-time job training facility for adult-age students be established. The school district’s then Division of College and Adult Education defined the mission and the goals of the new facility: “Adults would be trained in specific job skills so that they could qualify for employment in occupations where the likelihood of finding jobs would be high. The design and content of each training course would be fitted to the actual hiring needs of employers, who would be asked to participate closely in shaping the daily schedule.” The hope and expectations expressed earlier by the Board of Education materialized when, on July 1, 1965, the Adult Occupational Training Center was officially opened on the site formerly occupied by Hughes Junior High. Dr. Calvin Dellefield was chosen as the pioneering school’s first director/principal. Dellefield, a respected and innovative Los Angeles educator would be instrumental in shaping the direction and mission of the new training site as well as its role in the community. When training began that September, 2,000 people were enrolled thanks to a San Fernando Valley-wide distribution of class schedules that introduced the school to the public. Even before it opened, the new school had begun to draw press attention. Newspaper articles contributed greatly to spreading the word. Metropolitan dailies and neighboring weeklies all gave prominence to the new center’s offerings. In time, The News and Valley Green Sheet (precursor to the Daily News) would run a regular feature about the latest campus events and profile various administrators and staff. Student profile After just one year of operation, the AOTC had increased its enrollment to 8,000. A profile of its students began to emerge. The student population represented most areas of the Valley 55 percent were women and 45 percent were men, with an age range between 18 and 60. It was also determined that women were more numerous in the daytime classes, and men outnumbered women in the evening. The majority of those enrolled had completed high school, some had taken college courses, but most lacked specific job skills. With a student body that was becoming more and more diverse, the school’s ability to attract a wide representation of people from surrounding communities was established early on. In looking over its 40 years of operation, it is clear that this occupational center had the right formula for success from the very beginning. As the school evolved steadily into a highly recognized and successful operation to meet the ever-expanding needs of adult job training, plans were formulated to perpetuate and further enhance Dr. Dellefield’s original vision. In 1968, the Board of Education commissioned an architect to prepare a “master plan” for the future development of the facility. Architect Reinhard Lesser’s comprehensive plan included forecasts of the job market for the Valley, how the facility could best meet local training requirements, and when and how the school district could accomplish construction of the first permanent building on the site. The need for a new building had been readily apparent, since the rising student population was utilizing all of the available space on campus, and then some. Pivotal point What had been envisioned a dozen years earlier, at last was realized in May of 1982 when West Valley’s new three-story Business Education Building was dedicated. It was a pivotal point in the school’s development, and it greatly expanded WVOC’s ability to fulfill its mission for years to come. The name change to West Valley Occupational Center came about in 1968 to accommodate 16 and 17-year-olds who had left high school before graduating. Since California state law defined “adult” as a person over 18 years of age, it was necessary to eliminate the word from the original school title. At the same time, WVOC also became a regional occupational center to comply with state legislation. Later, more such ROCs would be established throughout Southern California based on the concepts developed by Dr. Dellefield. In fact, his model adult training school ultimately became the standard for adult occupational centers throughout the country. Only one staff member remains from the time the school opened its doors. Mrs. Alberta Poverny (known to everyone as “Birdie”) was originally a Business Education teacher and later became a career counselor in the registration office. “Birdie” officially retired in the spring of 2000 but has returned in a part-time capacity to assist with the school’s scholarship program. Richard Wormus, WVOC’s current principal, welcomes the community to participate in observing the school’s 40th anniversary to be held on Thursday, May 18. For additional information, contact the school at (818) 346-3540.

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