Walton principal Judy McNeill was unavailable for a comment, but district spokesman Doug Goodwin said that during a recent inspection of the school’s auto tech program, which was started in the mid-1970s shortly after the school was opened, it was determined that there were some safety issues with the equipment.
“An adviser said it would be inefficient to fix the equipment because it is so old,” Goodwin said. “(Students) would not learn the current skills using the old equipment.”
He also said that the district is trying to determine what to do with the program not only because of inadequate equipment but also because enrollment in the class had declined by nearly half, from nearly 80 students last year to 41 this semester.
Additionally, Goodwin said neither students nor the instructor are allowed in the classroom, so in the meantime, students are working on core concepts using a computer software program in a nearby computer lab.
“The school is looking into internships with local businesses to transition into further careers,” he said.
Judi Jones, the district’s chief academic officer, is also meeting with key individuals associated with the program this week to
determine how to proceed with the program.
Walton parents and students would like to see the program saved.
Angie Simmons, whose two children attend Walton, is one of nearly 1,000 parents, students and east Cobb residents who recently signed a petition that was turned into the school board requesting that they find funding to continue the program.
“I signed the petition because my son is in the class and because the kids enjoy it,” she said.
Simmons hopes the petition leads to the district answering questions about how the program and equipment got into such bad shape.
“It’s been something that’s been behind closed doors and quiet for 10 or more years,” she said. “There’s also either no or low funding, and we want to find that out. The parents and students want to keep it open.”
Simmons said parents are willing to go in and help clean up the classroom and look into some kind of funding mechanism to keep it up and running.
“We’re willing to volunteer our time to help clean,” she said. “We’re wanting to ask if the teacher could go in and say what needs to be removed … and just clean and just start a fundraising effort.”
Mike Beltrami, whose son John is a freshman at Walton and also who spoke to the school board two weeks ago about the program, said his son enrolled in the class because he’s always been very interested in automotive work and how things are put together and designed.
“I spoke with someone from the Georgia Automobile Dealership Association about the number of jobs out there for auto technicians,” he said. “There is a shortage of qualified technicians, and we’re eliminating these programs that could help (students) learn more about these jobs. A lot of parents are willing to help out.”
Angie Simmons’ son Jared, a 15-year-old sophomore at Walton, is taking the class this semester but is considering dropping it because he isn’t getting the hands-on experience he expected.
“I just want to learn more about cars because my mom’s car has some problems and I wanted to learn how to fix it myself without having to pay a lot at the shop,” he said.
Around mid-October, he learned students wouldn’t be allowed back into the shop because of safety.
“I’m pretty frustrated because I don’t like being in the computer lab,” he said. “Everyone likes the shop way better.”
His older sister, Laura Simmons, had planned on taking the class next semester.
“I didn’t want my car to break down on the side of the road and have to rely on a random stranger to come and try to help me,” she said. “I really need to be educated on cars.”
The 16-year-old junior said she heard a few rumors last year that the classroom was in disarray and that there was a chance it could be closed, but everyone she spoke to still think it was a good class.
One of those former students is Marty, now a senior at the high school. He asked that his last name not be used.
He decided not to take the class again this year, after taking it both semesters last year, because the previous teacher didn’t return. He was unsure why.
“The county should definitely keep it open,” he said. “The class does need to have some cleaning done to it, but it’s one of the few auto tech classes in the county.”
Marty said the program should stay open because students whose strongest attribute isn’t school should be given the opportunity to learn a trade.
“A lot of students who don’t shine academically, they get to shine in the shop,” he said.
Marty said he’s still deciding between enrolling in a trade school or four-year institution after graduation but said regardless, he’d still like to earn his trade certificate eventually.
“I’ve always liked cars since I was younger, and I enjoyed working on them before with family members,” he said.