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Technical Education

Instructor Mance Hurley watches as Justin Widenham and Dillon Ferguson prepare to make a weld in May at Pathways Innovation Center in Casper. The school is operating at about a quarter of its student capacity.

Pathways Innovation Center’s enrollment is at roughly 250 students — a quarter of its capacity — but a school official said he was confident that number would grow as more students become aware of the facility’s offerings.

Including students from the Star Lane Center — which shares a campus with Pathways — there are 350 students in the $42 million building, which started its second year at the beginning of September and can hold a total of a thousand students per day. To help boost enrollment at Pathways, officials announced a new plan in June that partially overhauled the facility’s system.

Students at Pathways can earn certifications and real-world experience in a number of industrial and professional areas, from welders to certified nursing assistants.

Ron Estes, who was appointed principal of Pathways after Chad Sharpe stepped down for personal reasons, said Friday that the project had a “rough beginning” last year, though he said he wasn’t sure exactly what caused it.

But he said that a new plan — which involves more advanced, academy-based learning in the mornings for juniors and seniors and introductory classes to underclassmen in the afternoon — will help boost enrollment. He said that by 2020 — if not earlier — the facility will be at full capacity.

As part of the shifting Pathways strategy, a team of district officials, including the principals at Kelly Walsh, Natrona County and Roosevelt, all have a hand in the facility’s administration.

Previously, academies were offered in both the mornings and afternoons to upperclassmen. But now, younger students can take classes in the afternoons. Estes said officials hope that will introduce more students to what Pathways has to offer.

Estes was adamant in defending the project and said any criticism from the community — rooted in the belief that the district spent millions on a project at a time of financial crisis — was incorrect.

“It is working,” he said.

It’s also important to note that the planning for the building started around six years ago, before the state fell into an education funding crisis brought on by a downturn in the energy industry.

Still, it’s undeniable that Pathways has experienced a slow start. Officials have said that it’s natural for a brand-new project to take a little while before it’s fully accepted. Estes said it will take “baby steps” to get Pathways to where the district wants it to be. One of those steps is bringing more students, both high- and middle-schoolers, into the building to see it.

He urged students, parents and other members of the community to visit the campus and see the equipment available.

“That’s how things are going to move forward,” he said.

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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