Wright Technical Center, Case Study #5

WRIGHT TECHNICAL CENTER – BUFFALO, MINNESOTA

The following information comes from a visit to Wright Technical Center on December 4, 2023.  Information was provided by Brian Koslofsky, Director, Shaun Karson, Principal, and Curtis Tessum, Construction Technology Teacher. This school is a collaboration of eight school districts, listed below.  WTC is the only remaining strictly vocational public school collaboration in Minnesota.  The building houses a number of programs, as explained below.

 

What background/work experience prepared you to teach/run this program? 

Wright Technical Center has been in operation for 51 years. Curtis is only the 6th teacher over a 51-year period. He has an industry as well as teaching background.  He started doing construction in high school with a local contractor.  Remodeling became second nature.  He earned an AA degree at North Iowa Community College. Then he earned a BS in Career and Technical Education and a minor in construction management at University of Northern Iowa.  After completing his BS degree, he hired at Fort Dodge Public Schools to teach construction technology.   He and his students worked with Habitat for Humanity on several projects.  He also has earned a MS in career & technical education at Bemidji State.  He’s earned additional certifications including energy efficiency. This (energy efficiency) is an important focus.

Curt inside home being built during 2023-24 school year

At one point, a person came to Curt when he was teaching in Iowa and asked if someone could build shed.  This led Curt to start his own construction company. He employed 6 people for 11 years.

Then he moved to Minnesota.  Wright Tech had an opening, and he was hired.  He has been here four years.  He also recently started his own construction company.

Principal Shaun Karson also worked in on and off in construction for 10 years.

Exterior of home WTC students are building during 2023-24 school year (as of Dec, 2023)

What are examples of partnerships that have helped make the homes Wright Tech students construct, better? 

The Local carpenters’ union helps.  Carpenter Contractors has provided safety equipment including hard hats. JL Switzer has offered to set up trusses.  Advance Volume Metric Alliance have employed graduates. They give students tours to show how modular construction works.  There’s a current conversation about the company providing some materials.WTC don’t do the plumbing and we don’t do the electrical.  We hire local contractors who explain to students what’s happening.

The homes we build are called manufactured homes. Depending on whether the home goes, it can require different kinds of inspections.

Interior of the three-bedroom house being constructed during the 2023-24 school year.

 

What advice would you give to other people considering creating a program to teach students construction skills?

* Quality has to be emphasized.  You may need to redo something more than once.  It’s vital that students understand the importance of quality.

* The urge is always for the instructor to do the work, but the kids get more out of it when they try, fail and redo.  This will cost in time and materials, but the students learn more.

* Either build the house on campus or arrange transportation to get students to worksite.

* WTC sells homes by secret bidding as the home is being constructed.  This allows the person buying the home to have some input.  Buyers appreciate this.  The person who has bought this year’s house had several suggestions/requests that the school was able to accommodate because the purchase was completed in December, while a lot of work remained to be done.

(*Each teacher has a sign outside their classroom, similar to the one below.  This reminds students about the preparation each teacher has had.  It also provides some personal information about the educator.  Students like reading these.

 

 

Most of the work is done outside, on the house that is being constructed. This happens immediately outside the school building.  However, some preliminary practice takes place inside the building, in the classroom pictured below.

What have you done that you strongly encourage others to do?  

* Get community partners, employers, unions in front of the kids.  Students learn different approaches. Recognize and honor your partners.

* We have articulated agreements with about 25 post-secondary institutions in Minnesota.  This means students can earn free college credits.  Students appreciate the opportunity to earn free higher education credits while still in high school.

* There has been an increase in the number of students who take on-line courses except they come to WTC.  Some students take PSEO courses and then courses at WTC. The school welcomes students who are combining different programs.

* Students from eight different high schools attend this and other programs offered at WTC. Most come for about 1.5 hour every day, all year. Some come for two periods (i.e. 3 hours per day) Welcoming students from different high schools is a “win win” for the students, their high schools and the communities being served.

  • Recognize and honor partners. They appreciate this.

Honoring the school’s partners

Are there any mistakes or unexpected negative outcomes that, if possible, people should try to avoid?  

Curtis had some experiences in Iowa where funding for a home fell through and it was not possible for students to complete the house that they had started building.   Make sure you have the necessary funding in place before students start building.

 

* Recognizing that costs vary from home to home, what are the approximate budgets for the homebuilding projects?  The three-bedroom home we’re currently building sold for about $125,000.  We made some money for the next project by selling at this price.  The home has 3 bedroom, two bathrooms.  It costs about $15.60/square foot. The buyer will have to spend perhaps $20,000 transporting the house to the site where it will be located.  The buyer also will have to purchase land on which the house will sit.  And buyers have different costs, depending on what kind of foundation and basement they want.

In 7 years, the cost of construction has 40%   The price of building materials decreased but other costs have increased.

 

* Anything else you’d like educators/community members to know?  

The school has been in existence for 51 years.  We have 30,000+ graduates. The pendulum swinging back in direction of much greater interest in career-technical education.  .
There is no post-secondary facility in Wright County.  We are the closest thing to a post-secondary facility that is available in this county.  We want the students to be ready to step right into a job in Wright County.  This county has the highest per capita number of manufacturing industry jobs in the state.  There are plenty of well-paying jobs here. We to keep best and brightest here.

Wright Technical School has 11 different career/technical programs, of which construction technology is one.  Others include heavy equipment, health science, cosmetology, elementary childhood and elementary careers, automotive technology, graphic communications, horticulture careers, law enforcement, OJT, welding, creating entrepreneurial opportunities and youth apprenticeship.
We have about 25 students who are in at least two different courses.

There has been an increase in the number of students who take on-line courses except they come here.

Some take PSEO courses and then courses here.

Students from different high schools come for about 1.5 hour every day, all year.

Wright Tech has articulated agreements with about 25 post-secondary institutions in Minnesota.  This means students can earn free college credits.  Arrangements vary.

WTC has a Head Start Center on campus.  People preparing to for careers in early childhood use this as a place to learn, augmenting what they learn in classes.  The Head Start program does not serve any young children whose parents are in any of the WTC programs.

WTC also houses about 100 students in an area learning center, and a program for developmentally disabled youth.

For further information, please contact:

 

Curtis Tessum curtis.tessum@wrighttech.org